Written by: The Mechanical Engineering students of UKZN
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Solar Team consists of ten people from the discipline ofMechanical Engineering. Recently the team entered our newest solar car, Hulamin-iKlwa, into the 2014 Sasol Solar Challenge.
The idea behind the Sasol Solar challenge is to portray the extent to which renewable energy, in this case solar energy, can be implemented in automotive designs of the future. In addition to this, it aims to showcase the innovations of engineering research within South Africa.
This year three international teams and seven local teams participated. The 2014 UKZN Solar Team was unique to every other team participating in the event as we were made up exclusively of mechanical engineering students and the majority of us were undergraduates.
The car was designed and built over 18 months with special attention given to making the car as energy efficient as possible. This included thorough optimisation of the aerodynamic shape of the vehicle, which is why it was named after a short, aerodynamic Zulu spear which resembles the shape of the body.
On the night before the race, we had a list of important finishing touches and small modifications which we needed to make. This included charging our battery pack as we could start the race with a full charge. We had a full night’s work ahead of us when the power suddenly cut. In a panicked state, we eventually made our way to a friend’s garage, close to the start line of the race. We got there at three o’clock in the morning and quickly put the car on charge.
At about 7am, half an hour before the start of the race, we began doing our final preparations. As we turned a switch, connecting our panels to our battery, one of the sensors exploded and damaged other vital components. Our car was rendered un-driveable but we were not about to let 18 months of hard work go to waste. We began diagnosing and attempting to fix the problem until we had to trailer the car to the first stop of the race, Kroonstad. In Kroonstad, after a short rest, we continued to work on the car in the workshop of a nearby school, kindly offered to us by North West University (NWU), another solar car team.
By about midday the following day, on the second day of the race, we had finally repaired the car. We made our way to the start line and carefully placed Hulamin-iKlwa on the road and set off on our journey to Cape Town. Finally, we thought our luck had changed. However, a few hours out of Kroonstad we had a puncture in one of our tyres. We quickly changed the tyre and then drove straight into a storm. We pushed through the storm, until eventually we had to pull over due to heavy rain. We finally made it to Bloemfontein with an empty battery, completing 201.5 km after a 30 km penalty for being 12 minutes late.
We were now about 800 km behind Nuon, the Dutch world champions, who were leading the competition. The first South African team, the team from the NWU, were about 400 km ahead of us. We were ecstatic to be back in the race but at that stage we could never have known we still had a chance to win.
Watch the Durban team’s journey here: