Seattle-area students are building cars that run on sunbeams

This Tukwila team is reaching for the sun and a clean energy future.

They’re setting out to build the best car under the sun.

The Green Energy Team at Raisbeck Aviation High in Tukwila is the number-one high school group in the country for designing and racing vehicles that are solely solar.

“All the power comes from the sun,” said club president Hagen Rankin. “300, 400 miles on a single charge.”

The team first entered the prestigious Solar Car Challenge in 2019. It’s a four-day national competition held each year, and designed to push student engineers to the cutting edge of innovation.

“Throughout the race you’re not allowed to plug it in,” Rankin explained.

They captured the championship with the very first car they built.

“2021 we won again, 2022 we won again,” said Mentor Dr. Alain Semet.

Dr. Semet is a retired plasma physics engineer.

“I’m like a glorified plumber,” he said. “I do a little bit of everything.”

“He helps us work through problems on a day-by-day basis,” Rankin said, “It’s just really great to have someone that can kind of support our learning throughout the year.”

“It’s amazing because they learn so fast,” Dr. Semet said.

But when the team came to him last year and said they’d like to build a new car that could hold its own against university teams, he had his doubts.

Semet said, “College level, all composite, all molded. I said, ‘There’s no way you could do that in a year. It’s just extremely expensive, extremely labor-intensive. They said, ’No! We wanna do that!’”

Past president Lucien Freemesser recalled: “Stubborn high schoolers who are probably idiotic in trying to think that we could do something.”

The students worked fast, designing the entire car, finding sponsors for parts and the expensive molding process, and getting the job done.

“We got an amazing car!” said Dr. Semet.

Hika Harris specializes in the new car’s solar panel construction. She took pride in seeing it run, fully solar-powered, for the first time.

“It’s so exciting,” Harris said. “Kind of relief and happiness that we were able to make the solar panels nice and efficient.”

“I really feel like I’m part of something special in this club,” John Luu of the outreach team said.

He and classmate Marshall Baughman share the club’s work with elementary school students as a way to pique their interest in science and technology. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

“To be able to build something like this and go race it against other solar car teams is pretty amazing,” Baughman said.

Now, they’re preparing to go up against the best of the best. Some botched paperwork beyond their control forced them to miss this year’s competition, but summer 2024 is right around the corner.

“Not really sure exactly what the future holds but I’m looking forward to it,” Freemesser said.

After all, they’re not just building a car. The fastest team under the sun is also helping to build a clean energy future for themselves and the world.

The original story and TV segment from KING 5 can be found here.