The world’s most eco-friendly car race is now underway in Australia: the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. On Sunday morning, 38 solar-powered cars took to the highway to begin a 1,864 mile journey from Darwin to Adelaide. The challengers hail from 22 different countries around the world, all with one common goal: proving that solar-powered vehicles can be a sustainable alternative to ordinary cars.

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While some teams will compete in the “challenger” class of the race, judged solely on speed, others are competing for the title of the most practical vehicle as part of the “cruiser” class. Each cruiser car must meet road regulations in the competitor’s home country, and it must be able to seat at least two people. Two Australian teams from the University of NSW and TAFE SA have taken up the challenge, as well as a Dutch team that’s using the race as an opportunity to test out the world’s first four-seat solar car. (It also features a USB charger and a two-speaker sound system.)

The race won’t be easy for the drivers since high temperatures and dry conditions are expected throughout the week. In 2011, the race actually had to be ended early due to raging wildfires along the route. However, the sunny weather will make it easier to keep the cars running at peak performance. The drivers are only allowed to store 5 kilowatt-hours of energy, with the rest harvested from the sun or recovered from the kinetic energy generated by the vehicle itself.

So far, there have already been some hits and misses. The University of Cambridge team burned out early on, crashing twice during test drives on Saturday. Their 265 pound car was designed to run at a maximum of 50mph, but its light weight proved to be an issue during testing. The vehicle rolled over and skidded along its side into an embankment, scattering its solar cells across the road, and the team was forced to withdraw. They told the BBC there simply wasn’t time to repair the car.

The challenge will be ongoing through Thursday. You can view footage from the race, track the cars on their journey, and see pictures of each of the unique vehicles participating in the challenge on the race’s official website.

+ Bridgestone Solar World Challenge

Via Slashdot