Purdue student team wins solar-car division at 'Eco-Marathon'

Author: Emil Venere
A team of Purdue students won the solar-car category of an international competition for ultra fuel-efficient vehicles, achieving the equivalent of 4,913 miles per gallon, the most ever recorded at the event.

Ted PesynaPurdue Solar Racing, an extracurricular club of students from disciplines ranging from engineering to business administration, received a $2,500 prize. It was the second consecutive year Purdue’s team won the solar category in the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas, held in April in California.

The Purdue car, called Pulsar, cost about $75,000 to build last year and another $11,000 this year to modify. Major sponsors of the project are Lockheed Martin Corp. and Exelon Corp.

 “The most important aspect of this project is its multidisciplinary nature. It’s real engineering in that sense,” says Galen King,professor of mechanical engineering and an advisor to the group. “It has included students all the way from electrical engineering to liberal arts. In other words, people from outside the geek arena.”

Project teams ranged from groups focusing on the carbon-fiber body, braking and suspension systems, as well as critical business, marketing, and fundraising functions. More than 50 students, mostly undergraduates, participate in the project.

“It provides better experience than you can get in the classroom, in the sense that you can see the project go from conception to an actual finished product,” says Ted Pesyna, a junior in mechanical engineering and this year’s Purdue Solar Racing president.

Most of the car’s body is covered with panels containing photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight to electricity to power a motor. The three-wheel vehicle weighs 170 pounds and has a top speed of 25 mph. Cars in the contest drove 10.5 miles on a racetrack in Fontana, California.

A mathematical calculation is used to convert the car’s electricity consumption to miles per gallon of gasoline. Last year’s Pulsar achieved 2,861.8 miles per gallon at the competition.

The students plan to enter the 2010 Eco-Marathon, but in a more challenging, “urban concept” category, which requires that cars be street-legal.