University Sustainability

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What do you get when you mix the character of Appalachian State University's Solar Decathlon Team with the attitude of NASCAR?

Solar Vehicle Team heads to Austin, Texas to compete in the Formula Sun Grand Prix

July 26 - 31, 2015, Austin, TX
Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What do you get when you mix the character of Appalachian State University's Solar Decathlon Team with the attitude of NASCAR? The one, the only, Appalachian State Solar Vehicle Team. You may be familiar with the Solar Decathlon Team that traveled to France to compete in Solar Decathlon Europe — Appalachian's net-zero energy house built in Boone took 9th place in the competition. Now some of us at the university have gone from building houses of the future to building cars of the future. It only makes sense that Boone, North Carolina is home to this solar vehicle team; after all, NASCAR was born here in Appalachia. With three NASCAR tracks within two hours of Boone it is the perfect place for a racing team to build its foundation. A bunch of good ol' boys and a handful of very talented women, studying a variety of majors (including Sustainable Technology, Physics, and Building Science), charge up for the Formula Sun Grand Prix. Appalachian State University is currently the only school in the University of North Carolina system building a racecar powered by the sun. Seeing as Appalachian strives to be a leader in sustainability (reference the university's strategic plan), it is no wonder we'd be the first to tackle the issue of sustainable transportation.

History and The Team

The team was inspired in the fall of 2013 by the hands-on philosophy taught by Technology Education Instructor Chris Tolbert in his class on Transportation Systems. Understanding "you can't learn hands-on experience from reading a book," team leader Dan Blakeley and cofounder Will Miner started crafting a solar-charged golf cart to prepare for the more complicated task of building a full-fledged racing car. With financial support from ASUREI and the Office of Sustainability the team was able to start building. With help and direction from Faculty Advisor Jeremy Ferrell, Tolbert and others, the team began designing. Team members including, Pedro Franco the electrical wizard, Tim Stone the battery expert, and Colter Swan mechanical guru, handle the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. With such a complex technological task at hand, it was necessary to develop a daily checklist of things to do. This allows the team to break up the huge task of building a racecar into smaller more manageable tasks. In all, eight team members along with an advisor and coach plan a road trip to Austin for the chance to compete in the 2015 Formula Sun Grand Prix (FSGP.).

In Texas the team will be subject to intense scrutineering based on strict rules and regulations by the officials. These rules make the race both safe and competitive. Teams from around the globe — Puerto Rico, Canada, India, Michigan, and California —gather to see which car is fastest. With cars reaching top speeds of 85 miles per hour, the winner of the FSGP is the team that is able to complete the most number of laps over a three-day period.

How It Works

The Appalachian car works by harnessing the power of the sun as electrons moves across the P-N junction, using 6m2 of solar panels that convert solar energy into electric power. The electric power accumulates and is expended through 35 lithium-ion battery packs, each containing six individual battery cells, totaling 210. That energy is pulled to the motor, which in turn makes the back wheel of the car spin. The shell of the car consists of the Nomex honeycomb-core sandwiched between two layers of fiberglass. The Appalachian car is designed for maximum efficiency by utilizing a three-wheel design and aerodynamic body shape.

About The Team's Mission

The team has set its goals above and beyond racing to win and members recognize the impact of the work they are doing for the race of the future. The FSGP is more than a competition to see which car can travel the most laps in the shortest amount of time. Those involved are doing their part to use, promote and develop alternative technologies. Soon, with the improvement of both battery and solar technologies, we could see more of these cars on the road. The solar vehicle team hopes to further public awareness of sustainable transportation technologies. The only way to advance the science and technology of today is to take risks and find new solutions for tomorrow. In a world of finite resources, in a society that needs to rid fossil fuels, the transportation sectors' future could very well be solar powered.

Want To Help?

Visit for more information. The team is actively looking for sponsorship opportunities from businesses and individuals.