Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Solar Car Team to unveil newest vehicle, Infinium

U-M’s reigning North American Solar Challenge champions soon will unveil their solar car that this fall will compete in an 1,800-mile race across Australia.

The Solar Car Team will reveal Infinium at 3 p.m. June 5 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. This 10th-generation U-M solar vehicle will race against more than 50 other teams in the Global Green Challenge, formerly the World Solar Challenge. The six-day competition starts Oct. 25.

Team strategy director Alex Dowling, a senior chemical engineering undergraduate, says Infinium will be the most competitive car in the team’s history. It can go for more than 200 miles without the sun.

“Infinium builds on our continued success and the knowledge we’ve learned from previous teams,” Dowling says.

The car has a lithium battery, space-grade solar cells comparable to those NASA uses in satellites, and an in-wheel electric motor designed for solar cars that peaks at 98 percent efficiency.

Advanced computer simulations predict it will break records, but Dowling says speed isn’t necessarily king in this case. Strategy is more important.

“There's a limited amount of energy coming in from the sun, making it infeasible to drive the speed limit the entire race,” Dowling says. “There's a need for race strategy to decide how fast we should go, and when, if we want to cross the finish line first.”

Michigan won the 2008 North American Solar Challenge to become five-time champions in that race. The team with a 20-year history also has finished third in the World Solar Challenge three times.

In the most recent world event, an early crash set the students back and they finished seventh. Another team just ahead of Michigan slowed suddenly, causing a chain reaction and the solar car hit its support vehicle. This year’s team has spent more time practicing with its caravan.

“We’re making sure we're comfortable in all driving scenarios and we’re placing more emphasis on having a cohesive team,” Dowling says.

Infinium will make its initial appearance just feet away from where the first Michigan solar car, Sunrunner, is displayed at the Henry Ford Museum.

Speakers at the unveiling include Susan Fancy, a founding member of the Michigan Solar Car Team; David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering; Steven Hechtman, team project manager; and Julia Hawley, team business director. The team will also honor its sponsors, including Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Delta Air Lines and the College of Engineering.

The public event is in the Sally and Wendell Anderson Theater in the museum at 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn.

The U-M Solar Car Team is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and is an entirely student-run organization.