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The Schulich Axiom solar car will tour the province before travelling to the United States to compete in the American Solar Challenge.
courtesy John McDonald Photography

U of C team embarks on solar challenge

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The University of Calgary Solar Team left with their new solar car, the Schulich Axiom, on Monday for a week long Alberta tour. The Axiom was unveiled last November-- the result of over 50 students' work-- and will compete against 18 other cars in the American Solar Challenge on June 19.

Brandon Heenan, the solar team's external relations director, said that while the team changed their old car, Schulich 1, across the board, the primary focus of development was in two areas: weight and aerodynamics.

"One of [the] huge aerodynamic features of the Schulich Axiom is a spine that runs down the backside of the canopy," Heenan said. "What the spine does is it actually pushes the air back together at the end, and because of that there's pretty much no vacuum at the back, so there's nothing holding it back when it's driving down the highway."

Instead of a steel frame, the solar team developed a new carbon fiber frame, making the Axiom only about 450 pounds total-- nearly half the weight of the Schulich 1. Due to the new design the car has clocked at up to 120 kilometres an hour in testing.

While the car has the potential to perform, it would be moot without a good driver. Heenan said each driver spends months training how to handle the car and endure the conditions of being inside it for extended periods. Endurance training, strength training and hot yoga are just some of the preparations drivers go through before the race.

"In a six hour shift of driving the car through the race, they'll be sitting on a carbon fiber seat, and it gets as hot as 50 degrees Celsius in there," Heenan explained.

While we may not see commuters driving solar cars around town any time soon, many solar car developments do make their way into the mainstream vehicle market. Heenan said the team expects to see the carbon fiber frames incorporated into vehicles in the near future, as well as developments in braking, suspension, aerodynamics and weight reduction.

The U of C entered in the American Solar Challenge as one of just two Canadian teams competing in the event, which sees solar cars race from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Chicago, Illinois, June 20-26.

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