sleek car from low angle; back end

photo credit Helena Yu

UPDATED (9/28/2016): One of the founders of the Midnight Sun Solar Rayce Car Team, Professor Alfred Brunger, died in a light-plane crash on September 25, 2016. We pass along our sincerest condolences to his family, his friends and the team at Midnight Solar.


The sun gleamed into the Sedra Student Design Center at the University of Waterloo as the Midnight Sun Solar Rayce Car Team readied themselves to unveil their new model. Two students, one on each side of the car, grabbed the ends of the Canadian flag that draped its sharp profile. The room went silent, and with a grand flourish the vibrantly coloured car, adorned with solar panels, was revealed. It was Midnight Sun’s new model: Midnight Sun XI.

From the first working Solar Cell in 1883, which barely achieved a measly 1% efficiency, solar power ingenuity has come a long way. From powering homes, vehicles, and even household appliances, implementing renewable energy in everyday practice is becoming an important step to making the future more sustainable. Today, solar power has reached over 40% in efficiency and continues to improve.

Photo credit Veronika Szostak

In 1988, innovation took the form of a question in the hands of a couple students at the University of Waterloo – ‘could we build a solar powered bike?’ 28 years, 10 racecars and a whole lot of sweat, grease, and grit later, the team not only held a Guinness World Record for the longest running solar powered race car in 2004, but they have been recognized worldwide for their ingenuity and perseverance.

After their last race with Midnight Sun X in 2013, the team decided to switch their design from Adventure class to Cruiser class. This means that unlike previous models, the MSXI is the first to feature 4 wheels and 2 seats.

The inside of the vehicle where the driver and passenger will sit. Photo credit Veronika Szostak

Aaron Lam, the Project Manager, says that the majority of cars that go to races such as the American Solar Challenge fit into Adventure class. “They race separately,” he notes, “but we’re switching towards a cruiser class because [of] the design challenge… it’s just new territory and it’s exciting… it’s pretty cool.”

This is also the first time that the team went with a carbon fiber panel design, as apposed to using a kevlar composite body. As a result of the new design, the car weighs much less than previous models and has a lot more space inside. “In the case of MSXI, what you actually have is layers of carbon fiber and a honeycomb structure in between, and more carbon fiber [which creates a] sandwich,” says Minghao Ji, the Engineering Manager. “That’s a design that’s generally used in aero design applications,” he adds.

The team behind Midnight Sun XI. Photo credit Veronika Szostak

By looking at the finished car, you might not imagine how challenging some of the parts were to put together.  Pointing at the suspensions, Ji says, “Some of the things that are the least visible took the most amount of time, like for example – to get the car to sit straight, and to have all four wheels aligned… that was very challenging… [The suspensions] were all mounted separately on baseboards before as a template… we had this car on benches and we were using tape measures, drawing rectangles and eyes all over the ground - that took around 5 hours or 10 hours to do. But in the end all we had to do was [drill some holes] in the car.”

With each car that was constructed, the team also had its struggles. Unlike a number of universities, the University of Waterloo has two streams – those that are in co-op and those that are in school, and then they swap. “That is often a huge issue,” says Matthew Suski, part of the Mechanical Team, “because there’s two different sets of students who barely ever meet each other, and so the transition from semester to semester is quite difficult in transferring knowledge.” Thankfully, with improving technology over the years, transferring data has become easier which has in turn made the process a whole lot smoother.

Solar panels on the back of the car. Photo credit Helena Yu.

In the future, the team hopes to create an even more consumer focused and efficient car with the Midnight Sun XII. Currently they have their sights set on the 2016 American Solar Challenge, lasting from July 22 to August 6, which they hope to place top 5 in Cruiser Class.

The Midnight Sun XI and each car before it hold a unique story. Whether it be the late nights spent constructing the car, the paper work that made it happen, combined with the struggles as well as the joys, in the end there is one story that rings true for them all. It is that of the passionate team that was behind it all, and their vision for a sustainable future. As well as their goal to create a kick butt racecar. 

Veronika Szostak is a student at the University of Waterloo in the Environment and Resource Studies program. She is a volunteer at A/J and aspires to become a journalist, artist, and environmentalist.

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