[C]HRIS MANN: A group of Cambridge students are racing a solar powered car three thousand kilometres across the Australian outback. They expect the race from Darwin to Adelaide will take about a week. They’re competing against thirty seven other teams from around the world. Their project aims to pioneer new energy efficient transport for the future. Team leader Keno Mario-Ghae joined me earlier, from Darwin, with an update. (TAPE)
KENO MARIO-GHAE: We’ve got our car, and it’s literally just arrived at our workshop in Darwin. And we’re preparing our car for the World Solar Challenge a bit over two weeks away. Literally just preparing the car to go to do some testing, and then the race itself. The race is quite a huge challenge. It’s a three thousand kilometre solar powered marathon across the outback of Australia. That’s just under two thousand miles. And the challenge is, can you do it powered only by the sun. It starts in Darwin in the North of Australia, and it’s straight back to Adelaide in the South. And it’s who gets there first wins.
CHRIS MANN: Solar powered, the car is, and it’s helpful presumably that Darwin is roasting hot at the moment.
KENO MARIO-GHAE: Yes. Darwin is roasting hot. It is literally thirty one degrees in the shade, and there’s not a single cloud in the sky. So it’s perfect conditions for solar car racing. Our solar powered car is ready to roll.
CHRIS MANN: Tell us actually how it works. What’s the mechanics of it?
KENO MARIO-GHAE: Your solar energy comes in, and you have a solar powered array. And all that does is it converts your light energy into electrical energy. And with that electrical energy you can then either charge up your batteries, or you can drive your motors, and get your car going up to motorway speed.
CHRIS MANN: Is it really the future?
KENO MARIO-GHAE: It is. Yes. Solar powered technology will feature incredibly more. As petrol prices get more expensive, someone is going to twig one day that we need a different solution. And although it’s in its infancy at the moment in that we don’t have mass produced solar powered vehicles, it’s only a matter of time to be honest.
CHRIS MANN: So what’s stopping us now? What’s holding it back?
KENO MARIO-GHAE: What’s holding it back is that petrol gets more expensive slowly. So we don’t really notice. We don’t notice the fact that five years ago petrol was probably half the price it is now. Whereas if the price of petrol was to quadruple tonight, all the technology that we’ve been developing in our cars, the efficient motor, the low power systems, the carbon composite structures that make our car so light, will definitely feature increasingly in automotive vehicles.
CHRIS MANN: So Keno you’re up against thirty six other teams from around the world. Do you think you could win do you think?
KENO MARIO-GHAE: We really do think we have a shot this year. The World Solar Challenge released some new regulations about a year ago. It’s only really the teams that are the most dynamic, the ones that are able to really adapt to change the fastest, that have a shot at victory. So if you look at our car, it’s a completely different concept. There’s nothing that’s been like it before. And the way it works is you have this really aerodynamic teardrop shape, and there’s a transparent glass canopy at the back. And inside that there’s a series of solar plates which can rotate and follow the sun as it moves across the sky. And doing that is a real game-changer, because we can get up to twenty per cent gains in energy, just by tracking the sun.
CHRIS MANN: And what would it mean to you all to win?
KENO MARIO-GHAE: It would absolutely be fantastic. It would literally be like the victory of David over Goliath in proportion. We are underdogs in the competition really in terms of budget, in terms of people working full time on the car, of which we don’t have any. We all study as well as doing this in our evenings, weekends and lunchtimes. So it would mean a lot.
CHRIS MANN: And flying the flag for Cambridge of course.
KENO MARIO-GHAE: Not just flying the flag for Cambridge. We’re flying the flag for the United Kingdom. We’re the only British team out here.
CHRIS MANN: Brilliant stuff. Well good luck for that. We’ll talk again nearer the time. Keeno Mario-Ghae, well done and good luck.
KENO MARIO-GHAE: Thank you very much Chris.