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ONDA SOLARE AND UNIBO CONQUER AMERICA

Project | Motors | University Of Bologna

The University of Bologna together with the Onda Solare team from the nearby market town of Castel San Pietro Terme, have won the American Solar Challenge with their futuristic solar-powered vehicle, Emilia 4

This July, the Onda Solare team, whose plans for their latest solar-powered prototype were developed together with the University of Bologna and numerous other research institutes and local enterprises, thanks to funding from the Emilia Romagna region, won the 2018 edition of the American Solar Challenge.

Emilia 4, the name of the vehicle, together with the chosen race number 559, is in celebration of the SS9, aka Via Emilia, the straight-as-a-die road which originated in ancient Roman times and runs through the Emilia Romagna region's Motor Valley, famed for its world-beating prowess in the automotive sector.

The American Solar Challenge, which takes place every two years, is a race open to teams from universities all over the world and involves solar-powered vehicles in an epic week-long journey (14-22 July 2018) of around 2500km across the centre of the USA from Omaha in Nebraska to Bend, Oregon. The route passes through the Rocky Mountains and reaches altitudes of up to 2500m asl, following much of the historic Oregon Trail used in the 1800s by pioneers looking for a better life.

In many ways the hopes of those 19th century travellers are echoed in today's event and the teams involved whose pioneering mission is based on a desire to further development and technology in the field of clean energy so that solar-powered vehicles can become a realistic alternative to traditional road vehicles. As driver Ruggero Malossi says, “we're thrilled to be making a concrete contribution to the future of our planet by having built a solar-powered car that works so well over long distances as well as short.”

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The result of the American Solar Challenge is in fact an astonishing achievement: Onda Solare was the only European team taking part in the competition and their Emilia 4 prototype was the only four-seater vehicle to complete the multi-occupant category (others were two-seaters) and, even more impressively, the only one to complete the whole journey without needing any extra charges during the stages of the race, despite running into patches of fog and heavy showers which naturally compromised the vehicle's solar-powering. Charging was permitted by the regulations, as was trailering, but involved penalty points being added to scores.

As well as the overall victory in the multi-occupant vehicle category (the single-occupant category was won by Western Sydney) the Bologna team was awarded prizes for best battery pack design and best mechanical system design. Incorporating 5 sq.m of solar panels to produce the 1200 watts the vehicle uses (the same as a hairdyer), two electric motors positioned in the wheels and latest generation lithium batteries, Emilia 4 is certainly a masterpiece in advanced technology. At the same time it manages to embody the stylish design that Italy, and the Emilia Romagna region's Motor Valley in particular, is so famous for.

The Onda Solare team is already working towards the next step in their racing career: the 2019 World Solar Challenge. Held in Australia since 1987, this biennial event involves driving 3000km through the desert from Darwin to Adelaide; we'll be following their progress (13-20 October 2019).

The most exciting of the team's plans for the future, though, is to gain type approval for their solar-powered vehicles so that they can be marketed for actual road use; the thought that one day we may all be driving cars that no longer pose any threats to the environment is truly exhilarating.

Sarah Lane

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