wind turbine kit,
blood type test,
Design & Build a Solar Car
We may never drive cars covered in photovoltaic cells like the one in this picture, but building a
miniature solar car is a fun way to see how solar energy can be used for
power. In this project you will need creativity and experimentation to design and
build a car powered by two solar cells and a small electric motor. Get some design
ideas from the pictures on
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a
PDF curriculum that
will also give you ideas and help you learn about the scientific and engineering
principles behind building a solar car. (Adult supervision is recommended for this project.)
alligator clip leads
- Small electric motor (Look at hobby or electronics stores, and make sure
you get one with a motor pulley)
- For the car body: cardboard milk carton, water bottle, cardboard, foam
board, or similar materials
- For the wheels: plastic bottle caps, film canister caps, toy wheels such
as K'nex, etc.
- For the axles: Stiff wire or wooden shish-kabob skewers
- Straws or eye screws to mount the axles
What to do:
- Choose a material for the car body, which is called the chassis.
Think carefully about this: you want something strong, but also something
lightweight so it needs less power for the motor to move it. (But be careful €”if
it's too light, it can easily get blown about by the wind.) A big part of
engineering is finding the right balance between weight and strength.
- Use a nail to poke a small hole in the center of your wheels. Make sure
the stiff wire or wooden skewers you use for axles fit in the holes tightly.
Take an extra cap and cut off the sides, leaving just the top part, which
usually has a small inner rim to help keep the bottle from leaking. Glue
this cap to one of your wheels. You have just created a pulley for your
driving wheel; the inner rim of the extra bottle cap will support your car's
drive belt. (You can try using a film canister cap for this step instead of
cutting a bottle cap. If you are using toy wheels like K'nex, you can just
use a smaller wheel mounted on the inside of your main wheel to act as the
- Now, mount your axles onto the chassis. Depending on what your chassis
is made of, you can thread the axle through eye screws mounted on the
bottom. Another easy method is to tape straws on the underside of the
chassis and thread the axles through them. (Use our
balloon rocket car project as reference for how to do this.)
- Attach the small motor pulley to the motor shaft. Determine where to
mount the motor by connecting the driving pulley with the motor pulley using
an elastic band as a drive belt. Position the motor so the band is slightly
stretched (but don't stretch it too much!). Mount the motor with glue or
tape it in between a small frame of wood or cardboard blocks.
- Use clear plastic tape to attach the two solar cells together side-by-side; then connect them in a series circuit using the alligator clip leads.
Connect the positive terminal of one cell to the negative terminal of the
other. Connect the remaining terminals to the motor. If the motor spins the
wrong way, switch the leads where they connect to the motor. Once it's
connected properly, you'll probably want to use to tape to help keep the
wires under control.
- Mount the solar cells on the chassis at an angle where they will receive
the most sun. Take your car outside to a sunny sidewalk, connect the drive
belt, and watch it go!
Designing and building a car from scratch involves a lot of perseverance and
trial and error, so don't be discouraged if yours doesn't work perfectly right
away. Experiment to see if you can improve the design of your solar car. How
fast does it go? Does it drive straight? How would it perform with only one
solar cell? What if you used smoother wheels for less friction? Keep testing new
ideas to make your car work better.
Once you've perfected your car, think about other ways you could experiment
with solar power. Could you build a solar boat or water pump? Could you
perform electrolysis to divide water into hydrogen and oxygen using a solar
panel? How can we harness the amazing power of the sun? Maybe you'll be the next
scientist to help find out!
For more solar science fun, check out these projects: