Steeped in over 25 years of design and manufacturing experience, NUsolar has raced a total of seven vehicles. The team is not defined solely by the vehicle we work on at the moment but the lineage of vehicles that have come before. We are proud of our team’s history; through iteration and modifications, we continue to improve and hone the performance of latest and greatest vehicle.
Seven (2015 - Present)
Seven is NUsolar’s latest race-tested vehicle. Seven’s first true test was at the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2019 where it achieved 10th place within the Challenger vehicle class. Having learned the shortcoming and improvement of Seven from the competition, modifications and improvements will be made this year to further Seven’s performance and ultimately qualify for the American Solar Challenge of 2020.
Going forward, we hope to further improve the car’s reliability and optimization by improving our suspension design, making the car lighter while maintaining structural integrity, and improving our electrical system.
SC6 (2010 - 2016)
NU Solar’s 6th generation solar car is made up of a composite monocoque chassis and airfoil shaped body, with a steel roll cage. The structural parts of the body are comprised of carbon fiber/Nomex sandwich glued together with high strength epoxy. Several steel and aluminum plates reinforce the steering and suspension system, which bears high amounts of stress.
Just as our other past cars, SC6 is a fully functional electric vehicle which can be legally driven on any road, although we don’t plan on taking it out on the highway just yet. It is equipped with headlights, turn signals, and a rear-view camera system for driving in reverse.
- Class: Challenger
- Dimensions (L x W x H): 4.753m x 1.677m x 0.988m
- Weight (Without Driver): 250kg
- Top speed: 40mph
- Number of Motors: 1
- Number of wheels: 3
- Wheel Type: Ecopia
- Battery Voltage: 96V
- Array Power: 1500W
- Array Type: Sunpower C60
- Motor: NGM 7500W
- BPS: Tritium BPS
SC6 is designed with a monocoque structural approach, meaning that the structural support of the car (the ‘frame’ which supports the various other important elements of the car such as the wheels, motor, and batteries) is also its external skin. The body of the car is a carbon-fiber reinforced polymer composite material. We baked the composite in an extremely large “oven for ovens” provided by Precision Quincy (they use the “meta-oven” to bake paint onto kitchen ovens).
Our roll cage is built out of 1.25″ steel tubing with a 0.06 wall-thickness. It is attached to the composite frame of the car with panel grommets, courtesy of The Young Engineers. The cage can sustain up to 62,506psi of stress with no side effects other than some minor plastic deformation. Based on our calculations, this is a high enough threshold to ensure that our driver will be safe in the event of a crash or a rollover.
Currently the canopy is a single molded sheet of plastic which is embedded into the top frame of the car. This section of the frame is hinged to flip up towards the back so that the driver can quickly enter and exit the car. The canopy is transparent in all directions, providing the greatest visibility for the driver. To improve visibility, a small camera at the back of the car acts as a rear-view mirror and transmits a live video stream to a screen inside the cockpit.
The front suspension is an asymetrical double-wishbone suspension with a rocker. The rear is a trailing arm suspension with the motor mounted directly onto the wheel.
Our motor is a 96V NGM brushless DC motor. It uses a variable gap mechanism (an Air Gap) to change the torque constant dynamically, allowing us to adjust the car’s performance and power consumption for various external conditions. The motor is extremely efficient in transforming the electrical power from the solar cells and batteries to the mechanical energy necessary to drive the car forward. At 500 W power output, it reaches 95% efficiency.
SC6 uses a three-wheel design. The two front wheels are connected directly to the steering wheel by a mechanical link, and have a turning radius of about 6 ft. They are suspended from two mounting plates, both of which we had custom machined, which are attached directly to the outer frame of the car. The frame extends down around the wheel, protecting it and the internal systems from any road debris. Our real wheel is attached to our DC motor and is mounted on a dangling suspension system attached to the rollcage. We use treaded tires with either aluminum or carbon-fiber rims.
Our car’s solar cell array covers 95% of the top projection of SC6, with a surface area of about 6.9 meters. The array is electrically split into three parts, each of which is wired to a Maximum Point Power Tracker which take the ~80V supplied by the solar cells and convert it into 120V to send to the batteries. The 468 solar cells which comprise the array are manufactured by the Sun Power corporation and encapsulated by SunCat Solar. These cells represent some of the best solar cell technology currently available (efficiency > 20%).
