University of Waterloo students ready to ride into the sunset with new solar car

The University of Waterloo's Midnight Sun Solar Rayce Car Team is revving up for the annual American Solar Challenge with a car that is very different than anything the team has created before.

The eleventh version of the Midnight Sun car looks more like a compact sedan than a race car

This year's Midnight Sun solar car will be in the cruiser category rather than the race car category at the American Solar Challenge later this month. (Midnight Sun Solar Rayce Car Team)

Members of a racing team from the University of Waterloo are hoping for sunny skies as they hit the road with their solar car, travelling from Pittsburgh to South Dakota later this month.

The team has created the eleventh version of the Midnight Sun solar car and are gearing up to participate in the annual American Solar Challenge.

"Most of our team haven't been to a race at all, but we've learned a lot building this car and we're so ambitious, and we're excited to go to the race this summer," said Minghao Ji, the team's engineering manager.

Team takes on cruiser category

This year's car is different than any other car to come out of the university. It's a cruiser. That means the car has four tires, a driver and a passenger seat, and looks more like a sedan than the usual race cars that have three tires and just one seat.

This is what the Midnight Sun solar car looked like in 2013. ((Colin Hall/CBC))

A major challenge with the cruiser category is that the car must have the same sized solar panel as the race cars, even though it will carry two people and may be heavier.

"We had to do a lot of weight reduction in our design in order to actually be able to still power it from the same [solar panel]," Ji said.

The weight of the driver needs to be balanced out with sandbags. Ji said that if their driver is lighter, they can use lighter sandbags. Then the overall weight won't be too high. 

'Like an eggshell'

Another difference this year is the car does not have a metal frame. Instead, the team combined carbon fibre and a honeycomb material called Nomex to create a composite material that hardened when baked to form the car's exterior.

It's a very unique project and it takes of lot of time from your everyday life.- Minghao Ji, engineering manager for Midnight Sun team

"In this case, we're almost molding a car, and it's coming out of this oven and after curing it's just one solid shell, like an eggshell almost," Ji said.

They did that to help decrease the weight, Ji said. The typical aluminum frame can be too heavy, particularly when you're adding a second person.

Excited to see other teams

The race will start July 26 in Pittsburgh and will end in South Dakota, a drive of nearly 3,000 km.

The team from the University of Waterloo will be pitted against teams from all over the world who also entered the cruiser class.

Ji said it's still a relatively new category, so competition isn't as intense as the race car category.

With a top speed of just over 100 km/h, he doesn't think they'll do too badly.

The Midnight Sun car is covered in solar panels. (Midnight Sun Solar Rayce Car Team)

While the race is the exciting part of the trip, Ji said he is also very interested to see what other teams did with their cars.

"That would be exciting as well, to see other cars that people have made, how they designed it, how they manufactured it, and to kind of hear their stories about what it's been like to work on it," he said.

"Because it's a very unique project and it takes a lot of time from your everyday life, so it's kind of a shared experience that everyone has when you go down."


  • An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Minghao Ji as Minghao Li.
    Jul 16, 2016 10:37 AM ET


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