The Gato del Sol III: 2400 Miles on Determination and Sunlight

The University of Kentucky goes 2400 miles in the Gato del Sol III - powered only by the sunA team of engineering students from the University of Kentucky, assisted by engineers and technicians from UPS, recently completed the 2008 North American Solar Challenge, a competition to design, build, and race solar-powered cars cross-country.

The race started on July 13th, in Plano, Texas and ran 2400 miles to the finish line on July 22nd in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The team’s entry, Gato del Sol III, didn’t finish in “first” place, but with a determined team along with key support and consultation from UPS, finishing is an achievement in itself. This is the kind of race where winning is simply running the course.

In fact, the team had yet to even start a race, let alone finish (hence the “III”), as each team is required to put its entry through a grueling qualifying and technical inspection before being allowed to enter the race. 

Just making the 2400 miles “without anything breaking” is the real victory, according to Matt Hatfield, the team’s project director.

And make it they did.

Nothing but the Sun

Gato del Sol III is powered by 468 solar cells producing 1200 watts of power. With on-board batteries the car is able to produce speeds up to 65mph.

Local Louisville UPS automotive and ground support equipment managers offered mechanical expertise with the car’s wheel alignment and brake lining, and developed a preventative maintenance program that the team employed daily through the use of a detailed inspection checklist.

Along the course UPS employees offered support at every stop including tune-ups, solar panel cooling, and other mechanical work as needed along the way.

UPS’s interest in projects like this reflects their 75 years of experience in alternative fuel vehicles, maintaining the largest fleet of AFV in the industry (we’ve posted before on 3P about the work UPS does in the field of alternative fuel vehicles).

The North American Solar Challenge competition is designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. The event’s sponsors include Toyota and Crowder College M.A.R.E.T Center (Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology Center). The goals of the North American Solar Challenge are to:

  • Help promote innovation in renewable energy technologies (particularly PV)
  • Encourage educational excellence in science, engineering, and mathematics
  • Creatively integrate technical and scientific expertise throughout a wide range of disciplines
  • Provide students and engineers hands-on experience to further develop and demonstrate their technical and creative abilities (i.e. their “chops”)
  • Promote environmental consciousness

While you and I won’t be tooling down the road in a car powered by pure sunlight anytime soon, the young engineers, designers, and scientists are working hard at it. With each event, the cars travel further, faster, and more reliably.

But, of course, we do need to mention which team did come across the finish line first. That honor belongs to the University of Michigan, its fifth win in nine races.

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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