A "penguin" with solar drive

Written by: Inga Bargende

What a great feeling when what you have been longing for finally becomes reality! It was with great anticipation that Dr. Inga Bargende, together with numerous colleagues from Covestro, made her way to Aachen on June 5th for the rollout of the new Sonnenwagen. Here she describes how she experienced the unveiling.

So now the time had come: June 5th, 5 p.m. Aachen. Eurogress. 800 guests. Among them almost 30 participants from Covestro. On stage, covered with a black cloth: the new Sonnenwagen. 

After speeches by Prof. Malte Brettel (RWTH Aachen), Prof. Bernd Pietschmann (FH Aachen), Nico Michels (Siemens) as well as Etienne Pudell and Florian Fröhlich (Mercedes-Benz), the "Making of" video of the new Sonnenwagen is shown. Pure goose bumps! You can literally feel the energy that the students have put into the development and construction of the new Sonnenwagen. A feeling of immense pride spreads through me, then comes impatience – I want to finally see the new Sonnenwagen. And the countdown to the rollout of the new solar car starts running: 10, 9, … 3, 2, 1. Absolute silence. Slowly the black cloth is pulled off the car. The new Sonnenwagen is unveiled. Above the car the name "Covestro Adelie". The enthusiasm is huge, the whole hall shakes with applause. Then question marks appear on the guests' faces. What does Adelie mean? And how do you pronounce the name correctly anyway? 

A photo of a penguin appears on the screen. Then it is explained: It is the Adelie penguin, a particularly aerodynamic penguin (Fun Fact: Due to its extraordinary streamlined shape, an Adelie penguin can swim a distance of 120 km on the energy of a meal of just 1.2kg of its favorite food, krill shrimp). So for the team, this is the ideal name for their new solar car. After all, the aerodynamics of the Sonnenwagen are one of the most relevant technical features. Even the smallest design changes can result in an increase in air resistance. Of course, this has to be avoided. After over 600 model designs and more than 200,000 hours of simulation work, the team has managed to reduce the aerodynamic drag of "Covestro Adelie" by 20 % compared to its predecessor, the Covestro Photon. With extraordinary enthusiasm, the individual team leaders present their developments that are prone to help "Covestro Adelie" win the world's toughest solar race, the World Solar Challenge in Australia. 

“These young minds take the whole spirit of "nothing is impossible" to the next level.” © Covestro

The figures are impressive: 16 % weight reduction of the structure and 20 % weight reduction of the chassis (the car weighs only 130 kg!), 567 solar cells that can generate a peak power of more than 1kW with a 96 % surface utilization, 600 km range of the battery without energy supply via solar cells (this probably made one or the other car manufacturer in the room pale with envy), 96 % overall efficiency of the powertrain. Some developments were also made to improve the driving strategy. For example, "Covestro Adelie" and the so-called "Strategy Car" will communicate via telemetry during the race, weather data will be evaluated in real time, and optimization suggestions will be played to the driver of the Sonnenwagen via a vehicle model in the shortest possible time. It could hardly be more professional. 

The fact that Covestro is not only on the Sonnenwagen, but also in it, makes me particularly proud. Together with my colleague Daniel Steinke, I have been leading the Sonnenwagen project on behalf of Covestro since the beginning of this year. Since then, our top priorities have been to intensify the exchange with the students from Aachen and to identify material solutions for the Sonnenwagen. In the new car, polycarbonate was used for the battery enclosure, TPU for the seat shell lining, and various raw materials for bonding the individual components and manufacturing the structure. As part of the Growth Business Textiles, I am at just as happy that we were able to equip the team – also away from the car – with our more sustainable materials. In cooperation with our innovation partner, completely individual Sonnenwagen shoes were produced, as well as shorts using our bio-based polyurethane dispersions. 

It was (and still is 😊) a great experience to work with Team Sonnenwagen – their passion, team spirit, diligence and immense drive are truly contagious. Working together has shown me that "thinking differently" is the key to pushing the boundaries towards a more sustainable future! 

Now the Sonnenwagen team is about to leave for Australia. There, they can expect one more month of testing under real conditions and a final fine-tuning. Then, Team Sonnenwagen will compete with "Covestro Adelie" against 41 other teams from all over the world. The aim is to cover the 3022 km distance between Darwin and Adelaide. 

I am sure that not only "Covestro Adelie" but also, in particular, the will to win and the team's cohesion will help the students to find themselves on the top step of the podium after crossing the finish line. The anticipation of watching the race (even if only from a distance) is growing day by day. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you, Team Sonnenwagen – you deserve to win! 

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