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Transportation & Fuel Source Technology

Students on the Sundancer Team Gain Renewable Energy Knowledge, Engineering Skills

The Sundancer solar race car team will defend its title this week at Texas Motor Speedway, as it seeks to capture the checkered flag at the 11th annual Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge.

Begun in 1991, the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge is the largest solar car competition in the United States, with more than 18 teams scheduled to compete this year. Dell, Inc. is the title sponsor of the annual competition.

The Sundancer team, the Challenge's five-time defending champion, is comprised of 15 high school students from the Houston Vocational Center in Houston, Miss., (population 4,079).

Last year, the Sundancer car, powered exclusively by sunlight, took the title after driving 953.4 miles cross-country from Round Rock, Texas to Pasadena, Calif. at an average speed of 28.63 miles per hour. The team believes that improvements to the car's design will enable them to drive even farther and faster this year.

SCHOTT PV Solar Panels Key to Sundancer's Success
The Sundancer team first won the race in 2001, the same year they began using SCHOTT photovoltaic (PV) solar cells on their solar car. The PV solar cells convert solar radiation into electricity, which is then used to power the solar car's motor.

SCHOTT is one of the world's leading manufacturers of PV cells and other types of solar energy products.

The 856 PV cells used on the car were manufactured at SCHOTT's Billerica, Massachusetts 20 Megawatt (MW) PV production facility, which is one of the largest production site for PV cells in the United States.

Last fall, members of the team traveled to SCHOTT's Billerica facility, where they met with solar engineers and discussed ways to optimize the performance of the PV solar cells.

"In addition to teaching students about solar energy, this program also helps students learn what engineering is really all about," said Grace Xavier, SCHOTT Solar product engineer. "In fact, to me the most exciting thing about the project is that I see young people getting excited about solving engineering challenges - the same type of experience that led me to choose a career in engineering."

A Unique Learning Experience
Designed to encourage young people to study science, engineering, and technology, the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge brings teams from high schools across the country each year to race their student-designed and built solar cars. On even numbered years the event takes place on a closed track at the world famous Texas Motor Speedway. On odd numbered years teams trek cross-country.

As in previous years, students on the 15-member Sundancer team designed and built the solar-powered car themselves, under the guidance of team coach and sponsor Keith Reese. The experience has helped students at the Houston Vocational Center gain valuable engineering and business skills, all within the context of the booming renewable energy industry.

"As winners of the last five challenges, our team knows we have a target on our back," said Leigh Anna Springer, Sundancer team captain. "Since last year's race we have worked hard to design, test and build this year's Sundancer. Now it is a matter of putting our car to the test on the race track, and seeing if our car, driver and pit crew are up to the challenge."

Reese says that past participants in the program have moved on to become engineers at NASA and with the Army Corps of Engineers.

"Every year, the students work to improve all aspects of the car's design from the year before," said Reese. "They try to lower the weight of the car, streamline the aerodynamics and squeeze as much electricity out of the solar cells as possible."

Sundancer Specifications This year's Sundancer weights 356 kg, and is 5 meters long, 1.8 meters wide and 1 meter high. Energy from the panels is stored in nine Power Sonic batteries, which feed electricity to an 8 hp SLC150 New Generation Motor.

You can read more about the Sundancer team's experiences building and preparing the car and at the race itself at

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