Purdue students to race solar car 'Celeritas' in Shell Eco-marathon

March 26, 2012

Members of Purdue Solar Racing show their creations, Celeritas, left, and Pulsar. Celeritas will compete this week in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas, from March 29-April 1 in Houston. The car won last year's Solar Urban Concept category of the competition, an international contest for college and high school students to design and build the most fuel-efficient vehicles. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Students from Purdue University will race their solar car this week in an international competition to create the most fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Purdue car, Celeritas, was designed and built entirely by students and will compete in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012 from Thursday (March 29) to Sunday (April 1) in Houston. The team won last year's Solar Urban Concept category of the competition, achieving an efficiency equivalent to 2,175 miles per gallon.

"Our goal is to get an even higher efficiency this time," said Zack Lapetina, president of Purdue Solar Racing.

Celeritas has been upgraded since its maiden race last year.

"It's a lot more efficient in terms of power management, so you can go farther on a battery charge," said Lapetina, a junior in aeronautical engineering from Geneva, Ill.

Students have added two dashboard displays that show a menu telling the driver how much power is left in the batteries as well as the status of other systems in the car, and they've also adjusted the suspension to reduce friction, he said.

About 50 undergraduate students are involved in the project in teams focusing on the car's carbon-fiber body; the propulsion, braking and suspension systems; as well as critical business, marketing and fundraising functions.

The Purdue Solar Racing team had previously won the Eco-marathon's Prototype Solar category three straight years with a vehicle called Pulsar, achieving the equivalent of 4,913 miles per gallon, the most ever recorded at the event. Celeritas competes in the Solar Urban Concept category, which is more difficult because vehicles must be designed for practical use on public roads and highways, Lapetina said.

The single-seat vehicle has a cruising speed of 30-40 mph and a top speed of about 50 mph.

Celeritas has cost about $100,000 to design and build. Major project sponsors are Lockheed Martin Corp.; Exelon Nuclear Corp.; Tyco Electronics; Schlumberger; Airtech; Purdue's schools of Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Materials Engineering; Purdue Libraries; and the Office of the Provost. A list of corporate sponsors is available at https://www.purduesolar.org/sponsors/

Advisers are Galen King, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering, and John Nyenhuis, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The work is entirely voluntary - the students receive no course credits - and contains an outreach component, with project members giving presentations in public schools and at events throughout the state and across the country.

Purdue students have been designing and building solar cars since 1991 and have completed eight vehicles since then.

Design work on Celeritas began in 2009. The car weighs about 325 pounds and is made primarily of a lightweight material of carbon-fiber sheets sandwiched around a honeycomb center to add strength. More than 200 photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity to charge 48 lithium iron phosphate batteries, which then power a motor that drives one of the rear wheels.

The vehicle has an ultra-efficient electric motor and high-level computer logic embedded in many components. This electronic intelligence makes it possible for the driver to change cruise control and other settings on the fly to maximize performance. A battery management and protection system ensures that the lithium iron phosphate cells operate properly and don't overheat or explode, and logic circuits relay diagnostic data to a laptop computer monitored remotely by the team.

The Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012 roster includes 131 vehicles from 112 teams from 39 high schools and 46 universities from the United States, Brazil, Canada and Mexico.

Also leading the Purdue solar-car project are Brian Thompson, vice president and a mechanical engineering senior; Rachel Bodien, secretary and a junior in aeronautical engineering; Kevin Ellis, treasurer and a senior in aeronautical engineering; Alex Van Almelo, electrical team director and a junior in computer engineering; Brian Kelley, a senior in computer engineering; Craig Lechlitner, a senior in electrical engineering; James Gilbertson, mechanical team director and a junior in mechanical engineering; Bill Smith, a senior in mechanical engineering; Kenneth Roush, aeronautics team director and a junior in aeronautical engineering; and Cole Skelton, a senior in mechanical engineering.
Writer: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Sources: Galen King, 765-494-6518, kinggb@purdue.edu
                  Zack Lapetina, 630-391-3370, zack.lapetina@purduesolar.org

Note to Journalists: Broadcast-quality video of the Purdue solar car unveiling is available for download and use at ftp://news69.uns.purdue.edu/Public/SolarCarUnveil/
For more information, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue broadcast media relations, 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu.