Gazelle 3, a solar-powered car built in Iran, took part in the World Solar Challenge 2015 and came in seventh in cruiser class after some of the world's most powerful teams, such as the Netherlands, Japan, and the U.S.
University of Tehran Solar Car Team at World Solar Challenge
Car name: Persian Gazelle (III)
Teams of energy-efficiency enthusiasts raced in the World Solar Challenge in Australia from October 18 to 25. Iran's team was among the other 45 teams coming from 25 nations from around the world.
To honor such significant accomplishment, the Tehran Times conducted an interview with Doctor Karen Abrinia who was at the head of a team that designed and built Gazelle 3.
Abrinia, PhD, who has studied at the City University London and the University of Manchester, is a professor at the Mechanical Engineering Faculty of the University of Tehran.
During the interview, Abrinia said designing a solar-powered car based on Gazelle 3 is underway and provided that things go well, the mass production of the car will be materialized in 5 years.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q. How did the idea of building a solar-powered car form? Whose idea was it originally? Who are the contributors?
A. The idea was originally mine. As I studied abroad I had seen teams working on projects like this, and when I came back to Iran I wanted to do the same thing here, but unfortunately I couldn't raise fund for the projects I had in mind for a long time. In the first project only students of mechanical engineering took part but in the last project 25 mechanical, computer, electrical engineering students, and even an art student along with university professors collaborated.
Q. So far you have succeeded in building three solar-powered cars, what's the difference between these three models?
A. About eleven years ago in 2004 we started to design Gazelle 1 with seven of the students studying at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. The car was a single-seat three-wheeler composed of one rear engine. It could go up to 60 kilometers per hour. It was the first solar-powered car in Iran and the Middle East, as well. Gazelle 2 which was built in 2008 was a single-seat three-wheeler with a rear engine but more energy-efficient than Gazelle 1 and it could go about 80 kilometers per hour. Gazelle 3, on the other hand, is a two-seat four-wheeler with two engines which can go as fast as 100 kilometers per hour.
Q. Where did the budget come from? How much did you spend on Gazelle 3?
A. The first project was financed by carmaker Iran Khodro, headed by Manouchehr Manteqi at the time. The financial supporters of the latest project were Mosallanejad Cultural Foundation, Pasargad Bank, Department of Environment, Automobile Federation, Mahtab Company and Gita Battery Company. The first two were the main supporters and we spent $300,000 on Gazelle 3.
Q. What international solar-powered car races have you participated so far? Which place did you come in?
A. Gazelle 1 was supposed to take part in the World Solar Challenge in Australia, but we missed the competition, so instead we participated in a contest in Taiwan and we came in eighth. Gazelle 1 also won the Khwarizmi International Award for the best design. In 2011 we joined the World Solar Challenge which is a biennial event with two teams, one of which was from Azad University of Qazvin and the other one was our team from the Mechanical Engineering Faculty of the Tehran University and we came in thirtieth. In 2011 only six or seven of the teams finished the race on their own and many other teams such as Iran's were carried on trailers. The 2015 competition was held in three different classes: adventure class, single-seat three-wheelers, challenger class, single-seat four-wheelers, and cruiser class, four-wheelers with two or more seats. Iran's team came in seventh among 12 participants in the cruiser class. The other participants had spent a lot of money and were a lot more experienced than us. For instance, the Netherlands' teams participated in challenger and cruiser classes and came in first in both. They spent about $20,000,000 on their cars.
The Khwarizmi International Award is given annually by the Iranian Research Organization for Science and Technology (IROST) to individuals who have made outstanding achievements in research, innovation and invention, in fields related to science and technology. The award is given to the most prominent engineers annually, with a recent emphasis on digital and mechanical technologies.
Q. It's been some years that the whole world is struggling with problems such as air pollution and global warming caused by excessive use of fossil fuels, do you think that solar-powered cars can replace the current transportation system any soon?
A. Natural gas, hybrid and electric cars are all less polluting options over cars using fossil fuels but they have not completely replaced them yet as fossil fuels are still cheap and economical. Over a century ago there were electric cars in New York but they went out of style as building them was costly. Moreover the batteries used in these cars are yet to be fully developed and they should be replaced every three to five years and that's expensive, too. There exists another idea that electric cars are not as green options as they are claimed to be. The energy used to recharge their batteries comes from power plants which cause great pollution themselves. Although compared to internal combustion engines which for instance retain an average efficiency of about 20 percent while waiting in traffic and the other 80 percent pollute the air electric cars are greener options. Additionally, the rules of the contests such as World Solar Challenge modify every time to help moving toward more user friendly cars which resemble the current cars. For example, the cars which used to be designed as single-seat are now four-seat and the driver's seats are now adjusted to the position same as those of fossil fuel cars.
University of Tehran Solar Car Team at World Solar Challenge
Q. To what extent do you think the solar-powered cars are applicable to our current needs? Are they able to function on a cloudy day when there is in no Sun?
A. Solar powered cars can be charged with any light even on a cloudy day and if not they can be charged with electricity. However, these cars have their limitations, too. The solar panels, which are made out of silicon, are not as efficient as they are supposed to be. They convert about 20 percent of their available energy into electrical power. This may not sound very good, but it is much better than most solar panels. Most solar panels on people's houses, for example, are fairly inefficient. Only about 10 percent of the energy that reaches them will be converted to electricity. Gallium arsenide solar panels can convert up to 33 percent of the energy into electrical power and used in spaceships. These panels are astronomically expensive and building cars with such panels is not economical at all.
Q. Can we expect domestically produced solar-powered car in the streets of Iran?
A. When you leave your car outside on a hot summer day for a long time the interior temperature of the car is nothing short of a sauna which makes driver and the passengers miserable. Toyota, a Japanese automotive manufacturer, has solved this problem by introducing a new model of Prius with a solar panel roof. Instead of leaving windows open or using any additional fuel to use the air conditioner these panels help conditioning and ventilating the car. We have tried that on Peugeot Pars, an Iran Khodro product, which helps reduce fuel use up to 10 percent and decrease gas emissions by 17 percent. We had negotiated with some organizations to put this into practice but unfortunately sanctions hindered us. Recently, we have registered a company and negotiated with an investment company that is willing to take the risk of investing on our project. Right now we are designing a solar-powered car based on Gazelle 3 and provided that things go well we will mass produce the first solar-powered cars in 5 years.
Q. Unfortunately, experts in such advanced technologies field are either disappointed and finally immigrate to foreign countries. What is your plan to reverse this?
A. Sadly, we can't do anything to reverse this situation now. Most of these students migrate to other countries to find better job opportunities. If we can fulfill their needs and provide them with opportunities for entrepreneurship they will surely stay in Iran. They are geniuses who could pass the entrance exam and enter Iran's top universities. They have strong motivation and sometimes they make significant breakthroughs but the best they can do after graduation is to become a university professor. They get discouraged when they compare themselves with those who hadn't studied as much and are now richer and in some cases more successful than them. Consequently they feel they are pathetic, get disappointed and finally migrate. What they want is equal job opportunities to feel fulfilled, and appreciated. What we have failed to do so far.
About University of Tehran Solar Car Team
The University of Tehran Solar Car Team started in 2004 and so far has designed and built 3 solar cars (Persian Gazelle I, II and III). Persian Gazelle III is a four wheeled, two seater car with two BLDC electric motors on the rare wheels. The experience gained, knowledge obtained and students trained during this period of time is hoped to help the domestic problems of pollution by cars in big cities in Iran.
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