The last five years has managed to push upon many of us the realisation that environmentally and economically sustainable methods of travel – and the infrastructure that goes with it – are vital for sustaining a 21st century economy. While this global economy inevitably relies on the requirements for economic growth, consumption and infinite connectivity, travel remains paradoxically pushed to the peripheries in terms of its long-term development as a sustainable public resource. This has meant that any showcase of the potential for more marketable sustainable vehicles and their underlying technologies has become increasingly important, both for the manufacturers and the general public. Events like this year’s EcoRally, set just off London’s Pall Mall on August 18th, had been set up to provide businesses and those who provide their power a means to show the public that something is being done to act upon this realisation. This is why CUER had to take part.
Our old car Endeavour (pictured below), a workhorse of the CUER team for the last three years, has been bruised and battered by its visits across the world to people who believe that even vehicles as unconventional as ours can provide the inspiration and technology to push along the journey towards long-term sustainability in vehicles which anyone and everyone has access to. Its specialist purpose was to race against 36 other vehicles across Australia in October 2011, simply to prove that it can go quickly despite running only on solar energy and an overall power rating similar to most small hairdryers. However, our sojourns across a few small patches of the UK with Endeavour in tow ever since symbolise a far more important journey which small manufacturing teams like us at CUER are trying to do.
CUER has managed to build just three cars in these last five years. However, this means we can design a world class solar-powered vehicle, oversee the manufacture of the shell and the chassis for it, and utilise the world’s most up-to-date solar technologies with a core of just 25 full-time students in less than two years. This puts a student-run business in the same league as any full-time dedicated car manufacturer. But one of many things which plays on the minds of our students is why we haven’t heard of anyone else doing what we do. We can see that there is clearly a lack of investment, time and resources dedicated to this branch of vehicle development, sitting alongside the better-recognised bioethanol, electric, hybrid and hydrogen alternatives. CUER has responded to this by drawing together the world’s best vehicle manufacturers, technology suppliers and backing investors. This has been recognised by entries into the World Solar Challenge, that aforementioned trans-Australian race, and of numerous build-up events, including the obligatory Land’s End – John O’Groats trip, which tend to characterise the plucky British small business. This year, another call from Revolve, the backing organisation behind the EcoRally, offered us another chance to showcase what we can create within our own garden sheds, in our case the Department of Engineering buried in the heart of Cambridge. This is why CUER could take part.
At CUER we are among the leading contributors to British solar vehicle development, but for us this still isn’t good enough. We want to feel that not only can we create cars which can run off the sun, and very well that too – you can see what Endeavour is made of under the Cars section of our site – but also that we can inspire a solar future. Working with those who are creating the cells, the batteries and the motors which can do something resembling an effective utilisation of some of the 170 trillion watts of available solar power strikes us as a privilege which should not be shared with just a few students to be forgotten about by the end of the decade. The current usage figure for road transportation stands at around 2.6 trillion watts per year (GFEI, 2010), which means that doing what we do when we use solar cells to power a full-sized car should be merely a stepping stone towards turning this available energy into marketable, tangible long term transport solutions.
With an exhibition of this year’s most innovative and technically superb alternative-fuel vehicles, events like the EcoRally, taking up London’s Waterloo Place for just an afternoon – and a very sunny one at that, fittingly enough – help us show the public that it is definitely possible. The growth of CUER itself is testament to how well a group of dedicated people can make a difference, through adhering to the main two tenets of business any investor would want to look for: identifying a niche, and drawing together the best people available to exploit it. Every single person at the EcoRally who asked us how the car performed, what it was capable of, and what CUER was capable of, was surprised by our answers. We just so happened to be one of its most popular exhibits, mostly because we looked so different to any other vehicle on display. We don’t envisage the cars of the future looking quite like ours, but we know that with the potential we have to deliver the most innovative solutions to a salient current and future problem – powering at least a part of the future using solar energy – we can inspire a generation of sustainable engineers to help us create a solar future. This community includes not just engineers themselves, but also great undiscovered and up-and-coming materials scientists, physicists, chemical engineers, geographers, lawyers and a great list more.
CUER’s lookout for this ready-to-be-tapped talent takes us once again across the UK to the Isle of Wight which we will keep you further posted as we travel towards and across the island throughout late September. This opportunity to showcase the best of UK’s science, technology and ethical engineering is why we applaud the inspiration given to us and to other designers by this year’s EcoRally. That is why we took part.