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The University of Michigan's reigning North American Solar Challenge champions will soon unveil their solar car that will compete in an 1,800-mile race across Australia this fall.
At 3 p.m. on June 5 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., the Solar Car Team will reveal "Infinium." This 10th-generation U-M solar vehicle will race against more than 50 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. The car 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 said.
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 explained why speed isn't necessarily king in this case. Strategy is more important, he said.
"There's a limited amount of energy coming in from the sun, making it infeasible to drive the speed limit the entire race," Dowling said. "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 has also 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 said.
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; team project manager Steven Hechtman; and team business director Julia Hawley. The team will also honor its sponsors, including Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Delta Air Lines, and the University of Michigan College of Engineering.
The public event is in the Sally and Wendell Anderson Theater in the museum at 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, Mich.
The UM Solar Car Team is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and is an entirely student-run organization.