To stimulate research on solar energy and solar-powered cars, the World Solar Challenge organizes a race every two years. The participants are students from leading international universities and technical institutes, as well as private entrepreneurs. The challenge is to cross an impressive 3,021 km from the north to the south of Australia and arrive first at the finish line.

The Belgian team, students at the KU Leuven University, participated in the event last month. After an exciting race, their Punch Powertrain Solar Team ended in the fifth position. On average their car reached a whopping 90 km per hour (or 56 miles per hour), which beats the record of all previous Belgian solar teams that participated in the event. One of their secret weapons? An inventive battery structure, created with Materialise software.

Challenge Accepted

Last year, the Belgian team had already focused on packaging the batteries creatively and their efforts were acknowledged by the prestigious Innovation Award. This year, they refined the battery structure even more to optimize their performance. To improve the aerodynamics of the car, the battery pack should be as compact as possible. Next, it needs to be surrounded by an optimal air flow to spread the heat over a large surface since the solar energy directed to the batteries can make them very hot. A porous battery pack structure would do the trick. Finally, the structure has to be light and at the same time strong enough to keep the batteries secure. A compact, strong, porous, lightweight structure… Sounds like the perfect job for Materialise’s design enhancement software, Materialise 3-matic.

With Materialise 3-matic the designers applied a porous structure on the design, resulting in a light yet strong model using only the minimal necessary material. In this way, the batteries could be contained in an optimal structure. Afterwards, the printability of the design was verified in Materialise Magics. Wall thickness and other technical features were checked to make sure that the part would print problem-free on one of our laser sintering machines. 



In addition to the battery pack, the Battery Monitoring System (BMS) pack was also 3D-printed after design enhancement and file preparation in Materialise 3-matic and Materialise Magics respectively. The more complex a model is, the larger the file gets and the harder it is to manage: that is, if you don’t have access to the slice-based technology of the Materialise Build Processor. The Materialise Build Processor software makes complex files printable and serves as a user-friendly interface between 3D printing software and the printing machine. With the assistance of the Materialise Build Processor, the large design files of the battery pack and BMS pack were printed without any problems.



Entering the Final Stretch

The race was not without technical issues. The team lost one hour to repairs and another because of a time penalty, but the Punch Powertrain Solar Team nevertheless managed to conquer the fifth position. Their race car could reach up to 110 km per hour (or about 68 miles)!

“In terms of speed and energy efficiency, our car performed even better than we had hoped for,” the KU Leuven team explained. “We ended 1 hour and 23 minutes behind the winner, the Nuon Solar Team. Compared to the previous race in 2013, where we ended 7 hours behind the winner, it is a huge step forward.”



We are proud that our software enabled the solar team to improve their race car—and who knows, it could still score a well-deserved victory at the next World Solar Challenge.


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