Team Sonnenwagen Aachen

Energy self-sufficient e-mobility

Energy self-sufficient electric vehicles, which run exclusively on solar power – for students at RWTH Aachen University of Applied Sciences this is not a vision of the future but today’s reality. As one of just two solar car manufacturers in Germany, the young engineers from Aachen have been working on the development of their “Sonnenwagen” since 2015 and are showing what sustainable mobility can already look like now. The e-car gave a convincing performance even at the toughest solar car race in the world.

The data on the “Sonnenwagen” are impressive: the vehicle can achieve a top speed of 135 kilometres per hour; it has a battery range of around 300 kilometres and weighs less than 200 kilogrammes when unladen. The car is particularly efficient when driven at a speed of 70 to 80 kilometres per hour, where its consumption is just 1.4 kilowatt – the same power rating as a hair dryer. The energy is provided by highly-efficient solar cells on an area measuring four square metres on the roof of the car. To make it possible to drive regardless of sunshine, however, the car has a battery storage system with lithium-ion cells, which stores energy and powers the vehicle when the weather is cloudy, for example.

Engine for progress:

  • Strengthening solar research and electromobility in NRW
  • Symbolic significance in terms of energy self-sufficient vehicles
  • Interdisciplinary and regional collaboration

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Photo: Team Sonnenwagen Aachen

A solar vehicle on the race track: during the European Solar Challenge in Belgium, the “Sonnenwagen”, which was previously more accustomed to the highways of Australia, was allowed to let loose on the former F1 track at Circuit Zolder.

Minimal weight for maximum efficiency

Around 45 students from different departments at RWTH Aachen are involved in developing and constructing the Aachen “Sonnenwagen”. The student initiative is supported by their partner covestro as well as other sponsors. In the summer of 2017, less than two years after founding the team, the first prototype was completed. Since then, the technology, efficiency and road capability of the vehicle have been constantly improved. In the process of its development, the weight of the car and the most aerodynamic design possible are paramount. To reduce the former, light-weight constructions and fibre composites are used. The vehicle chassis, which was built in-house, is designed to minimise wind resistance and allow higher speeds.

Success on an international stage

At the World Solar Challenge in Australia in 2017, the team was able to demonstrate how efficient the Aachen solar car is on the road. During the championship, which takes place every two years and is reputed to be the toughest solar car race in the world, the vehicles are driven on public roads from the north to the south of the country. The solar car team from Aachen entered the competition in the “Challenger Class” and made it through the ordeal on the first attempt: relying entirely on the sun to power the vehicle, the team managed to cover the more than 3,000-kilometre stretch at average speeds of more than 80 kilometres per hour.

Alongside the key issue of forming a strong sporting solar racing team focused on success, the participants are also concerned with convincing the general public of the necessity of protecting the climate and the environment and leading a sustainable lifestyle. They demonstrate using the example of the possibilities of sustainable mobility. The knowledge gained is disseminated through a constant exchange of ideas with companies and other universities, while media exposure and presentations also reach a broader audience.

Strengthening electromobility in NRW

As a student initiative, the team is reliant on both the financial and the professional support of its partners. The collaboration is beneficial for both sides: while the students gather valuable experience for their professional and personal development, the companies in the region benefit from getting to know the specialists of the future and can also test and further develop their own products and prototypes during their work together. In this way, the project also helps to strengthen the specialist and technical knowledge of North Rhine-Westphalia in the field of e-mobility.

Photo: Team Sonnenwagen Aachen

“For us, it is not only important to put theory into practice, but to prove, by driving across a continent, that the climate-neutral mobility of the future is already possible today.”

Severin Kobus, Deputy Chairman and Team Leader for Marketing & PR of the Aachen Solar Car Team