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Department of Engineering

Cambridge University Eco Racing to inspire the next generation of engineers

Cambridge University Eco Racing to inspire the next generation of engineers

The CUER team with Helia at the close of the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge.

An undergraduate team behind Helia – one of the world’s most energy-efficient cars – aims to inspire the next generation of engineers when they take the electric car on tour around schools next summer.

Helia was designed to demonstrate the technology behind electric vehicles and renewable energy and will visit schools next summer with the aim of inspiring the next generation of engineers.

Xiaofan Zhang

Student society Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) unveiled the four-seater solar-powered car at a launch earlier this year, before entering it into the 2019 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge held in Australia last month. 

This was the team’s first international race with Helia and they were challenged to an epic 1,864-mile drive from Darwin to Adelaide, but some early electrical issues prevented the team from progressing beyond the first stage of the gruelling race. The only British team in its category, Helia was placed third out of 13 by the judges in the practicality category, and was marked against criteria including design, versatility and desirability.

CUER are now looking ahead to other potential solar races in Europe and beyond, while considering some modifications to their vehicle. They also plan to visit schools next summer to demonstrate the technology behind electric vehicles and renewable energy and inspire the next generation. 

Cambridge University Eco Racing (CUER) unveil Helia

The cutting-edge vehicle pushes the boundaries of automotive battery technology, efficient tyres and aerodynamics. Weighing only 550kg (1200lb) due to a specialist ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre chassis and body panels created by Formaplex, a leading manufacturer of lightweight components for some of the world’s largest Formula One teams and automotive companies, producing multimillion pound high-powered supercars.

Use of composites allowed the team to drastically reduce weight while maintaining structural integrity, allowing Helia to travel further and faster. The car can reach speeds of 80kph (50mph) with four occupants, using just the power of a kettle. 

Helia’s streamlined aerodynamic design and lightweight construction significantly enhance the overall energy efficiency, using power from high performance lithium-ion battery packs produced in collaboration with Silverstone-based Danecca. The battery pack has much higher energy density than most mass-produced vehicles, which gives Helia more than double the range of a Tesla Model 3, while being a quarter of the size. Bridgestone, the world’s largest tyre and rubber company, also worked with the team to develop low rolling-resistance tyres.

Undergraduate Xiaofan Zhang, CUER’s Programme Director, said: “Helia was designed to demonstrate the technology behind electric vehicles and renewable energy and will visit schools next summer with the aim of inspiring the next generation of engineers. We have plenty of positives to take forward and are already in search of our next challenge.

“While the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge didn’t go exactly as we had hoped, it is still a tremendous achievement when you look back at the progress we have made over two years. The conditions this year were particularly challenging and this is the first time this model had competed. Nevertheless, Helia’s performance numbers showed her to be very competitive; it bodes extremely well for future events.

“Working with teams from Formaplex, Bridgestone, Danecca and our other partners was a real step-change for CUER in the overall research, design and manufacture process. It’s allowed us to share expertise and improve the efficiency of the overall vehicle.”

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