Behind the scenes of the World Solar Challenge with Western Sydney Universityright-arrow
read-time7 mins
by Charter Hall

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Q&A: We check in with our Western Sydney University team at the World Solar Challenge

Every two years, students from across the globe gather at Australia’s northernmost city to drive 3,022km down the middle of the country - from Darwin to Adelaide. What makes this journey different to the usual tourist trek, is that it’s entirely powered by solar energy. 

The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge 2019 is a celebration of the progress and innovations being made in education and research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) around the world, and plays a huge role in shaping the future of sustainable technologies and green energy in the built environment. As part of Charter Hall’s ongoing partnership with Western Sydney University (Western Sydney University ), and our commitment to sustainable innovation, we have partnered with the team from the Western Sydney University  to provide the resources and facilities needed to get their solar car to the start line. 

To take them even further, and drive innovation in higher education, Charter Hall is collaborating with Western Sydney University  to develop Innovation Quarter at Westmead, as well as a new Engineering Innovation Hub at 6 Hassall Street, Parramatta. 

From the comfort of their evolving campus, to the streets of the Northern Territory, the Western Sydney University  UNLIMITED 3.0 team are already solving global challenges in eco-travel, showing incredible innovation and tenacity in designing one the world’s lightest solar cars in existence - and putting it to the test. 

 

Western Sydney University Solar Car team

 

We sat down with Max Mammone, a mechanical engineering student at Western Sydney University and the Team Manager, to find out how our team was travelling, what they’ve learnt from the experience, and where this challenge might take them in the future… 

Why is the World Solar Challenge so important?

Max: This journey straight through the centre of Australia is one of the hardest things you could do as an undergraduate engineering student. But it also happens to be one of the most rewarding. I chose to join the challenge because we’re really pushing the limits of engineering to the nth degree, and it shows. We’re working with some of the most efficient and advanced vehicles and materials on the planet, and our research and adventures will help shape real life solar technologies and travel in the future. As an undergrad, this is a remarkable experience and achievement, and I will carry it with me throughout my career. 

How is the race going so far? 

Max: This has been an incredible learning experience for us all. We’ve encountered a lot of issues, from the scrutineers’ preferences, to unexpected weather events, all of which always happen to the top teams when they’re pushing the limits. 

Although we started last out of 42 cars, we managed to come in at eighth place at the end of the first race day - a remarkable climb through the grid. We also managed to successfully learn some lessons on the road - for example, the difficulties posed by single lane roads, especially up North, and how to negotiate overtaking other competitors. 

Unfortunately, we were significantly halted mid-race by a whirly-wind that took four or five of the top cars out of the race - and counting. We’re still exploring what went wrong, but these setbacks are part of the learning process, and give us an opportunity to look into what went wrong and what we could do to help cars like ours withstand extreme and unforeseen climatic events.  

Tell us about your journey building the car. How long did it take? What unique and innovative features are incorporated?

Max: Designing and building the UNLIMITED 3.0 Solar Car was an eight-month project in itself. We worked with some of the world’s most expensive, complex and advanced materials, like carbon fibre. Our car is the lightest solar car in existence, weighing in at only 116kilos, which is 15kg lighter than the other race designs, giving us a competitive edge in terms of speed and efficiency. Some exceptional features include custom concept tyres and the most efficient solar panels in the world on top of the vehicle - the same as those taken up into space! The car’s lightweight nature itself is obviously a huge feature too. 

What were the key challenges you face in building the cars? 

Max: As this is the first time our team has ever had to build a car from start to finish in our own workshop, we had to do a lot of problem solving - what the processes were, and how to build it, without much hands on experience. Moving a solar vehicle along with 22 students from Western Sydney University  to the other side of the continent just to start the challenge was also complex. But partners like Charter Hall have really helped us to overcome these challenges and get to the top of the lineup through resources and equipment - we wouldn’t be where we are without them. 

How will the learnings from the race be applied to ongoing innovations in sustainable engineering and tech?

Max: We have certainly learnt a lot in terms of sustainability and how efficient something can be. Whether that’s through the types of materials we use or the design of the car, this goal and drive to build sustainably will stay with us throughout the rest of our careers. Our vehicles and innovations don’t have to be big and bulky, they can be light-weight, and work within complex parameters, whilst still using energy-efficient resources.

Next year, Western Sydney University will be at the American Solar Challenge start line with more drive, more questions and more innovations up our sleeves. In the meantime, I look forward to putting these lessons and experience to use and working to take sustainable engineering to the next level. 

Charter Hall is excited to be making a positive difference for the next generation of engineers and innovators at  6 Hassel St, Parramatta. The world-leading innovation hub will be a unique collaboration where commerce meets campus, seamlessly blending a high performance, technology enabled vertical campus for Western Sydney University  and UNSW Sydney and 28,800sqm of PCA A Grade commercial space.