The Innoptus Solar Team on the road to gold: discover their story
The Innoptus Solar Team is continuing to improve their solar car, supported by partner companies such as Dockx Rental. Discover the story behind Innoptus Solar Team and why we are their partner.
The World Solar Challenge is a race in which solar-powered cars drive 3021 km through the searing Australian outback. The Belgian Innoptus Solar Team is working hard on the solar car which they hope to win this year's race with. They won the previous edition in 2019 and are pulling out all the stops to extend their title. Team members Jef Suy and Pauline Vanvuchelen explain how it works, what the Innoptus Solar Team does and why their success relies on good partnerships, including with Dockx Rental.
What is the story behind the Innoptus Solar Team?
Jef Suy: "We are a team of 20 Belgian engineering students who make a new solar car every two years. We then compete in the biennial World Solar Challenge in Australia with this car. In the years when we don't go to Australia, we compete in other international races, for example in South Africa. In addition to participating in these races, we also develop new technologies and try to inspire young people. For instance, we organise the Solar Olympiad, an annual competition in which high school students make their own small solar car. We also organise a Tech Night aimed at connecting university students with our partners. Inspiring is a big part of what we do; it's part of our mission."
What does the solar car look like?
Pauline Vanvuchelen: "The car is about 5 m long and 1.2 m wide. It has three wheels and is cone-shaped. The vehicle is covered with solar panels that can be flipped open, allowing the driver to crawl inside. A striking feature is that the solar car is covered in stickers with the names of all our partners. The car is also blue, the colour of our team."
The Solar Team has been around since 2004. What has changed about your cars since then?
Jef Suy: "The technology we work with is changing very quickly. Our first car, the Umicar One, had a surface area of 9 m². That was necessary to fit enough solar panels on the car. Today, that surface area has been reduced to 4 m². That’s less than half, but we can still achieve the same speed thanks to better solar panels. Our battery packs also get smaller every year, and their performance improves. With each passing year, the solar car becomes more efficient, aerodynamic and reliable. You can see the history of our nine cars here."
What milestones have you reached?
Jef Suy: "We started the new team on 4 July 2022 and began comparing all possible concepts. We examined three-wheelers, four-wheelers, catamarans, bullets and asymmetric shapes. The first concept deadline was at the end of August. That's when we made our decision and chose our concept for this year. The details remain a secret for now. Then we determined the design details. We ran over 1,500 simulations to fine-tune every element of the car. We started making the car at the beginning of February. All components are being produced separately before the end of April, and we will assemble them in May and June. We will be ready to present and test the car in early July. The moment of truth arrives in October: the World Solar Challenge."
Why is it so interesting for you to devote part of your student time to this?
Pauline Vanvuchelen: "For me, Solar Team is the ideal engineering experience. You get to work with a group of 20 enthusiastic students who want to give it their all for a year. Everyone can specialise, too. Some team members focus on partnering with companies and getting our story out there, while others focus on making the solar panels as efficient as possible. Everyone has something they can immerse themselves in. You are looking forward to something and can take part in a race on the other side of the world. That makes the Solar Team a unique experience."
What role do partners play in your success?
Jef Suy: "I always say that Solar Team is a very Belgian project. Our team works on the solar car during the day and sometimes at night as well. But beyond that, we rely heavily on our partners. We look for Belgian companies that can help us with the technology for each component. For example, the production site is at our partner Indupol in Arendonk, where they manufacture high-quality composite components. That's where we arrange the carbon layer by layer before it’s cured in their ovens. But our reliance goes further. We also need help with logistics, and that’s where Dockx comes in. Logistics are crucial for our daily operations."
What role does Dockx play?
Jef Suy: "Dockx provides minibuses, which we use to transport our team members to team days or race simulations. We also regularly give presentations in schools to encourage young people to take an interest in technology and science. Everything runs smoothly with these vehicles, and the team can function like a well-oiled machine. Dockx also provides vans, which make it easy for us to transport all the equipment, in addition to the trailer that the solar car goes in. This allows us to travel all around the country."
Does the collaboration run smoothly?
Jef Suy: "Most definitely! We are 20 young, enterprising students. We also see this entrepreneurial spirit at Dockx, and it has ensured a good collaboration for three years already. Everything runs smoothly on a practical level too. I am in contact with Dockx every week, and that always runs smoothly. Dockx is well established all over Belgium, which means we can quickly use their large fleet of vehicles."
How has your partnership with Innoptus grown?
Pauline Vanvuchelen: "Innoptus has grown from a regular partner to a main sponsor. For years, they thought it was a charming project, but this year they became a main sponsor. They also help us with our software for drawing the solar car and its simulations. They have been a big help in advancing our aerodynamics."
What is the broader relevance of what Solar Team does? Does knowledge from the Solar Team also flow back to Belgian companies?
Pauline Vanvuchelen: "That factor definitely plays a role. One of our partners is imec. As a world-renowned research centre, imec believes in technology's contribution to a better future. They put that vision into practice locally by supporting companies and governments in their sustainable innovation. Another partner is EnergyVille. EnergyVille develops the technologies and knowledge to support public and private stakeholders in their transition to an energy-efficient, decarbonised and sustainable urban environment.
What are the goals for the future?
Jef Suy: "We want to finish first at the world championships this year. But most of all, we want to be a tight-knit group. We also hope to have a positive impact on the technology community and do our bit for a better future."