A bright idea: uni students build solar-powered car and they’ve just driven it 1863 miles across Australia | CAR Magazine

A bright idea: uni students build solar-powered car and they’ve just driven it 1863 miles across Australia

Published: 10 May 2024 Updated: 10 May 2024

► The Ortus-T is a solar-powered car
► Built by a team from Durham University 
► See it at 2024 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Most students eye up cars that are cheap to insure, easy to pack their belongings into at the start of term and have at least some roadside cool. A bunch of Durham University undergraduates have set their sights a little higher: they’re building a solar-powered car capable of driving thousands of miles using energy generated from the sun.

The 21-strong group of undergraduates and postgrads recently drove their first effort, the DUSC2023 three-wheeler, 3000km (1863 miles) across Australia in six days as part of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. The solar-powered car harvests its energy from the sun and is capable of speeds of up to 37mph.

Now they’re developing a next-gen solar-powered car: the four-wheeled Ortus-T pictured, which is destined to compete in the iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC) in September 2024, a 24-hour endurance race at the Zolder circuit in Belgium. And before you ask, it’s a race that allows two charging stops to allow running at night where 20kg batteries provide night-time energy.

A handful of brave start-ups are attempting to productionise solar cars: read more about the Lightyear One and Sono Motors Sion in our separate tech explainers.

Solar-powered tech on the Ortus-T

As well as larger 4sq m solar panels with a new chemistry, the students’ 2024 Ortus-T solar-powered car is packaged for a smaller driver to save weight and improve the aerodynamics further. 

Vedika Bedi, Durham University Solar Car Team Principal

Vedika Bedi, Durham University Solar Car Team Principal (above), said: ‘It’s a tighter squeeze to get behind the wheel, as it’s designed for a 5ft 5in driver, rather than a 6ft 4in person when we were in Australia.’

Ortus-T is fitted with Bridgestone’s low-rolling resistance Enliten tyres, which use 63% recycled materials including organic fibres, recovered carbon black from road car tyres and second-life steel reinforcement. They’re specifically designed to improve range and efficiency of electric cars.

The Ortus-T will make its debut at the 2024 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it will zip silently up the hillclimb. Here’s hoping it’s a bright sunny day – and not one of Goodwood’s occasional soggy, rain-affected events.

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words