PHL relaunches bid for world’s fastest solar car

Photo courtesy of Mark Adrian

By JM Tuazon – The Philippines is all set to field another solar-powered car in the World Solar Challenge in Australia this October, hopeful of bagging higher recognition through the use of more efficient solar cells and a more aerodynamic design.

To date, this is the country’s second time to field an official entry to the race; the first one, Sinag, bested more than 30 other countries and landed in 12th place in 2007.

The new car, dubbed Sikat II, is by far the best one designed by the team of mechanical engineering, electronics and communications engineering and computer engineering students from the De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila.

“This car is lighter at 180 kilograms, compared to Sinag which weighs about 300 kilograms,” said Jack Catalan, Team Leader of Sikat II, during the unveiling and test-run of the new car before the local media.

In addition to the weight difference, Catalan said the design is much sleeker, “more aerodynamic and therefore consumes less energy.”

Using only its reserve battery power, the Sikat II is capable of running at a maximum of 80 kilometers per hour (kph) for about 5 hours.

But coupled with the power generated from the solar cells, Catalan said the Sikat II could reach speeds of about 110 kph, enough to propel it toward gaining top accolades in the competition.

He added that when running on its 4-kilowatt-hour Lithium-ion battery and solar array power at a speed of 85 kph, the Sikat II is capable of covering distances of up to 800 kilometers.

Catalan clarified, however, that though Sikat II’s design is to be admired, it cannot be driven through pouring rain.

“The same as other solar cars, it is designed to race, and is not fitted with enough protection to withstand rain,” he explained.

Better solar cells

But aside from better design, Catalan said the Philippines has a chance of inching away from competing countries—which would include the US, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, among many others—due to the new solar cells fitted into the car, which he claims is more efficient in harnessing solar power.

“The Sikat II now sports better efficiency solar cells from SunPower. We expect our chances to be better this year because in previous races, the teams who couldn’t afford such silicon-type cells were at a disadvantage,” Catalan explained.

SunPower is a multinational company that manufactures solar cells in its two wafer plants in Laguna and Batangas.

The more than 300 solar cells used by the Sikat II solar-powered car are the same ones fitted into the MS Tûranor, the world’s largest solar-powered boat, which made a stopover in Manila in late July, some members of Team Solar Philippines confirm.

According to SunPower’s website, its high-efficiency cells are believed to be 50 percent more efficient than traditional solar cells.

Catalan revealed that in building the car alone, the team spent some P7 million pesos, much less than the minimum amount spent by most teams, which is pegged at about $600,000.

“But we’re hoping that may not be a constraint,” he stressed.

In the bi-annual competition, Sikat II’s mettle will be tested against various elements as it makes its way through the 3,000-kilometer track on the Stuart Highway, a road that extends from Darwin, the capital of the North Territory, to Adelaide in South Australia.

In 2007, the Dutch Nuon Solar team from the Netherlands brought home the top crown with their Nuna 4 car, while Tokai University Solar Car team from Japan brought home the top prize in 2009 with their “Tokai Challenger” car.

In 2009, the Philippine Solar Car Society and the DLSU likewise led the design of Sikat II’s predecessor, Sikat I, but it was only used for a road show around the country to promote the country’s bid for the this year’s solar car race.

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