Team Sunergy began in Fall 2013 as a class project to build a solar-powered golf cart designed for race competition. Students quickly learned their goal was not just hypothetical.
Rather, they learned technology supports solar-powered transportation and that a group of passionate individuals can overcome any obstacles.
Over the next three years, team members researched competitions and the equipment needed to compete. They wrote grant proposals. They recruited peers from across Appalachian’s majors to create a well-functioning, interdisciplinary team.
A donated shell from Iowa State University led to the team’s first competition-ready solar car, Apperion. The team competed in the 2016’s Formula Sun Grand Prix and American Solar Challenge, placing third and sixth respectively. A second-place finish in 2017’s Formula Sun Grand Prix followed. The team has a two-person cruiser car in the works for 2018.
Sun, energy, plus synergy = Team Sunergy
“That explains us perfectly, because we have multiple majors from all over campus working towards one common goal.” – Project Director Dan Blakeley
- Chris Tolbert in the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment teaches a class on transportation systems, letting students decide on a main project.
- Student Dan Blakeley presents the idea of forming a solar car racing team. The class selects the project even though no one knows anything about solar car racing.
- With initial funding and donated parts from Golf Cart Catalog, including a motor and motor controller, the class constructs a vehicle at student Wil Miner’s family shop in Independence, North Carolina. Tolbert also contributes some parts on hand.
- Once built, the cart is relocated to a classroom in Kerr Scott Hall on Appalachian’s campus.
- Because of the vehicle’s rudimentary construction, the middle section of a double door had to be removed each time the vehicle is taken out.
- Class members develop a logo, website, social media presence and other communication materials needed for race competition.
- Four members of the “team” carry over from fall semester.
- They began recruiting other interested students to continue their work, but retention becomes difficult because this is the same academic year students and faculty design a row house for competition in the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles, France.
- Dan Blakeley, Chris Tolbert and Will Miner decide to attend the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2014 in July in Austin, Texas, to observe.
- The two students and their faculty mentor attend 2014 Formula Sun Grand Prix at their own expense and volunteer as corner workers.
- Other teams in attendance are supportive and share their knowledge. In particular, Western Michigan and Illinois State give insider information.
- Key take-aways: solar car-designed parts, including special tires, are important and expensive.
- Recruitment improves with leaders’ gained knowledge and photos from Formula Sun Grand Prix, but retention remains an issue without an actual car to race.
- Interested students major in either appropriate technology or sustainable technology.
- Dan writes project proposals to Appalachian’s Renewable Energy Initiative and Office of Sustainability and receives $24,090 from each area from REI.
- This critical funding goes toward completing and updating the golf cart design. This is conducted primarily at Watauga High School, which supplied important welding equipment.
- Basic 3D models are constructed of a concept car.
- A public relations class from the Department of Communication makes key contributions to the team. The team name and logo are chosen.
- In January, the team attends a high school solar car conference in Texas and learns more about where to find products. They came back still hoping to race in the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2015.
- Team members attend a collegiate solar car conference in April. On the first day, Iowa State team approaches Dan and Chris offering to donate the shell of their old car.
- Dan drives to Iowa, hangs out with Iowa State for a day, rents a Penske truck, and brings its shell – named Hyperion – back to Boone.
- Team has six weeks to build its car – named Appearion – for Formula Sun Grand Prix.
- Suspension, brakes and electronics are lacking, but with Iowa State’s vehicle report the team reconstructs car to working condition
- Boston Power sends batteries and an intern to help install them, as well as the battery protection system (BPS).
- Suspension is designed with just two weeks to go, using machine shop in department of Physics and Astronomy.
- About 8 team members make a three-day drive to the race. The team can register, but isn’t allowed in the garage bays due to lack of insurance. Members stays outside, while track reaches 135 degrees.
- Other teams gave support helping out and troubleshooting.
- Insurance is secured on final day of competition.
- The team starts scrutineering phase and successfully completes three-fourths of scrutineering but does not pass electrical or BPS.
- Team is awarded the “Perseverance Award” at race banquet and returns to campus with greater support from the university.
Fall 2015- Spring 2016
- With a usable car and increased knowledge, team membership becomes more reliable and leaders begin to train students about how the car works.
- Warehouse is shut down for six months, leading to major setbacks.
- Apperion does not run consistently until May 2016. The team perseveres as is determined to race in the 2016 Formula Sun Grand Prix that summer.
- Team Sunergy and its Apperion solar car competes in the closed-track Formula Sun Grand Prix, held at Pittsburgh International Race Complex. This is an international collegiate endurance competition that sets the standards for and tests the limits of solar vehicle technology.
- During scrutineering, the only issue flagged was the battery protection system (BPS). The team replaces and reprograms its BPS and Apperion passes inspection.
- Apperion needs to drive a minimum of 128 laps in any of the three track days, and the team finishes the first day with 152 laps. This qualifies the team for the American Solar Challenge, which takes place over 1,975 miles of highway spanning from Brecksville, Ohio to Hot Springs, South Dakota.
- Chancellor Sheri Everts secures the team’s required insurance.
- With a race strategy of slow, steady and consistent, Team Sunergy's leading pole position slowly declines throughout the 8-day, 6-state race due in part to rain and fog.
- In their first appearance in the solar vehicle racing industry, Team Sunergy finishes 6th place overall and receives the Abraham Poot Teamwork Award and Fastest Driver Egress.
Fall 2016-Spring 17
- Team Sunergy spends thousands of hours of preparation for its next competitions.
- It turns down an opportunity to compete in the Somabay Egyptian Solar Challenge (SESC) in Egypt so it can focus on the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix.
- Team Sunergy compete in and take second place at the 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix held on the Circuit of The Americas track in Austin, Texas.
- Team becomes known for quick and efficient pit stops.
- The team also wins the event’s Safety Award, Fastest Egress Award, Array Award and the ISF Achievement Award, which is presented to the team “that best exemplifies the mission of ISF by raising awareness of the imperatives of sustainable transport through innovation, and promoting the concept of ‘Brain Sport.’”
- Team Sunergy, while still a student group, becomes an official part of Appalachian’s Office of Sustainability. This change provides greater financial and administrative support so the students can focus on the advancing the car and its technology.