New Solar Car Racing Team Driven To Shine Light on Alternative Power Source

Members of the Comet Solar Racing team discuss models of a vehicle that they hope to design and build. From left are mechanical engineering students John Hernandez, Luis Puente, Yash Rupawat, Keyu Cao and Phyo Sone.

A new Comet Solar Racing team at The University of Texas at Dallas is in it for the long haul. Members of the student-led club will be competing in solar vehicle challenges to show the viability of alternative fuel-based transportation. 

Their goal is to build an energy-positive vehicle: one that produces more electricity than it uses, can drive 1,500 to 1,800 miles and will help raise awareness for sustainability issues. 

“We all believe the future of mobility is alternative-fuel-based transportation,” said Yash Rupawat, a mechanical engineering senior and competition director for the student organization. “Going through the challenging process of building and racing a solar car will not only foster a community for mobility enthusiasts at UT Dallas, but will also help students develop industry-relevant skills.”

Text logo - Comet Solar Racing, built by comets, fueled by stars.

Solar cars pose unique engineering challenges — in solar-energy harvesting, power electronics, composites manufacturing, aerodynamic design and racing strategy — that will give students experience in practical engineering applications and in solving real-world challenges. Participating in the car-building project also helps students develop skills such as project management, leadership, delegation and collaboration.

Student organizers said they want to not only build a solar car but also a top collegiate solar racing team that will drive innovation and ingenuity in fields related to solar and electric mobility.

The team’s first-generation car, which will be built over two years, is a four-wheeled, solar-electric car designed to excel at cross-country marathons. Their first goal is to race in the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2021, an annual event held on grand prix or road-style closed courses that measures laps completed in three days. They also are eyeing the American Solar Challenge, a multiday, 1,500- to 2,000-mile cross-country endurance rally across North America. 

John Hernandez, mechanical engineering junior and lead mechanical engineer of the team, said five students helped launch Comet Solar Racing.

“We all believe the future of mobility is alternative fuel-based transportation. Going through the challenging process of building and racing a solar car will not only foster a community for mobility enthusiasts at UT Dallas but will also help students develop industry-relevant skills.”

Yash Rupawat, mechanical engineering senior and competition director for Comet Solar Racing

“Despite other commitments, internships and travel, we spent most of the last summer on research and developing the first iteration of our car,” he said.

The organization has since grown into a multidisciplinary team of about 30 members who are designing and modeling their solar car and researching the batteries and solar cells they will need.

Two UT Dallas faculty advisors and volunteer industry mentors are providing their knowledge and expertise for the project. Dr. Stephen Yurkovich, Louis Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Chair, department head of systems engineering and director of the Center for Control Science and Technology, has expertise in energy storage systems and automotive system control. Dr. Ghanshyamsinh Gohil, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, researches battery electric vehicles, power electronics and energy systems. Volunteer mentors in systems engineering are also helping by reviewing vehicle designs.

A rendering of a possible solar car design.

Student organizers are enlisting corporate sponsors to fund the cost of the car and competition, which they estimate will be $120,000. Through their “Solar Ranger” campaign, students, families and individuals can contribute to the project by “adopting” a solar cell or battery cell for $10.

They are also recruiting more students for the team’s four divisions: mechanical, electrical, manufacturing and business. Club members represent a variety of majors, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, materials science and engineering, neuroscience, physics, marketing, accounting and business administration.

“We’re hoping to involve more majors from across the campus. We have a solid engineering team and are looking to strengthen our business and administration team to help with the cost and logistics of the endeavor,” said Phyo Sone, mechanical engineering senior and director of business for the team.

Keyu Cao, mechanical engineering junior and the team’s director of racing and strategy, said, “We hope this project helps inspire students to become leaders in sustainability and mobility in years to come. We welcome anyone with an interest in these fields to contribute to and learn from the team.”

For more information, email [email protected] or [email protected].

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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