University of NSW students drive Sunswift solar car into the record books
By Neal Woolrich
Fed up with soaring petrol prices and mounting fuel bills?
If a group of bright young sparks from the University of New South Wales have their way, a trip to the bowser might one day be a thing of the past.
Sixty undergraduates from the university's engineering and business faculties have built the fifth generation of the Sunswift solar car, which they have dubbed "Eve".
At speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour, Eve can be powered entirely by the solar cells that cover most of its exterior.
For faster speeds and driving at night, Eve's battery kicks in.
The battery takes around 20 hours of sunlight to fully charge, and has a travelling range of 500 kilometres.
Eve has posted a top speed of 132kph and in July, the team smashed a 26-year-old world record for solar cars, averaging over 100kph for a 500km journey on one battery charge.
"Everywhere we go people look at the car, they want to get in it, they want to drive it," Sunswift's business manager Rob Ireland said.
"It's a real crowd pleaser. We wanted a car that you could drive to work that people would stare at in the street and think 'that's really cool'."
UNSW has run the Sunswift program since 1996 to compete every two years in the World Solar Challenge.
Mr Ireland said some of the innovations from the Sunswift have been adopted by the automotive industry, like the solar panels on a Nissan Leaf, which power its electronics system.
Glowing success in a 'weak' sector
Despite the promise of projects like Sunswift, the future for engineering graduates in Australia is clouded.
"At the moment the sector is a little bit weak," Bob Sharon, chief executive of Green Global Solutions, said.
Mr Sharon's firm sponsors several UNSW undergraduates and brought the Sunswift to the All-Energy trade fair in Melbourne.
"But I believe we're building a platform for the future that will make it much stronger."
The Federal Government on Tuesday unveiled a $400 million plan to foster industry investment and innovation, but Mr Sharon said the Government needed to do more.
"Overall, Tony Abbott has done a pretty good job. But in the area of renewable power, in the area of this industry, I think he's got a lot of catching up to do," he said.
Mr Ireland knows the 40 hours each week that he and other team members spend on the Sunswift will hurt their university marks, but he said what they learn from the project cannot be taught in the classroom.
"What a lot of employers are recognising is that when you are part of projects like Sunswift, you learn a lot more than just a degree," he said.
"You interact a lot with industry, you apply what you learn in your degree in a real fashion, you're building real things," he said.
The next challenge for the team is to make the Sunswift roadworthy.
While that will entail a complete redesign of the car, you get the feeling it will be little more than a bump in the road for this team of rising engineering stars.
Watch the full report on The Business tonight at 8:30pm (AEDT) on ABC News 24 and 11:00pm on ABC.