Forgot Password?
Home arrow GreeniacsGuides arrow Solar arrow How to Build a Solar Toy Car
Written by Elizabeth Jones   
Share |
Tuesday, 09 April 2013

How to Build a Solar Toy Car

Solar energy can be used to power more than just your home . Solar ovens are a great way to slow-cook cookies or nachos,1 solar cars can help you get around,2 solar batteries can charge your phone3, and solar fans can keep you cool. In this guide I will show you how to build a solar toy to enhance your playtime.

BENEFITS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: Solar panels create electricity from the power of the sun without emitting carbon dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels like coal or natural gas. This means that solar power does not result in large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and thus does not contribute significantly to climate change .4 A solar toy car is better for the environment than a remote controlled battery-operated car, and building a solar toy car can be a great opportunity to teach youngsters about solar power .

Cost: Low. Most of the materials you need to build a solar toy car can be found for free by searching around your home and in your recycling bin. However, you will need to purchase a small solar panel and electric motor. There are many solar car kits available. I recommend the Sunny Side Up Kit from SunWind Solar Industries for price (about $20) and performance.5

Time and Effort: Based on personal experience, building a toy solar car should not take more than a couple of hours.

6


Getting Started: There are five main components of a car that you will need to design when creating your toy solar car:7
  • Chassis: This is the frame of the car and holds all of its main parts together.8 In choosing materials, think about its weight and stiffness because your model should be fast and sturdy.
  • Wheels and Bearings: The wheels support the chassis and allow the car to roll while the bearings support the wheels and allow them to rotate. 9
  • Power Source: The solar panel will capture energy from the sun and turn it into electrical energy. The electric motor will then use this energy to power the wheels of your car.10
  • Body: The body is not only the outward representation of your hard work but the design should also be aerodynamic to increase speed.
  • Transmission: The transmission transfers power from the motor to the wheels. In choosing a design you will want to keep it simple.11 Some transmission types include:
    • Direct drive—where the motor shaft is connected directly to the wheels. 12
    • Friction drive—where a friction disk rubs directly on the drive wheel. 13
    • Belt drive—uses a belt and pulley system to create wheel rotation. 14

Below is a list of possible materials that can be used to customize your solar model car kit design:

Materials
Chassis
  • Cardboard
  • Paper tubes
  • Styrofoam
  • Soda bottles
  • Shoeboxes
  • Any rigid plastic
  • Wood
Axels
  • Nails
  • Coat-hanger wire
Body/Shell
  • Poster board
  • Cardboard
  • Foam core
  • Plastic sheets
Bearings
  • Wood
  • Aluminum
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Sticks
Wheels and Transmission
  • Thread Spool
  • Buttons
  • Rubber bands on a tin can
  • Cans
  • Brass rods
  • Toy wheels
  • Tape spool
  • Stiff plastic cut into a circle
  • Plastic pipe
15


Designing the Chassis and Body

The chassis of a vehicle is its frame and therefore holds all of its main parts together. In choosing materials and shapes you will come across several tradeoffs, as there is no perfect combination.

The chassis should be sturdy enough to hold the weight of all the parts, but not too heavy so that it moves too slowly to win the race.

The shape of your material can add to its stiffness without adding weight. For example, a piece of paper folded in half cannot hold as much as a piece of paper rolled.

Designing the Wheels and Bearings

The wheels support the chassis and allow it to roll while the bearings support the wheels and allow them to rotate. In choosing your materials you will need to keep in mind friction and traction. Friction is a resisting force between two materials that are in contact and moving past each other. Traction helps tires grip surfaces and not slip and slide around.

It is best to reduce the friction between the wheels, bearings, and chassis so that the car moves smoothly. If the wheels are slipping on the ground, you will need to add traction to the wheels. This will also help the car move in the direction of the finish line. However, too much traction can slow the car down. You can also adjust the traction between the wheels and the road by adjusting the weight on the ties. You can also try adding a non-slipping gel to the wheels to provide traction without adding any significant weight.

After assembling the chassis, body, wheels and bearings, test the movement of your car before moving on to other design features.

Power Source

With the chassis, body, wheels, and bearings complete, open your solar panel kit. The solar panel should be attached to the roof of your car and tilted in whatever way necessary to capture the most sunlight. Next, the motor should be affixed to the chassis. It is important that both items are attached and secure—you should be able to pick up the car by holding onto the motor without it detaching.

