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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Abu Dhabi Solar challenge students get set to race

Fifteen university teams, including students from the Petroleum Institute, are racing over 1,200km in the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge this week.
The Petroleum Institute team during the pitt stop. Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge (ADSC) the first International Solarcar Federation (ISF) sanctioned event in the Middle East marked it’s first day at Yas Marina Circuit. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
The Petroleum Institute team during the pitt stop. Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge (ADSC) the first International Solarcar Federation (ISF) sanctioned event in the Middle East marked it’s first day at Yas Marina Circuit. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // Petroleum Institute students will put years of work to the test this week when they take their solar car on a 1,200km race through the emirate.

Fifteen international university teams are competing in the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge that started Thursday at Yas Marina Circuit.

Students sought to complete the most laps in eight hours, which will determine their starting place in the race, which continues through Sunday with a closing ceremony the next day.

The course will take them first on a route from Yas Island to Masdar City via UAE University, then from Shams 1 to Hamim and Ghayathi in the Western Region.

Twenty-three-year-old Alatqa Al Hanai, one of four drivers with the PI team, hoped the technology demonstrated in the race will end up in the cars that people drive.

“I think this is the future of renewable energy,” he said. “This is where the technology is going to get developed and then eventually it will be more appropriate for consumers.”

Mr Al Hanai, a master’s student in mechanical engineering from Abu Dhabi, said he was excited for the challenge to come to the UAE and hoped it would spread to other emirates.

“This is where it should be because we have all the sunshine sitting on us 12 hours a day,” he said. “That’s just energy going to waste, so why aren’t we using it?”

Abu Dhabi’s desert environment makes it perfect for racing, said Troy Halm, 24, a driver for the University of Michigan team who has competed in three solar-car races.

He said he worried about wind because of the vehicles’ light weight, but looked forward to seeing the rest of the country.

“The race will be a really great opportunity to get around the country and see what it is like,” Mr Halm said.

At about midday on Thursday, another PI team driver, Asadullah Saeed, said that things were going smoothly for the team and they had recovered after starting a few minutes late, with above-average lap times.

Driving the solar car is scientific and takes time to get used to. Both feet are used to accelerate and brake, said Mr Saeed, 21, a Pakistani mechanical engineering student.

Most teams calculate the average speed and precisely how to drive each corner to drive eight hours and end with no charge in the battery, said Mr Al Hanai.

“There are lots of electrical things to pay attention to,” he said. “It’s very scientific.”

Drivers must weigh 80kg along with the ballasts. They regularly switch and meet about the progress to review, said Hashir Nasim, 20, a team member from Pakistan.

Dr Fahad Almaskari, project director who has guided the PI team of about 40 members, said he has watched the team grow in terms of knowledge and skills and looks forward to regroup after the race and further develop ahead of the World Solar Challenge in Australia this October.

“I believe every member of the team has developed his personality,” Dr Almaskari said.

Hans Tholstrup, who created the event in 1987 and is president of the federation, said that “nothing compares” to human ideas and “what we can do for the future”.

“The solar car, of course, is now capable of doing 100km per hour with a human being on board — 100km per hour on just the sunshine hitting the car.”

lcarroll@thenational.ae