Ryerson race car team zooming towards the sun

By Lauren Malyk 

“Waterloo has a solar racing team, U of T has a solar racing team, McMaster has one. So why don’t we have one?” thought Ryerson marketing student, Eeshmam Munir. So he founded one — calling it Aphelion. He’s not new to racing; he previously completed an internship with Red Bull’s Italian Formula One racing team, Scuderia Toro Rosso.

“(Solar racing) is eco-friendly, it’s green energy, it’s renewable and it’s a new challenge for all of us,” said Munir.

The name of the project, Aphelion, means the point at which an object is farthest from the sun. Jasmine Walters, the team’s former Chief Commercial Officer, who came up with the name. The team isn’t sure how fast the car will go when built, but eventually they hope to race in the Formula Sun Grand Prix, which this year will be held in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The project started out as a pitch for a class. When Munir started the club, in November 2014, he didn’t expect there to be much student interest. But on the first day of interviews for team members, he was surprised to see about 100 eager applicants.

“New teams are always exciting to be a part of and this team offered something I was highly interested in — aerodynamics,” said fourth-year aerospace student and aerodynamic team lead, Ethan Johnson-Skinner in an email. The majority of the members on the 40- to 50-person team are students from Ryerson’s engineering program.

“There’s a big role that needs to be filled for engineers alone,” Munir said. “You need to build a car — people who know how to do mechanical engineering, you need people who know aerospace engineering to design the shape, you need a lot of electrical (engineers) because it’s an electric car. They’re all working together in harmony.”

WEB-Solar Car designers

Aphelion team members (left to right): Tanmay Parikh, Eeshmam Munir, and Rom Zhou. (Courtesy: Eeshemam Munir)

Since the club started, the team has been working on design. They’ve done some rough sketches but don’t plan to start building until the summer.

When it came to designing the car, Johnson-Skinner looked at other solar powered vehicles. He says that he took an airfoil shape — a design similar to a wing — and used it as the shape of the body of the car. Since airfoils are typically used to create lift,  he decided to flip the curved edge of the airfoil to have a reverse effect.

“You don’t want the airfoil to lift because you don’t want the solar car to be lifting off the ground. This way you can create down force,” said Johnson-Skinner.

The team’s mechanical lead, Revant Kumar, compared the shape of the car to an airplane wing with a bubble over the driver’s cockpit.

For maximum efficiency, the team wants to have 5-8 solar-power panels on the top of the car. This is because the top of the vehicle offers the most visibility for the panels and the flat top allows them to sit nicely. If solar panels were on the sides of the car, Munir says the panels would not be able to pick up enough energy.

“Solar panels are divided into groups, there will be about five to eight of them. If one fails it only ruins that group,” says Munir. “The MPPT, maximum power point tracking gets the most amount of power out of the solar cells. Then it’s fed into the battery. The battery is connected to everything included the motor which is a part of the wheel.”

Not just anyone can drive the car either. He or she has to be athletic and a maximum weight of 80 kg with a helmet on to operate Aphelion. The driver must also have a G licence and be willing to take advanced driving lessons for safety precautions.

Team members have been in contact with other solar racing teams in Canada and the Netherlands to discuss their process. As soon as the design phase is finished, the team plans to acquire  the material and the space needed to make the car.

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Feb. 24, 2015.

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