Designing the Transmission

For solar toy cars, a belted transmission is the simplest way to transfer the power from the motor to the wheels. You can use the transmission provided in the kit, or create a transmission that connects to the front or rear wheels using a rubber band and an additional wheel.

Below are pictures of typical solar car kit motor to transmission construction. Figure 1 shows the motor attached to the chassis and a belt pulley system for the transmission to turn the wheels. Figure 2 shows what this transmission looks like underneath the chassis. A rubber band is connected to a wheel, there is a rod going through that wheel, and the rod is connected to two outer wheels either front or back.


Motor and Belt Transmission, top

16
Belt Transmission, bottom

In design you will not know what problems you have until you have them, so don’t worry about making mistakes, but experiment early and often to make adjustments and create the best car!
Browse all Greeniacs Guides Browse all Greeniacs Guides        Browse all Greeniacs Articles
_______________________________________________________________________________

1 http://www.greeniacs.com/component/option,com_mamblog/
    Itemid,153/action,view/id,1432/task,show/

2 http://www.greeniacs.com/component/option,com_mamblog/
    Itemid,153/action,view/id,2512/task,show/

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell_phone_charger
4 http://www.jleafsolar.co.uk/solar-energy/why-are-solar-panels-good-for-the-environment/
5http://sunwindsolar.3dcartstores.com/SunnySide-Up-_p_35.html
6http://sunwindsolar.com/sunny-side-up/
7 Information throughout this article is from my own personal experience working with middle school
    students to build solar toy cars at Strategic Energy Innovations ( www.seiinc.org ).
8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chassis
9 http://news.carjunky.com/how_stuff_works/wheel_bearings_what_are_they_abc167.shtml
10 http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/motor.htm
11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmission_(mechanics)
12 http://motionsystemdesign.com/motors-drives/direct-drive-invisible-transmission-1199/
13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friction_drive
14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belt_(mechanical)
15http://sunwindsolar.com/videos/
16 Images from Strategic Energy Innovations Green Transportation Sustainability Certificate Curriculum,
    which can be purchased at http://www.seiinc.org/index.php/programs/eco-smart-schools/k-12/item
    /632-curriculum






Add your comment
RSS comments

Only registered users can write comments.
Please login or register.

Click here to Register.  Click here to login.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 13 March 2014 )

SEARCH GREENIACS.COM

Green Facts

  • Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct.

  • Glass can be recycled over and over again without ever wearing down.

  • You’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

  • Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can save as much as 10 gallons a day per person.

  • Shaving 10 miles off of your weekly driving pattern can eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

  • If every U.S. household turned the thermostat down by 10 degrees for seven hours each night during the cold months, and seven hours each weekday, it would prevent nearly gas emissions.

  • In California homes, about 10% of energy usage is related to TVs, DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD players.

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make the material from scratch.

  • 77% of people who commute to work by car drive alone.

  • Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day.

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

  • An aluminum can that is thrown away instead of recycled will still be a can 500 years from now!

  • Recycling for one year at Stanford University saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees and the need for 636 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone.

  • A laptop consumes five times less electricity than a desktop computer.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months

  • 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from burning fossil fuels.

  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 homes in the U.S. over the course of a year.

  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year.

  • Nudge your thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter to prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

  • Due to tiger poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-tiger conflicts, tigers now number around 3,200—a decrease in population by about 70% from 100 years ago.

  • Recycling 100 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 18,500 homes in the U.S. for a year.

  • It takes 6,000,000 trees to make 1 year's worth of tissues for the world.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely worldwide every year due to air pollution.

  • American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.

  • Refrigerators built in 1975 used 4 times more energy than current models.

  • You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), over the life of the bulb.

  • One recycled aluminum can will save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • Less than 1% of electricity in the United States is generated from solar power.

  • Americans throw away more than 120 million cell phones each year, which contribute 60,000 tons of waste to landfills annually.

  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute.

  • States with bottle deposit laws have 35-40% less litter by volume.

  • Bamboo absorbs 35% more carbon dioxide than equivalent stands of trees.

  • Washing your clothes in cold or warm instead of hot water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

  • A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by about 70%.

  • Current sea ice levels are at least 47% lower than they were in 1979.

  • A tree that provides a home with shade from the sun can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

  • You will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive if you always keep your car’s tires fully inflated.

  • In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you'll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

  • For every 38,000 bills consumers pay online instead of by mail, 5,058 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and two tons of trees are preserved.