In a converted warehouse on the outskirts of Ann Arbor (Michigan’s other city), swarms of brilliant students harness conceptual, terrestrial and solar power for unusually racy, million-dollar road trips. Enter the Infinium 2009 solar car. Strips of photovoltaic panels (the space-age, gallium-arsenide kind) absorb the sun’s energy along a sleek and light carbon-fiber shell, and a 16-hp electric motor in one of its three wheels propels the 600-lb coupe up to 90 miles per hour and 98 percent efficiency. Awesome aerodynamics and innovative innards apparently allow the Infinium a driving range of 200 to 300 miles without any sunlight at all.
Revving up for the World Solar Challenge — an 1,800–mile race across Australia this October — the University of Michigan’s Solar Car Team pools academic disciplines, corporate backing and 3-D technology to engineer highly competitive electric vehicles. The Infinium is their tenth sun car in 20 years. In order to produce such a lean, clean and “green” machine, the 150 or so collaborators use CAD and Z Corp for efficient design, and mostly titanium and aluminum parts.
No wonder major car companies like Ford and GM are paying attention — and money — toward U-M’s sunny efforts that could boost prospects for their own EVs. For example, according to Popular Science, the Infinium’s 50-lb lithium battery is one-third the size of GM’s Chevy Volt. Even Hollywood has taken notice, documenting and awarding the climactic story of this starry bandwagon’s predecessor, the Continuum.
In a recent interview with ars technica, the team’s strategy director Alex Dowling compares the Infinium to “a pregnant poptart” and reveals more under the hood and behind the scenes in the race for a place in the sun.