New MAE club looks to build solar-powered race car

Posted: October 25, 2021
Buckeye Solar logo

Moustapha Bal was sifting through YouTube in April of 2021 when he found a documentary about the 2019 World Solar Challenge, a solar car competition.

Bal, a third-year in mechanical engineering, saw universities all across the country competing and wondered to himself, “Does Ohio State have a solar car team?” They did not.

So at that very moment, he decided to start his own from the ground up, but he knew he couldn’t do it alone.

While in MSE 2010 class with Sam Turner, a third-year in mechanical engineering, Bal had told her he was going to start a solar car club and team to compete in the competition he had seen on YouTube.

Hearing the news, Turner told Bal she’d start it with him. And Buckeye Solar Racing was born, but wasn’t an official club just yet.

Bal and Turner began reaching out to their fellow classmates and having video chats over the summer with 10 to 15 interested students. They then found a few faculty to advise and put in the paperwork to register as a club for the Autumn 2021 semester.

Buckeye Solar Racing is a new club in the MAE department centered on building a solar race car that will be equipped to compete in solar racing competitions across the globe.

“After my time at Ohio State, I want to leave something that I can remember and something that can be of beneficial experience for future students,” Bal, the founder and Executive Officer of Buckeye Solar Racing, said. “My main goal for this club is for it to last. Seeing teams like University of Kentucky and University of Michigan who have been around since the early 90s still competing and bringing and excitement for engineering (and even business, media, and marketing ventures) to their students and to the University makes me want to see something like that here at Ohio State.”

BSR new car

A solar car project encompasses a wide-range of expertise that brought Bal and Turner to wanting to start this club including mechanical design, aerodynamics, battery development, solar array optimization, business and logistics. Another large aspect is sustainability.

“Sustainability is the future of automation,” Turner, Buckeye Solar Racing’s Operations Director, said. “Although the automotive industry has taken a different approach to renewability with electric vehicles, solar powered vehicles are an innovative and creative way to teach students about vehicle design and fabrication while furthering awareness of sustainability in automation.”

Buckeye Solar Racing is advised by MAE faculty members: Dr. Ali Jhemi, Dr. Sandra Metzler, Dr. Zhenyu Wang, Professor Ardeshir Contractor, and Dr. Jung Hyun Kim. This group of faculty cover a wide-range of expertise all covering different aspects of the solar car’s needs.

The main goal for the club is to race their first vehicle in 2023. While doing so, the club hopes to provide students with hands-on experience and real-world engineering application, project-management exposure, and a greater awareness of solar as a sustainable energy.

The group plans to race at the Formula Sun Grand Prix, and in the future, at the American Solar Challenge.

The Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP) is an annual track competition that is held on grand prix or road style closed courses. The winner of FSGP is determined by the total number of laps completed over the three days of racing. The team that completes the fastest single lap around the track is also recognized in the awards ceremony.

The American Solar Challenge is a multi-day, cross country race (approximately 1500 to 2000 miles), powered by the energy from the car’s solar array. The car goes through rigorous testing by ASC officials to ensure the car is road ready and up to regulation, as the race travels through multiple US highways.

To complete this goal, the solar car will be built based on ASC regulations.  ASC regulations put constraints on the car’s chassis and drivetrain, electrical components, solar array, aeroshell, driver canopy, and almost every aspect of the car, according to Turner.

The primary focus for the cars design is a slightly simple technical design to allow for a completed car in the group’s two-year time frame that will be fit for competition, Atish Anantharam, a third-year Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Director for Buckeye Solar Racing, said.

WMU Solar car

Just last week, the Western Michigan University Sunseeker Solar Car team drove down to Columbus to donate, Farasi, their 2016 competition vehicle to Buckeye Solar.

“The donation will help in kick starting our team’s design process and will aid in providing a hands-on experience for our members,” Bal said. “The car is equipped with the solar array, aeroshell, chassis, suspension, and steering system. Nevertheless, many of these components will need to be completely redesigned and replaced. And the entire electrical system—battery pack, motors, embedded systems, etc.-- needs to be fabricated still. We plan to revive this vehicle to meet our 2023 race goal.”

For anyone, interested in joining the club would love to have you and hope they can provide skills that will help in any members future careers.

“If you are a student looking to join a project team, this is the place for you. From mechanical design, to aerodynamics, to working with composites, embedded systems, solar array development, battery development, even business and media expertise, there are plenty of avenues you could go down to learn something valuable while also being involved in such an innovative project,” Bal said. “Managing such a large project, these are skills you use on your resume to further your career after college. And regardless of your major, you can have a great time working on a solar car.”

Written by Jake Rahe (.21), MAE Communications Program Assistant