From Ponca City to Manhattan Kan., the terrain levels out, hinting at the Nebraska plains that lie farther north. It’s a flatness that spreads out in every direction along the approximately 225 miles between the two cities. And for two small solar-powered cars chugging their way north to Minneapolis that flat terrain provides the desired cruising conditions.
However, on Tuesday, the bane of any solar-powered apparatus, piled up over the road, blotting out the sun. It was bound to happen.
“We came into the flatter parts of Kansas, finally,” said Alex Winston, 2016 Solar Car Challenge participant and team representative for the Shine Runners and their little blue car, named “Bahama Blue.”
“Our car was cruising along perfectly until we hit one major issue: clouds,” Winston wrote to the Fremont Tribune in his daily update detailing the teams progress along the route from Fort Worth, Texas to Minneapolis.
To top it off, the “Bahama Blue” also began experiencing brake issues that required removing one of the wheels to make repairs. However, the solution was only temporary and would need more meticulous attention later.
The Fremont Tribune continues to follow the progress of two teams out of Texas (the Shine Runners and the Liberty Christian Solar Car Team) participating in the annual Solar Car Challenge. The Solar Car Challenge represents a year-long educational program that promotes STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiatives by inspiring high school-age student to design, build and evaluate a solar car from the ground up.
The challenge culminates in a 1,000 mile test run for the participating teams that takes them on a race from Fort Worth to Minneapolis with various overnight stops along the way. One of those stops will be in Fremont at the Walmart Supercenter where the cars will be displayed this evening between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Team members will also be present to answer questions about their cars and the Solar Car Challenge.
On Tuesday, both teams fell under the shadows of cloud cover that reduced the power feeding into their vehicles slowing progress significantly.
“We were only able to go about 15 miles per hour when we normally do about 30 mph,” wrote Heather Lytle of the Liberty Christian Team that designed and operates the “Solis Bellator” (Warrior of the Sun) car.
Despite the clouds, the summer heat continued to radiate down upon the teams and their cars. Contrary to what might seem logical, solar panels lose efficiency the hotter they grow, explained Winston.
Attempting to maximize efficiency the Shine Runners sprayed a mixture of alcohol and other liquids (to minimize residue) on the sheet of overhead panels powering the “Bahama Blue.” Despite efforts to increase panel effectiveness, the clouds hampered energy collection, prompting the team to reduce their cruising speed until the sky cleared and the sun returned.
Eventually, both teams managed to navigate beyond the clouds successfully and rolled into Manhattan Tuesday night where they indulged in a pizza dinner.
Wednesday the teams remained in Manhattan for a bit of spotlight attention from the local media outlets and the public as they spent the day displaying their cars.
“(This break) gives us an opportunity to fix our car’s (brake issue),” Winston said. “(It’s) also a chance to show (the public) what you can do with time, patience and ingenuity. Through our car we not only learn but we also hope to inspire others to push technology and learn what the future holds.”
Tonight, between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Fremont residents can trek over in their gas powered vehicles to the Walmart parking lot for an opportunity to learn for themselves what that future holds in both energy technology and in the young, inventive minds of the Solar Car Challenge participants.