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Kentucky Engineers Help Build Solar Car

Engineers at So-Komp, a high-performance composites company, offered advice to University of Kentucky students on how to make their solar-powered car as lightweight as possible.

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) -- University of Kentucky students planning to build and race a solar-powered car are getting an assist from engineers at a southern Kentucky company on how to make it as sleek as possible.

Engineers at So-Komp, a Morgantown-based, high-performance composites company with an office in Bowling Green, offered advice on how to make the car as lightweight as possible, the Daily News reported.

"I think it's a really neat project that they're working on," said Bill Smrtic, senior vice president of manufacturing and process for So-Komp. "Just to see in this day and age all the progress that's being made and how it's being taught in universities right now."

A dozen UK students and graduates plan to build the small, three-wheeled vehicle that uses solar panels to generate power, the Bowling Green newspaper reported. This will be the fourth solar-powered car made by UK engineering students since they formed the team about 10 years ago. They have built cars, tested them and entered them in races. They recently placed second at a race in Texas.

They're working on a new car and hope to qualify for a 2,400-mile race from Texas to Canada next summer. Construction will cost about $200,000, which students get from business sponsorships and university funding.

"A lot of people think it looks like a boat on three wheels," said Nick Such, a recent mechanical engineering graduate who traveled to Bowling Green recently with another group member to meet with the So-Komp engineers. "It's a really big challenge; it's difficult ... We have to do our homework on aerodynamics to make the car as sleek as possible."

So-Komp engineers gave hands-on training and suggested the best way to construct such framework. They told students how much weight students should cut from the car and still make it practical, Smrtic said.

When making other solar cars, students have worked with companies in Lexington and some out-of-state engineers, said Sam Nicaise, team manager and a senior electrical engineering major.

So-Komp has worked with other college students, but this is the first solar car project for the company. So-Komp relocated to Morgantown from Oklahoma in 2007 to work with Wind Energy, a wind turbine company that located in Morgantown two years ago, but now is closed.

The company is now hoping to work with some aerospace companies and with the U.S. Department of Defense on military equipment, projects that will require a bigger staff. Officials are looking to hire more workers by the end of the year; So-Komp employs eight people, Smrtic said.

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