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ECO Photonics: Weighing Anchor with Solar

Jan 2009
Charles T. Troy, Senior Editor,

Dr. Peter Wilson and the student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) at the University of Southampton plan to take to the water with a solar-powered boat and compete in the world championship of intercollegiate solar/electric boating next year.

A team led by Wilson of the university’s School of Electronics and Computer Science is joining with the IEEE student members to design and build a boat that will be both energy efficient and fast. He will leverage the school’s experience in the development of solar cells and electronics to deliver a solar-cell-clad electric-powered boat.

A solar boat competes in an earlier Solar Splash held in Buffalo, N.Y., USA.

The school has two solar installations on campus and is investigating new types of solar cells based on nanotechnology. It has extensive experience in renewable-energy systems, power electronics and electronics design, and this, coupled with the local expertise in ocean racing, could prove a powerful mix.

Solar Splash is the world championship of intercollegiate solar/electric boating and takes place over five days. Technical inspections are done on the first day, and the remainder of the time is occupied by five on-the-water competitive events, including a slalom, which is a combination of speed and maneuverability, a sprint and endurance.

“This will be the first UK entrant in this international competition, and it is fitting that it comes from Southampton,” Wilson said.

Ocean racing’s home

Wilson believes that a boat from Southampton – the home of ocean racing – could, over time, be a strong contender in Solar Splash, which will take place in Fayetteville, Ark., USA, from 27 to 31 May 2009.

“It is vital for the team to have sufficient sponsorship to complete the build and also send the team members over to the USA, and we will rely entirely on sponsorship to make this happen. We hope that local companies will see the benefits from aligning with such an ambitious and exciting project and become involved. We see this as a fantastic opportunity to engage with local businesses, large and small, and would be delighted to talk to anyone who can make a contribution of any size to the project,” he said.

He has formed a team of postgraduate students from the student branch to work on the design and is seeking sponsors to enable the project to become fully funded. The plan is in future years to position it as a series of undergraduate projects as well as at the postgraduate level, when the experience of an initial competition has been gained.

“It is the first time that we have done a project of this scale,” Wilson said. “It will allow students to think outside the box when it comes to applications for solar cells. It is also a prime time for local building suppliers and boatbuilders to invest in renewable energy and advanced electronics technology. We hope this can be a showcase for technology and the skills here in Southampton on a global stage.”

The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
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