There’s an adage that says the race isn’t always to the swift, but those that endure to the end – and this holds true for students at St. John’s College (SJC) who had anticipated participating in the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Car Challenge in Darwin, Australia, but when that didn’t pan out, they refocused their efforts to give themselves a two-year window to run their new solar car, “Swift Current” – and have now set their sights on the 2021 Australian challenge.
The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge was held in Darwin on October 13, 2019 in the northern territory and finished in the city of Adelaide in South Australia, on Sunday, October 20.
The SJC students began building “Swift Current” a year ago after retiring their first solar car “Green Lightning”. Their goal was to build a new car that would be lighter than the original, owing to the fact that the frame would be made of tubular aluminum, rather than iron tubing.
Thomas Sands, CEO of Rock Sound Properties 1976 Ltd., donated a used Sand Sniper 150 off-road dune buggy to SJC, which allowed students to begin construction of the new solar vehicle. They unveiled the shell of their new car at the end of 2018, and the conclusion of the school’s recent eight-week Energy Academy during which 12 students learned about renewable energy and its uses.
The students had stripped the buggy of its gasoline motor and welded on a rack for solar panels and a mount for a new electric motor, according to Father Shazz Turnquest, who heads the STEM (science, technology, education and math) initiative and who is also a physics teacher at SJC.
“We need to source batteries, a charge controller and a motor controller to move the project along and to get the car moving under its own power,” said Turnquest in an earlier interview with The Nassau Guardian.
“Green Lightning” proved the SJC team could compete with the best in the United States, which they did at the 2017 Solar Car Challenge in Fort Worth, Dallas, Texas; their plan to put “Swift Current” through her paces in Australia did not pan out.
For over 30 years, the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge has welcomed the greatest minds from around the world to Australia to push the limits of technological innovation and travel the outback in a vehicle powered only by the energy of the sun.
Teams comprise of tertiary and secondary students from over 30 countries.
It’s all about energy management. Based on the notion that a 1,000W car would complete the journey in 50 hours, solar cars are allowed a nominal 5kW hours of stored energy, which is 10 percent of that theoretical figure. All other energy must come from the sun or be recovered from the kinetic energy of the vehicle.
Once the teams have left Darwin, they must travel as far as they can until 5 p.m. in the afternoon, where they make camp in the desert, wherever they happen to be. All teams must be fully self-sufficient. During the journey there are seven mandatory check points where observers are changed and team managers may update themselves with the latest information on the weather and their position in the field. At check points, teams can perform the most basic of maintenance only – checking and maintaining tire pressure and cleaning debris from the vehicle.
Participating teams enter their vehicles into one of the following three classes – the Challenger Class is for single-seat solar cars designed to be fast; the Cruiser Class for efficient, practical solar cars with two or more seats; and the Adventure Class, a non-competitive class for solar cars built for previous events.
Twelfth grade students Hensley Armbrister, Vashanti Storr, Paulina Kantanka, Philip Ritchie, Zane Thompson, Yanek Huggins, Ulric Armbrister and Raja Nottage, along with 11th grade student Taequan Stuart and 10th grade student Aaron Turnquest, are working on the car.
Turnquest anticipated that it will take his students approximately 10 months to build “Swift Current”.
“We have a framework established by the race organizers that we have to follow in order to compete in Australia. We hope to use more expensive components, so I expect a cost increase of at least 50 percent,” said Turnquest.
He anticipated it would cost in the region of $250,000 to build the car and field the squad Down Under, with $50,000 allocated for the car; $10,000 for their entrance fee; $30,000 for shipping their car each way; and approximately $5,000 to $6,000 for each of the 10 team members and himself, who will have to be in Australia for two weeks.
Looking back at their successful first solar car as they began building their second solar car, Turnquest said he didn’t think there were any “mistakes” that needed to be rectified for improvements to the second car.
“After attending a workshop in Dallas as to how to construct a solar car, as a first-time team we adopted many of the suggestions of the experts. We kept our car simple and rugged. This paid off well for us, as we were able to get the car to Dallas without any major problems, and we didn’t break down during the four days of racing. We did very well for a first-time team, so I think our ‘Model T’ version of a solar car passed with flying colors. In terms of improvements we are trying to make the car lighter by eliminating as many non-essential items as possible. We also hope to maintain a higher speed of 30 miles per hour (mph) for a longer period. Thirty mph is the minimum speed for the cross-continent race in Australia that we are hoping to take part in.”