With abundant sunshine, India is the perfect location for solar-powered technology. Now a team of young engineers from Jodhpur, Rajasthan have created a solar car that they believe has the potential to be globally competitive and available as a product for the masses, at an affordable price.
It is rightly said that the beginning is always the hardest. For the Aahan solar car project, there were many obstacles to overcome, right from the start. The first was the idea and choosing the reference to start from, followed by how to start. Second was the funding needed to turn a dream into reality. Third was selecting a team which would dedicate themselves to the project as an army on a mission to complete it. Thus, their journey started with guidance from proper mentors and a perfect army of students.
The research started in September, when the team came across the Asia-level Solar Car Competition ,which is organised every year by the ISIE (Imperial Society of Innovative Engineers), and decided to participate in it. For reference, they chose The World Solar Challenge, Australia. Their aim was to build a car with all specifications and features, and to take part in The World Solar Challenge, 2019, and to win it.
When the team began, many people asked, “Why? Why solar?” The answer was that the sun is the ultimate source of energy which can never get depleted despite constant use, unlike petrol, diesel, and other fossil fuels. The other aspect was the alarming rate at which fossil fuels are being used, thereby increasing pollution levels and global warming, the major issue our planet is facing right now. So, the idea was to find a cleaner, safer, and abundant source of energy which could power anything. The answer, of course, was the Sun.
That’s why the team chose solar as the working fuel for the car.
The team comprises of 25 young engineers with the passion to achieve anything, and the will to succeed, along with faculty advisers Mr. Rakesh Narawat, Mr. Mohit Ostwal, and Mrs. Kusum Agarwal. They were led by Captain Kanishk Varshney and Vice-Captain Aman Sachdeva, students of 3rd year Mechanical Engineering at Jodhpur Institute of Engineering & Technology, Rajasthan.
The first step was to divide the team into various departments. The whole team was asked to research as much as possible regarding their departments, and to report back in a given interval. The herculean task of arranging for funds for registration to the competition, and of course build the Solar Car, was accomplished through the co-operation of The Adarsh Credit Co-operative Society Ltd., which agreed to all the terms and conditions and was ready to fund the whole amount for achieving the dream of building the Solar Car.
Technical support, and guidance for the solar system design as well as supply and installation of the flexible solar panels and solar inverter used for driving the car, was provided by Solar Universe, India (c/o Success Impex Pvt. Ltd.).
The aim from the start was to design the vehicle with all the specifications possible, and to build something innovative which no one has ever seen in this domain before.
For designing a solar vehicle, the main focus is on the power system, which includes the motor, the battery, and the solar array. The team also had to keep in mind all the guidelines and rules of the competition they were about to take part in. According to the rules of the competition the motor power is restricted to an upper limit of 2,000 watt. Hence, the team chose a 1,200 watt BLDC Hub Motor.
The battery and the solar panels – the main drivers of the vehicle – had no restrictions. The most obvious choice in batteries are Lead acid batteries. But these weigh quite a bit, and also require regular upkeep and maintenance. For an electric solar-powered vehicle, weight is a major concern, as the vehicle must be as light as possible, considering the limitations of the motor. The team hence dropped the idea of using a lead acid battery, and thought of other alternatives, such as Lithium-Ion and Lithium-Phosphate batteries. These are quite expensive, but weigh almost a third of the weight of lead-acid batteries, and are of course much more efficient in terms of performance, durability, and temperature resistance.
Since Lithium-Phosphate is the more expensive option, the team chose a lithium-ion battery of 65 Ah and 2 C capacity to run the car’s 1,200 watt BLDC hub motor.
For the solar panels, the team could have chosen the stock-type rooftop solar PV array with about 15 % efficiency that weighs about 14 kgs. However, the setup was going to be highly unfeasible for the vehicle, which needed five such solar panels. Hence, the team decided to go for semi-flexible-type solar panels with an efficiency of 19.5 % that could be mounted on the roof very easily, weighed only about 1.50 kgs. per panel, and could take the shape of the car by bending as per its curves.
These solar panels are not readily available in the Indian market, and hence they were imported by the team’s technical partners, Solar Universe, India.
A total of five such panels were used to produce more than half a kilowatt of power, charging the car’s lithium-ion battery bank in 5-6 hours under direct sunshine—easy to find in India!
The top attainable speed with this configuration is 60 kmph, which could be increased by increasing the motor power. However, since the team has rules to follow for the competition, they stuck to this prototype for the time being.
The Solar Car will cost approximately INR 3-5 lakhs in the current market scenario, with no further costs. It features the latest technology in modern vehicles, including a fingerprint scanner and password protection. It also has GPS and NVS systems, along with solar tracker technology. The team’s electrical specialists – Bhattesh Kumar, Mithun Gehlot, Aastha Shrivastava and Yashvardhan – installed these in the vehicle.
The body of the car is glass fibre, about one-third the weight of aluminium and twice as strong. The chassis is built with strong MS AISI 1018. The solar car can sustain an impact of up to 2000 N to protect the vehicle and the driver.
This marvel was possible thanks to the design team, consisting of Aakashdeep Singh, Tushant Prajapat, and Jitesh Singh Chauhan.
People frequently asked the team a question, “Solar cars are not new, and many are in production as we speak. So what’s new and different in your design?” India still lags far behind in producing a vehicle with capabilities and features able to compete in the global market. Cars made outside India, which cost anywhere between INR 20-25 lakhs after import, have inspired Aahan’s design. Aahan costs almost one-sixth that amount, with the same features and capabilities, and upgrade potential as per market needs.
Aahan will participate in ESVC (Electric Solar Vehicle Championship), 2017, organised by the ISIE under the Government of India. There are also plans to participate in the Indo-Asian Solar Challenge, 2017, organised by Ashman Motors. The team also aims to participate in The World Solar Challenge, Australia, the most prestigious event for solar products. Until then, the team continues to work in silence, and prefers to let their success make the noise.