News / Vancouver

Sun rising on UBC's solar powered car

School might be out for the summer, but about 20 students are hard at work building a solar car in UBC's Engineering Design Studio.

Team manager Joël Mertens said that while solar powered vehicles are not yet a viable or practical option for the rest of the world, the UBC Solar team is focusing is on innovation and education.

"Will we see solar cars driving down the road in the near future? Probably not," he admitted. "But by working on this technology, we are we hope to demonstrate the potential of solar energy and to push the boundaries of vehicle design."

The car is powered by 389 paper-thin solar cells and a 45-pound battery and when it is completed, will be able to travel at 110 kilometres an hour. It weighs 400 pounds, is five meters long and nearly two meters wide -- about the size of an average car -- and is made of carbon fibre and Kevlar, a tough synthetic fibre used in bullet proof vests.

Mertens, who is a masters student in materials engineering at UBC, said the team is made up of young men and women who come from a range of backgrounds, from business to arts majors to engineering students.

"We really want to be inclusive," he said. "Anyone can put solar panels on their rooftops and anyone can build a soap box car. What we're doing is not fundamentally different from that."

UBC Solar named the car "Raven" after the clever and creative creature in Haida mythology. It's said the raven released the sun from its tiny box and made the stars and the moon.

Since the team began building Raven in 2009, they've spent $100,000 on its construction. Mertens said they hope Raven will be ready for competition in 2013, but first they need to raise another $10,000 by December. The team is currently looking for sponsors. You can find out more about Raven and UBC Solar at http://ww.ubcsolar.com.

More on Metronews.ca