Winds of change: How engineering students harnessed the elements to get up to speed

A team of engineers at the University of Sussex have become only the second-ever team of UK students to compete in one of the world’s largest sustainability races with a vehicle powered entirely by the wind.

Sussex Power Storm took on a host of teams from universities around the world at the 11th Racing Aeolus, racing their self-built vehicle in drag races and time trials along a dyke in the Dutch town of Den Helder, finishing a very credible fifth and setting a UK record in the process.

The race was the culmination of 11 months’ hard work for the team of 13 engineers, who had trialled their vehicle along Shoreham Port before heading out to the Netherlands last week for five days of final testing and racing.

Toby Young, a Masters Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Sussex and Team Leader of Sussex Power Storm, said: “It’s been a really brilliant experience and it’s given me the opportunity to utilise all of my engineering skills which I’ve learnt at my time in university.

“It’s also given me the opportunity to work as part of a large team, which has been great fun, but also a big challenge. It has definitely set me up well to start work within industry.

“We have been competing against teams that have been taking part in Racing Aeolus for many years, while we have started pretty much from scratch this year, so to be competitive has been a great achievement.”

The team designed a light framed car with a 1.8m diameter wind turbine that was linked directly to its wheels. They also developed a gearbox and an automatic yawing system to try and maximise the amount of wind they could harness to power the vehicle.

Eight teams from seven countries took part in three days of racing, each aiming to achieve the highest speed as a proportion of the average wind speed to find the car which makes most efficient use of the wind.

Competing against universities with much greater experience in the competition, the Sussex Power Storm team were able to harness 64.95% of the wind speed, giving them a speed of 6.17 m/s during their most successful run at Racing Aeolus. Over the week they averaged 48.27% of the wind speed, travelling into the wind.

Donald MacDonald, Sussex Power Storm driver and a Masters Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Sussex, said: “I was elated to be designated driver for the team and although it took me a while to get used to being so low, the mechanical noises and accepting the fact that there was up to 12kW of power being generated a foot above my head I like to think I did my team proud.”

Following the University’s successful participation in this year’s race, organisers are urging other UK teams to follow in Sussex’s footsteps and take part in the event in 2019.

Rob Cranfield, a Masters Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Sussex and Chief Engineer of Sussex Power Storm, said: “We hope our achievements at Racing Aelous 2018 has set a foundation for a future victory in the competition for Sussex and will help build support from additional sponsors next year.

“We are now UK record holders and this evidences all our hard work over the last academic year. The project has given team members the vital skills that allowed many of us to already secure jobs at very respectable companies.”

Toby, who is now starting a graduate job at Dyson, said: “I’d really recommend Sussex engineering students to keep this going for next year and build on what we have learnt and hopefully more UK universities will take part in the upcoming years.

“It has been a fantastic team effort by everyone involved and we could not have done it without the support of Shoreham Port who allowed us to test along the seafront, giving us the perfect test site for a wind-powered vehicle.

“We’re also very grateful to our large sponsors ANSYS for contributing funds to build our carbon fibre body and Insulation 4 Less for giving us the foam which allowed us to make the mould. We’d also like to thank the many other companies who have been very generous offering us discounts on a large range of products needed to complete the project.”

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