Student-led Solar Vehicle Project team wins the 2022 American Solar Challenge

This is the first time the University of Minnesota team has ever won the collegiate competition

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (07/19/2022)—The University of Minnesota student-led Solar Vehicle Project team took first place in the Multi-Occupant Vehicle category in the 2022 American Solar Challenge, a biennial collegiate competition in which teams race solar-powered cars between 1,000 and 2,000 miles across North America. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology team took first place in the Single-Occupant Vehicle class. 

The University of Minnesota Solar Vehicle Project team has been competing in the American Solar Challenge since 1993, but this is the first time in history they’ve crossed the finish line first, after coming in second place in both categories seven times in the past.

This year, the student teams drove their cars more than 1,400 miles along the Oregon National Historic Trail from Independence, Mo., to Twin Falls, Idaho. The competition spanned 16 days in July, including four days of vehicle inspections, a three-day “Formula Sun Grand Prix” track race, and culminating in the eight-day race across the country.

“Our team has been at this for a while and we’ve had some incredible cars, but we’ve never been able to stand on top of the podium before,” said Amber Zierden, a University of Minnesota mechanical engineering student and the team’s Director of Engineering. “There is nothing better than getting to build something with your own hands, and then after pouring thousands of hours into it, getting to race it across the country with some of your best friends.”

The students’ solar vehicle, named “Freya,” is a two-passenger car that can travel about 400 miles with a fully-charged battery. The 1,000-watt array of solar panels on the top of the car charge a lithium-ion battery that powers the vehicle. The University of Minnesota students were the only team at the competition who designed and built their own motors. Throughout the 2022 race, Freya only used 72.7 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which amounts to less than $10 of external power.  

At the 2021 American Solar Challenge (which was rescheduled from 2020 due to COVID-19), Freya suffered a catastrophic breakdown while going up a hill in Raton Pass, Colo. The students’ main challenge this year was climbing another hill—a nearly 20-mile long incline in Wyoming.

“Both Amber and I were on the race last year when we had the battery fire,” said Ivana Truong, a University of Minnesota Twin Cities biochemistry student and the team’s Director of Operations. “Over the course of the 2021-2022 school year, I saw how hard our electrical team worked to design and build an entirely new battery and electrical system and how all parts of the team took what we learned from last year’s race to make Freya more prepared for this race. I'm proud to be a part of bringing home first place for our whole team, both past and present.”

The University of Minnesota students have already begun building their next vehicle, which will be the team’s 15th solar-powered car. They plan to debut it in Fall 2023 at the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, the biggest solar racing event in the world in which teams race across the entire country of Australia.

“This is a tremendous success for our Solar Vehicle Project students,” said Andrew Alleyne, dean of the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering. “What I find even more compelling is the time, effort, and 'sweat equity' that goes into something like this. The technical skills, as well as the communication and teamwork skills, that the students acquired throughout the year are things that will catapult them to success well beyond what they learned in the classroom.”

Learn more and see the 2022 results on the American Solar Challenge website.

Learn more about the team on the UMN Solar Vehicle Project team website.

Support the UMN Solar Vehicle Project team by donating to help cover costs for equipment, travel, and other expenses.