Oil, Gas, Sun: Done Versus Fun

Bloodhound SSC is working to break the Land Speed Record with hopes of reaching speeds in excess of 1,000 mph.  The environmental merit of Bloodhound’s pursuit is for the future to determine.  However, the Solar Powered Land Speed Record was broken on January 7, 2011.

Maybe it was the home field advantage as the University of New South Wales (UNSW) took their Sunswift IVy car to victory with a world record speed for solar-powered vehicles of 55.2 mph (88.8 kph).  The previous record of 48 mph (78 kph) was set in 1987 by the General Motors car Sunraycer.  General Motors (GM) felt that it was not feasible to bring a solar powered vehicle to mass market.  GM instead opted to research electric vehicles and is now focusing on the Chevy Volt.

Batteries are removed prior to the speed test and while this does reduce the already light weight of the vehicle, it also means that no batteries are available to provide power.  Without batteries the efficiency of converting solar energy to electricity is key.  The GM Sunraycer used approximately 1500 Watts of electricity in 1987.  The Sunswift IVy used only 1050 Watts of electricity in 2011.

“This means that Sunswift IV, with ~25% less power than the previous record holder, went 13% faster.” (Sunswift)

The Sunswift team has experimented with a variety of different motors, including asynchronous AC and brushed DC motors.  The team has found the most efficient motors to be brushless three phase DC which exceed 98% efficiency. CSIRO, an Australian company, makes the in-wheel motor used by many solar racing teams, including Sunswift.

The Sunswift IVy cost slightly over $280,000 USD to develop.  The Bloodhound SSC has required funds well in excess of $15 million USD.  The Bloodhound SSC has carbon emissions to add to the cost.

The Bloodhound SSC education program is engaging with students today to encourage them to pursue engineering and other STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathmatics) fields in which many countries are lacking qualified professionals.  The Sunswift IVy is produced with the University of New South Wales using student’s work today.  Bloodhound wants professionals to work on yesterdays fuel tomorrow, while Sunswift has students working on tomorrows fuel today.

Andy Green, current (March, 2011) Land Speed Record holder and person slated to drive the Bloodhound SSC is not the only green Bloodhound has to offer.  Efficiency improvements should lead to fuel reduction in more mainstream applications.  Additionally, Bloodhound’s education program has one lesson in which students power a small model car with a balloon.  Now that seems green, wonder if they could scale that up for the mass market.

“Going Nowhere Fast: Bloodhound Sniffs at Green”, discusses Bloodhound SSC’s bid to set a new Land Speed Record at over 1,000 mph.

Photo Courtesy of Sunswift