Europe’s fastest solar car

Although it was not enough to win the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge from October 22 to 29, 2023 in Australia, Team Sonnenwagen drove in the leading group for a large part of the race until an accident forced them to abandon the race. Thanks to the safe vehicle design, no one was injured, but the team gained valuable insights for the design of its next solar car. Covestro supports the 53 students at RWTH and FH Aachen University with innovative material solutions, professional exchange and, since 2018, as the main sponsor.
Clemens Odendahl from Team Sonnenwagen about Industry Partnerships. (© Team Sonnenwagen e.V.)

The team secured the first place in qualifying and was able to start the big race from pole position. For most of the distance, the Adelie maintained an average speed of 80 kilometers per hour and was able to hold on to fifth place in a highly competitive field. However, in the heat of the race, there was an accident around 300 kilometers from the finish, in which no one was injured and the car only suffered minor injuries, but forced the team to abandon the race.

"Nevertheless, our two years of intensive development work paid off in full, especially because we also attached great importance to a safe design. It helped to ensure that nobody was injured in the accident," summarizes Simon Zaers from Team Sonnenwagen. "We were also able to gain a lot of valuable experience for the construction of our next solar car, with which we would like to take part in the World Solar Challenge 2025. Together with the other teams, we are continuing to pursue our goal of enabling more sustainable mobility with innovative designs – powered only by the power of the sun."

It worked out in the end: Team Sonnenwagen after crossing the finish line in Adelaide. (© Team Sonnenwagen e.V.)

Two-year design phase

For almost two years, Team Sonnenwagen worked intensively on the design of its current Covestro Adelie solar race car. The goal: to participate in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia. The solar car race is probably the toughest competition of its kind in the world, covering a distance of more than 3,000 kilometers across the Australian outback from Darwin to Adelaide – without any fuel or charging station.

Before the team set off for Down Under in their highly efficient, self-built car, they made another stop at Covestro's headquarters in Leverkusen. On the grounds behind the campus building, the students took their Adelie for several laps in public for the first time. Covestro shares the young people's enthusiasm for more sustainable mobility as well as the use of renewable energy.

Team Sonnenwagen says goodbye before its big trip to Australia for the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (© Covestro)

Multidisciplinary team

Even during the two-year development period of the Covestro Adelie, the teamwork of the approximately 50 students led to success: aerodynamics, electrical engineering, driving strategy, chassis, drive system and structure interlock perfectly. More than 200,000 hours of calculations were required to optimize the exterior shape, plus 10,000 workshop hours for the bodywork and many more days for electrical and mechanical components and the development of the driving strategy.

A lot of work, heart and soul and the concentrated experience from our three predecessor models have gone into the Covestro Adelie.

Clemens Odendahl

Head of Marketing at Team Sonnenwagen

This is where Covestro comes in, because the Aachen-based team had and still has many questions around the use of materials. They are an important factor in the struggle to win the solar race through the Australian outback. For the components, it's not just about lightweight, strength and aerodynamics, but also about withstanding strong mechanical shocks as well as extreme climatic conditions such as heat, humidity and high UV radiation. Covestro is sending a number of raw materials into the race, including those in the seat shell and the battery sheathing.

Object of desire: the new Covestro Adelie solar car (© Team Sonnenwagen e.V.)

On June 5, 2023, the Covestro Adelie saw the light of day – in front of more than 700 guests and with great public attention at the Eurogress in Aachen, Germany. The vehicle, which weighs just 150 kilograms, was on display there along with its three predecessor models. Thanks to the optimizations, the structure of the new model weighs 16 percent less than that of its predecessor, the Photon, and the chassis even weighs 20 percent less.

Looking over the shoulder of the Sonnenwagen team – the Covestro Adelie solar race car was created in a workshop in Aachen. (© Team Sonnenwagen e.V.)

The goal of Team Sonnenwagen after several thousand hours of work and extensive testing in Germany and Australia is to successfully participate in the Bridgestone Solar World Challenge. In the race, more than 40 teams from internationally renowned universities compete against each other with their solar cars. Victory is decided not only by speed - the vehicles of the Sonnenwagen team are capable of speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour - but also by the optimal use of the available solar energy. In any case, the project is a valuable experience for the Aachen team and impressively demonstrates its commitment to the development of future mobility concepts.

I am fascinated by the creativity and commitment with which these young people approach the development of such high-tech vehicles to harness the power of the sun for more sustainable mobility. These are electric cars that do not require charging stations or gas pumps.

Sucheta Govil

Covestro's Chief Sales and Marketing Officer

Milestone reached: European champion

In recent years, Team Sonnenwagen successfully mastered various solar car races with its vehicles – the Covestro Photon and the Covestro Sonnenwagen. In the summer of 2022, the team became European champion with the Covestro Photon at the iLumen European Solar Challenge (iESC), a 24-hour race on the former Formula 1 track in Zolder, Belgium. Shortly thereafter, Team Sonnenwagen followed up its success by winning the 2022 Italian Solar Challenge in Imola, Italy, with the Covestro Photon three-wheeled catamaran.

Winners photo of iESC 2022 (© Team Sonnenwagen e.V.)

Global challenges such as climate change and increasing resource consumption require new concepts for the mobility of the future. Covestro has been developing material solutions for electromobility for some time but is also focusing on the increased use of renewable energies such as solar and wind power. Together with the use of alternative raw materials and the development of innovative recycling concepts, they are part of a comprehensive program with which Covestro is fully aligning itself to the circular economy. To this end, the company cooperates with many partners along the value chain as well as with universities and institutes.

The Covestro Adelie shows on a small scale what high-performance plastics can do for a sustainable future on a large scale. We are convinced that they are the key to sustainable mobility. That's why we are consistently driving forward material innovations and recycling solutions together with our partners in industry and science.

Dr. Thorsten Dreier

Covestro's Chief Technology Officer

Since Team Sonnenwagen e.V. was founded in 2015, students at RWTH Aachen University and FH Aachen University have been working on the development of solar-powered electric vehicles. With lightweight components, including those made of polycarbonate, Covestro supports the goal of sustainable innovations in the field of electromobility. Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy is what drives the solar car team. For this goal, the students spend much of their free time on the project, working on the development of the solar cars alongside their studies.

In the Aachen workshop, students work on foam blocks and other components for the Covestro Adelie. (© Team Sonnenwagen e.V.)

From university to industrial practice

For Covestro, the partnership with Team Sonnenwagen goes far beyond material donations and sponsorship. With its commitment to sustainable mobility of the future and building a circular economy, the company wants to attract young and enthusiastic people to work together to achieve these important goals.

We want to attract young people from top universities who share our passion for more sustainable mobility and the use of renewable energy. We want to encourage them to use their talents to develop advanced materials and technologies with us.

Andreas Brandt

Head of Group Marketing

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