The Monaco Solar & Electric Boat Challenge gets under way tomorrow. Making its debut at this unofficial World Championships for solar-powered vessels is the Solar Boat Twente team.
Students Jeroen te Braake (Industrial Design Master’s) and Heleen Jeurlnk (Civil Engineering Bachelor’s) took time out to reflect on the lead-up to Monaco and the challenge ahead.
Last year, a team of fifteen men and women dedicated their time and effort to the Solar Boat Twente project, eleven of them full-time. It was a brand new team, composed of students from different disciplines, all eager to take on an amazing challenge. “We started with a small team in which each member defined their own responsibilities,” says Heleen. “But as things rapidly became more complex, we needed to know exactly who was doing what. What’s the right strategy? In the end we came up with a whole new organizational structure to design, build and develop the boat.”
At a record pace, the students got to grips with new technologies, materials and ways to put their knowledge into practice. Jeroen takes up the story: “For example, when we started, our knowledge of the properties and capabilities of composite was very limited. But as things progress, you pick up the principles you need to advance the boat’s development. This calls for creativity and the flexibility to adapt according to what is possible.”
For the team, it was by no means easy to build a boat good enough to take on the rest of the world. “Almost from the word ‘go’, we found ourselves having to take tricky decisions about shapes, materials and the like,” Jeroen explains. “We got there thanks to free-wheeling brainstorm sessions and taking a good look at how other teams tackle the same issues.”
The result of all this hard work is a sleekly designed boat with a range of special features. The students collaborated with several companies on some truly innovative solutions. “We are using ‘thin-film solar cells’, which cannot normally be used in water,” Jeroen reveals. “We laminated them and fitted them to the boat in sheets. It’s something that has never been done on this scale before, so it’ll be make or break time in Monaco.” Heleen adds, “The company that worked with us on the panels is also watching closely to see how they perform.”
Another special feature that has yet to be tried and tested is the boat’s hydrofoil construction. “If it lives up to expectations, the boat should be able to reach speeds of up to 45 kilometres an hour,” Heleen says. “That’s something we decided not to risk on our practice runs. We reckoned it would be wiser not to push the boat to its limits. The first time the boat rose up out of the water successfully, everyone watching on the quayside went nuts! At a moment like that you’re so proud of what you’ve achieved.”
All that’s left now is the competition itself: the Monaco Solar & Electric Boat Challenge as it is officially known. The event is organized by the Monaco Yacht Club. Solar Boat Twente is competing in the Open Class, pretty much the elite section. Things kick off on 13 July with a comprehensive technical inspection, after which the boat will take on its rivals in three tests of skill, speed and endurance: a slalom, a 300-metre sprint and a long distance race. The length of the final stage has yet to be determined and will depend in part on weather conditions.
“As a team, our stated ambition is to come back with a medal," says Heleen. “Whether we achieve that goal will depend on a whole range of factors.”
Jeroen takes encouragement from their recent performance at the National Championships. “Many of the boats we were up against failed to make the finish. We may not have been the fastest, but we did stay the course. That level of reliability is sure to count in Monaco.”
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