New engineering team plans to design and build solar-powered car

If science is having a moment in the sun, it may as well put that solar energy to use.

Engineering students at Northern Illinois University are reaching out to the business community seeking sponsors for a solar-powered car they intend to build and race in a national road rally next year.

The MillenNIUm Solar Car Team officially launched in the spring semester, after members spent winter break researching competitions using renewable energies. Members Dan Graunke and Donald Krambeck, both juniors, and Tyler Sukel, a senior, said the team is an outgrowth of ReNIU, a renewable energies club for students in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

“Clubs are OK, but it’s hard to grab people’s attention when there’s not something tangible,” Krambeck said.

Over the next year, the 15-member team plans to design, build and test a one-man vehicle powered entirely by the sun. The car’s batteries will be a little larger than the familiar AA size, Graunke said, and will be charged via the car’s solar panels. The goal is to compete in the American Solar Challenge, a cross-country endurance rally in which colleges and universities compete for the best time on a course up to 2,000 miles long. The race is held every two years and the course varies widely, but typically includes a mix of city and highway driving on public roads.

“We want to talk to any companies who are into solar or renewable energy and would want to put their name on this,” Sukel said.

The team is raising funds through university and corporate sponsors to cover the costs of materials, testing, competition fees and other expenses. Companies interested in sponsoring the vehicle can reach the team via email at donaldkrambeck@gmail.com.

Students in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology put their class lessons to work designing and building a variety of vehicles for competition. Competition teams include Mars rover, Baja off-road vehicle, supermileage car and clean snowmobile.  For more information, visit www.niu.edu/ceet.

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