Solar Boat Team Heading to the Netherlands

by Public Relations

In addition to competing state-side to defend their World Championship Solar Splash title, Cedarville University engineering students will return to the Netherlands this July with a newly designed and constructed boat for the Frisian Solar Challenge where they will compete against some of Europe’s finest universities, corporations, and boat makers.

The solar boat project is one of several senior design capstones that students can choose to pursue at Cedarville University. The students decide on their project of choice junior year, and in the case of the solar boat, students begin early preparing to pour their time, energy, and talent into continuing traditions of excellence in competition. The solar boat project has gained both national and international attention and senior Mary Steinbach explained that to her, working with boats and solar power was "something totally new," but she was excited to have such a challenge.

"The senior design project is the capstone, a huge rite of passage," senior Mike Loosa declared. "It’s theory put into practice, preparing us for the industry."

In each of the past six years, Drs. Tim Dewhurst and Gerry Brown have advised a completely new team of students. Together, these teams have earned numerous victories, including the fifth Solar Splash World Championship in May of 2009. They look forward to elevated competition this year in the Netherlands’ Frisian Solar Challenge.

This five-day competition will consist of an 11-city tour via canals. This will be Cedarville’s second appearance at the event having finished in second place in the inaugural race of 2006. "We look at what has won in the past and say, ‘let’s build a boat that’s faster,’" Dewhurst explained.

In a competition that requires stellar maneuverability, efficiency, and speed, all from a sun-powered boat, the task of consistently improving can be difficult. Dewhurst estimates that his eight-student team will spend 4,000-5,000 hours planning, and constructing the boats to compete this summer. In addition to the manual labor, the cost of building such impressive projects can also be an obstacle to these college students.

While the Elmer W. Engstrom Department of Engineering and Computer Science is very generous in supporting the competition teams (e.g. solar boat, Formula SAE, Supermileage, Aerodesign, etc.), these teams depend on sponsorship from companies and individuals outside of the University.

The cost of making the boat (excluding solar panels) is around $7,500. Solar cells for the boat can range in value from $2,500 to $250,000 depending upon the efficiency of the cells. In addition, there are travel costs associated with shipping the boat and traveling to Europe. To date, the team has received $5,500 from BP;, many companies have donated or discounted components necessary for the boat (thus, reducing the cost), and another company has provided significant funds in exchange for propellers made using Cedarville’s advanced propeller design and manufacturing processes.

Recently, JA Solar partnered with the team by donating solar cells that will allow the team to compete in the open class while in the Netherlands. "This is a huge donation for us," Dewhurst explained, but they are still looking for significantly more funding. However, God has been faithful in the past, and donations-to-date give the team encouragement to press ahead.

In addition to demonstrating the importance of trusting God, the experience with the solar boats teaches students numerous other life lessons. "We learn so much more than engineering," Loosa said. "We’re merging business and engineering. We’re learning to work as a team, communicate formally and budget… nothing is done in isolation."

From Dewhurst’s perspective, the students grow exponentially by working with this project. "The ultimate goal is to provide students with confidence that they can tackle any assignment they may face in industry. When a supervisor gives them a job they can say, ‘I don’t know how, but I can figure it out.’"

If interested in partnering with the solar boat team, please contact the Cedarville University Department of Engineering and Computer Science at 937-766-7680.

Located in Cedarville, Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist university of arts, sciences, professional and graduate programs. Featuring a worldwide Christian ministries program, the University offers more than 100 areas of study to 3,000 students. Visit the University Web site at