SC6 uses Lithium-Ion battery technology. Li-Ion batteries have a high output-to-weight ratio, so car is both well-powered and light. Our battery box contains 32 modules connected in series, each with 13 3.7V LG 18650 Li-Ion batteries connected in parallel by nickle plates. They receive power from the solar array through the MPPT’s at 120V and supply power to all the car’s motor, light, and telemetry systems. Each module is actively motitored by the BPS (see Telemetry), which will shut the car down if it detects any anomalies in temperature, voltage, or current. As an additional safety feature, each module is encased in a specially formulated wax which has a melting point slightly less than the combustion point of the batteries. Should the batteries begin to overheat, this wax will wick away excess heat by melting, hopefully giving us a few extra seconds to shut down the car should the BPS fail to do so for some reason.
Several computer systems control SC6. These are connected to each other by a CAN bus. The BPS, or battery protection system, monitors voltage, temperature, and current for each of the 26 battery modules and is responsible for shuting the car down should anything go wrong. It also relays telemetric data to the other systems over the CAN bus, as well as to a remote laptop over a cellular network. The driver controls circuit is responsible for controling the speed of the vehicle, as well as the lights and turn signals. The primary interface to this circuit is a panel of buttons built into our steering wheel, which the driver uses to send various commands.
We program all of our car’s logic using the freely available Arduino Platform on the Arduino Due. Arduino makes teaching our code easier for new members, and provides the opportunity to use any of the hundreds of libraries written by other people all over the world.
SC5 is NUsolar’s 5th generation solar vehicle and engineered primarily to compete in the American Solar Challenge (ASC), a 2400 mile race from Dallas, Texas to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Despite its heavier anticipated weight, SC5 was extremely reliable and secured 13th place out of the 25 teams at ASC 2009 (The best finish to date for NUSolar) and 3rd place at FSGP 2009. SC5 competed again in June 2010, placing 3rd in the Formula Sun Grand Prix and 10th in the Tulsa-to-Chicago American Solar Challenge. In the 2011 Formula Sun Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, SC5 once again took third place.
In the 2012, SC5 was formally retired and it currently resides in the Auto Garage at Evanston Township High School where students have the opportunity to observe and understand a future alternative energy transportation method.
nu’Nergy (2003-2005) is the Northwestern University Solar Car Team’s 4th generation solar vehicle. nu’Nergy was engineered primarily to compete in the American Solar Challenge 2005, a 2500 mile race from Austin, Texas to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. nu’Nergy qualified for the 2005 NASC in Topeka, Kansas while placing 5th at the 2005 Formula Sun Race! There was a terrible incident on the initial day of the 2005 NASC race that prevented us from continuing further. During the first hour of the race with the car running at maximum road speed, a short in the battery system caused a catastrophic failure, comprising the batteries and ending our race.
nuSun (2001-2003) was the Northwestern University Solar Car Team’s first ever open class entry. nuSun was engineered to compete in the American Solar Challenge 2003, a 2400 mile race from Chicago to Los Angeles. nuSun performed impressively in the qualifying competition; due to a failure in its suspension, however, nuSun was unable to compete in the American Solar Challenge.
‘Nergy is the solar electric car engineered by members of The Northwestern Solar Car Team to compete in the 2001 American Solar Challenge, a 10 day 2300 mile race from Chicago to L.A. along historic Route 66. After spending a year on the design, it took the team a little over 7 months and $75,000 to construct ‘Nergy. With 4 lead acid truck batteries, a chromoly steel frame, and a carbon fiber-nomex-kevlar shell, it weighed a little under 1000 pounds, which is quite heavy in solar car standards. 498 silicon solar cells generated an average of 700 watts, driving the car an average speed of 25 mph.
At the 2001 American Solar Car Challenge, 45 national and international collegiate teams registered, 30 of which qualified. Although Northwestern was a rookie team, ‘Nergy succeeded in finishing 26th overall. Currently, ‘Nergy resides on display at the Adler Planetarium since 2008.
SolarCat is the Northwestern University Solar Car Team’s first solar electric car engineered to compete in SunRayce 1999, a 1300 mile race from Washington, D.C. to Florida. While a mechanical defect prevented SolarCat from competing that year, SolarCat’s design influenced the design and manufacture process of NUsolar’s successive solar vehicles.