This past weekend (May 18) the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) hosted a solar and battery powered car race for the budding engineers and scientists at Colorado’s middle schools. In all, 97 teams hailing from 28 middle schools in Colorado participated in the event. This isn’t the biggest solar story ever told, heck it's not even the biggest solar car story ever told, after all, all the PV modules in it are limited to a certain size. But in getting kids to learn more about renewable energy it may be infinitely more important.
Basically it’s like the Pinewood Derby in the Cub Scouts, but infinitely cooler, since the kids on the teams get to design and build their own vehicles with solar panels or batteries and engines in this educational event. NREL hosts the events across the nation. “The primary goal of the competitions is to generate enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills at a crucial stage in the development of young people,” NREL said.
The Pinewood Derby, which uses a gravity ramp to get cars going, limits how much weight you can put in the car. Still, the race defines some aspects of the cars, like what panels and motor are usable and the size of the vehicle, to help ensure the power sources for the vehicles are equal. So in the end it’s really about the vehicle drivetrain and design. Contestants can use Ray Catcher solar panel and the JSS Kit and are limited to the Mabuchi motor that comes with the kits. “Panels cannot be shaved, drilled, or delaminated,” NREL said. In addition, the motors can’t be messed with. The size is limited to 30 cm by 30 cm by 60 cm and vehicles can’t have any sharp edges or projectiles.
Trophies were issued in four categories based on the two power sources. One set was awarded for the fastest cars in each category. The other set of awards were for technology, craftsmanship and innovation in each category.
The fastest car was likely the “lucky Charms” lithium-ion battery-powered car from University School of Greeley, which took first place. It was followed by “Fat Albert” from Southern Hills Middle School in Boulder and “Green Spartan” from Southern Hills.
The fastest PV-powered car came was “#2” by the STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch. It was followed "Swerve Logo" from Bell Middle School from Golden and “Terminators” from the Lincoln Academy Middle School Arvada.
In the technology, craftsmanship and innovation categories, Lincoln Academy Middle School of Arvada’s entry, "The Nerds", took first place in the lithium-ion category. In the solar category “Sweet and Sassy” from the Woodlands Academy in Castle Rock took first place. The latter team also won a spirit award for good sportsmanship.
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