In the pantheon of alternative energy, solar power is probably the most “renewable” of the bunch. Indeed, that big ball of fusion in the sky is throwing out an incredible amount of energy – it’s just a matter of harnessing it. And that’s exactly what this GM-sponsored solar electric car does. Dubbed the “Momentum,” the spacey-looking, race-winning conveyance runs on nothing but solar power.
The Momentum solar electric car was built in 2005 by team of more than 200 students from the University of Michigan. Providing the juice is an array of 3,000 gallium-arsenide solar cells, which feeds a lithium-ion battery pack. An in-hub electric motor turns the electrons into motion.
The machine is 5.9 feet wide, 16.4 feet long and 3.6 feet tall, weighing in at 700 pounds thanks to materials like carbon fiber and Kevlar composites. The driver essentially lays flat in this electric car, with a design that’s intended to maximize efficiency on the ground through low aerodynamic and rolling drag, while still maximizing the solar power collected up top.
The electric car took two years to build, and included sponsorship from General Motors, but it was entirely student-managed, student-designed, student-built and student-raced.
Momentum’s big claim to fame is a top-place finish in the 2005 North American Solar Challenge, the longest solar car race in history. Stretching between Austin, Texas and Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the race spanned nearly 2,500 miles and included a mix of both road and highway driving. Momentum’s final time came in at 53 hours, 59 minutes, with an average of 46.2 mph. The electric car posted an equivalent miles-per-gallon figure of 1,800 mpg.
After winning in North America, the team went on to place third in the 2005 World Solar Challenge in Australia, becoming the highest-ranking American team at the event.
Now, the Momentum solar electric car is on display at the LeMay Automotive museum in Tacoma, Washington.
Photos by GM Authority