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90 mph solar car makes Chevy Volt look tame
by Matt Jansen on March 4, 2009
Sketch out a surfboard turned sideways with a squashed drop of water on top and you’d have a good model for what the latest solar car from MIT’s Solar Electric Vehicle Team looks like. Eleanor will compete in the upcoming World Solar Challenge which pits solar cars from all over the world against each other through 2,000 miles of the Australian outback.
The best part? If Eleanor performs as designed, it won’t have to stop for fuel even once. The sun will provide all the power it needs to cruise through the entire trip. MIT’s Solar Electric Vehicle Team has entered 9 solar cars previously in the race but Eleanor is unique in allowing its driver to sit upright.
Eleanor draws its power from the sun through 580 silicon solar cells that take up 6 square meters and generate 1,200 watts. That’s about enough juice to run your microwave. That power is stored in a set of lithium-ion batteries which keep the car moving even when the sun isn’t shining.
Interestingly, Ford Motor Company opened its doors to the MIT team, allowing them to eek out a drag coefficient of 0.11 (according to Autopia)! It’s a sign that Ford is watching this space closely and may be waiting for the right opportunity to invest.
The practicality of a car like Eleanor is still haphazard at best, especially considering its 3 wheels, single passenger capacity and 500 pound footprint. Put a vehicle like that in a state like Michigan and a plethora of problems arise such as icy roads and long stretches of overcast skies.
Still, competitions like the World Solar Car Challenge push concepts toward reality and product ideas less often are successful in their early iterations.
Eleanor has regularly hit 55 mph but its creators say 90 mph is within reach. The biggest challenge seems to be finding a driver willing to endure the wildly bumpy ride that’s exacerbated by a stiff suspension and hollow body.