University of Iowa students raising money to build solar car with a hand from ISU

Iowa State University's Team PrISUm donated older solar car frame and shell to jump start UI efforts

Sam Hookom

Members of the University of Iowa American Society of Mechanical Engineers solar car team (left of wheel) an
Sam Hookom Members of the University of Iowa American Society of Mechanical Engineers solar car team (left of wheel) and Team PrISUm from Iowa State University stand behind the shell of Team PrISUm’s former solar car, which the team donated to the UI team in November 2017.

IOWA CITY — Iowa State University’s Team PrISUm, which has been building solar cars since 1989, has given the University of Iowa’s new solar car team a jump start on building their own car.

The ISU team in November donated the aluminum frame and fiber shell from an older solar car to the UI’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) solar car team. The UI team will use the materials, valued at $17,000, to build a new car they hope to race as soon as this summer.

“When we were starting to talk about this club, we said ‘Let’s reach out to Iowa State and get some advice’,” said Franciso Fidalgo, 20, a UI exchange student on the ASME team. “They were very helpful and interested in helping us get our team off the ground.”

The UI team would like to raise up to $80,000, which would include building the solar car, outreach efforts and traveling to the Solar Car Challenge, a two-week race from Nebraska to Oregon in July. They have about $8,000 so far from sponsors that include the Iowa City Area Development Group, MidAmerican Energy and Iowa Rotocast Plastics.

A $4,000 crowdfunding campaign that goes through Feb. 25 will help the team build the car’s sun-powered electric battery. The campaign, part of the UI’s Gold Rush crowdfunding site, includes a two-minute video describing the group’s goals.

The UI team has about 50 members from across academic disciplines ranging from computer science to biomedical engineering, said Fidalgo, who is studying mechanical engineering. As an exchange student, his UI credits are transferred to Lancaster University in Lancashire, England.

Building and racing a solar car allows the UI students to spread the idea of sustainability, Fidalgo said. Rather than gasoline, solar cars use sun absorbed through solar panels to power the ultralightweight vehicle. Other objectives include learning engineering skills that can make students more marketable in the workforce and sharing their knowledge with K-12 students.

“It gets kids interested in STEM in Iowa,” Fidalgo said.


ISU’s Team PrISUm has built 13 solar-powered cars over nearly 30 years and raced them around the world. The team had no problem donating materials from its 12th car, Phaeton, to a cross-state rival, said Smeet Mistry, the team’s project director.

“It’s kind of in the nature of our team to help other people,” he said, adding the team gave another car to Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

Last October, Team PrISUm raced a larger solar-powered vehicle, named Penumbra, at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, a 1,900-mile competition in Australia. The ISU team placed fourth in practicality and finished almost all of the race under solar power, Mistry said.

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