North Texas Daily

Revived Solar Team builds toward 2023 grand prix

Revived Solar Team builds toward 2023 grand prix

Revived Solar Team builds toward 2023 grand prix
November 18
12:00 2022

Since renewing their status in spring 2022, the university’s Solar Team has recruited new members, sponsors and resources to build a fully solar-powered and street-legal car to race in the 20th Formula Sun Grand Prix.

The team aims to qualify for the five-day race next summer to compete against other collegiate-level solar car teams in Topeka, Kansas. To be accepted, the Solar Team’s car must pass several tests in the scrutineering phase, which ensures the car fits within the parameters of the competition and is safe to drive.

Mechanical engineering senior Samuel Pitts has led the team’s new endeavors as Solar Team president. Pitts finds inspiration from his father, who created and coached a high school solar car team, and hopes to leave a legacy of his own.

“Looking at our university, knowing how proud we are to be a green university and big into renewable energy and recycling […] I thought it’d be something that would really represent our university well,” Pitts said. “It’s something I was surprised that we weren’t involved in already.”

Before the spring 2022 semester, Pitts created around 30 solar car designs from scratch based on previous winning models. Xiaohua Li, Solar Team faculty advisor and engineering professor, was impressed by Pitts’ commitment, considering the Solar Team had not yet been recognized as an official university club at the time.

“I was actually amazed because that’s a significant amount of work and that is not related to any kind of coursework we are taking,” Li said. “Without a passion, people would not be able to do that.”

The Solar Team has not been active since 1990 when it competed and placed 18th in the General Motors Sunrayce USA against 32 other teams. This year’s new group expects to compete in the 2023 Grand Prix against other schools, such as the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which have been racing since the rise of solar competitions in the ‘90s.

“Some challenges for us is just starting from scratch […] that’s what we’re doing right now,” said Alex Sekung, electrical engineering junior and Solar Team member. “We’re building a car out of nothing.”

With one and a half years to launch and finish the project, the club is working closely with the College of Engineering to give senior capstone students class credit for working on the solar car. The build of the car’s frame and suspension are already in progress. After the mechanical portion is finished, the electrical division of the team will take over.

“It’s an extremely ambitious goal,” Pitts said. “Most teams that have the funding and are building a high-quality car will take two years to design and build the car.”

The club has 20 active members in addition to the senior capstone students but is not exclusive to engineering majors. College of Business students have also contributed to the project by organizing the team’s funding and building a website.

“This is a very awesome team with students with so many different backgrounds working together for a very exciting project,” Li said. “I’m expecting this to turn out to be something really big for the department, for the College of Engineering and for UNT.”

The Grand Prix is held every summer, but in 2024 will serve as a qualifying competition for the Solar Team’s next goal: the American Solar Challenge. The American Solar Challenge is an international, biennial 1,500 – 2,000 mile cross-country race that takes place across North America to test the solar cars in real-world driving conditions.

While the team continues to build for the upcoming Grand Prix, Pitts is also considering other long-term directions to push the team beyond solar car construction.

“I would love for in the future for us to be open for the possibility of moving into just solar power in general and anything kind of involving that, whether it be bringing solar power on campus, applying for grants to do that or just working with the university,” Pitts said. “We don’t want to restrict ourselves to how we’re defined.”

Featured Image: Mechanical engineering senior and Solar Team president Samuel Pitts displays plans for a fully solar-powered car at a team meeting in Discovery Park on Nov. 9, 2022. Photo by Sarah Hogan

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Heather Nixon

Heather Nixon

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