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Bionic surface technologies at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge

From October 13th to 17th 2019, the world’s toughest race for solar vehicles took place for the 15th time. The drivers had to challenge over 3000 kilometers (1864 miles) across the beautiful cities and landscapes of Australia. Bionic surface technologies also joined in and supported Vattenfall’s team from the Netherlands with its unique sharkskin technology.


NunaX with Riblets | Credit: Jorrit Lousberg

NunaX with Riblets | Credit: Jorrit Lousberg

From north to south

Since 1987, teams from all over the world compete in the World Solar Challenge with their self-constructed, electrically powered solar vehicles.
What began 30 years ago with only 13 teams has grown into a remarkable event with up to 53 teams from 24 countries and three different classes in 2019 – also thanks to the growing awareness of the environment.
Despite the three different classes “Challenger”, “Cruiser” and “Adventure”, the principle of the World Solar Challenge remains the same today.

About 3022 kilometers (~1877 miles) have to be covered, starting on the north coast in Darwin over the wide landscapes on the roads of Australia to the southern tip, where the “festival city” Adelaide is located.
The teams are travelling from 8 am till 5 pm in a convoy of at least three vehicles: The Lead, the Solar Car and the Chase. The racer drives the solar vehicle in the middle of this convoy; the lead at the front is responsible for the navigation and the track check, and the chase at the end is responsible for weather, speed and energy strategies.

Of course, at some point, the question also arises: why this whole spectacle every two years?
The focus lays on the public presentation of the research and development of solar vehicles – innovation, increased efficiency and emission reductions are the most important factors.

The different classes are divided into:
– Challenger –
This is a classic race. The focus is on speed.
– Cruiser –
This class is about making solar vehicles suitable for mass production and public transportation. The aim is therefore to transport as many passengers as energy-efficiently as possible. Efficiency and practicality are decisive for victory.
– Adventurer –
Models from previous years or without race admission compete in this class. They drive without scoring.
Every driver has to take so much lead with him, until the limit of 80 kilograms is reached, so lightweight drivers don’t have any advantage over someone else.

Just a “bunch of students”? – Vattenfall’s Solar Team

The Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands participated again at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.
For the tenth time, 16 dedicated students of the Delft University of Technology will take part in the race; In doing so, every student is exempted for at least 18 months – in order for having sufficient time for planning and construction of this vehicle.
The Swedish energy company Vattenfall AB is the main sponsor behind this solar team. They want to achieve a life without fossil fuels within a generation and the team of the University of Delft shows this in an impressive way.
A total of nine times they are on the podium (7x first and 2x second place) at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge with their Nuna series and since 2005 they have even held the current course record with a time of 29 hours and 11 minutes and an average speed of 102.75 km/h (~ 63,85 mph).

In cooperation with bionic surface technologies – the “secret weapon”

This year, they launched a galley vehicle called NunaX.
And NunaX is something to be proud of: the Dutch racer weighs only 133 kilograms, which is due to the new development of each component and the use of new materials.
But not only on weight was set a focus, also wind plays – as expected – a large role. NunaX has been designed to have a very aerodynamic design and this idea has even been continued. Thus, some parts of the vehicle have the function of sailing and produce a crosswind a forward movement. As a result, the car not only is powered by solar- but also by wind energy.

In addition to all these features, the race car of the Dutch solar team is the only one in this year’s race to have an absolute secret weapon against their competitors: the well-known Sharkskin from bionic surface technologies.
This foil fits like a second skin over the individual parts of the vehicle and increases – because of its special structure – not only the aerodynamics, but also the efficiency. It’s the first time ever that a solar vehicle has been equipped with this sharkskin like foil.

Vattenfall’s solar car in flames

With NunaX in the first place and a left far-behind competition, it was almost guaranteed that the Vattenfall team could one again record an outstanding victory.
But it turned out differently than expected: 200 kilometers (~124 miles) from the finish line the dream of the great victory bursts when their solar car suddenly started to burn.
Driver, Tim van Leeuwen, was able to escape from the burning car and remained unharmed. The reason for the fire is unclear; further investigations were, however, set.

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