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NREL Model Car Competitions

NREL hosts car competitions that include building and racing solar- and battery-powered model vehicles. Middle school teams from around Colorado participate in this fun, educational, and exciting event every May.A photo of students competing in NREL's Solar and Lithium Ion model car races in Colorado.

Building solar- and battery-powered cars requires skills in both math and science. The goals of the competition include:

  • Generating enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
  • Improving students' understanding of scientific concepts and renewable energy technologies
  • Encouraging young people to consider technical careers at an early age.

Teams work together to build cars with guidance from a parent, teacher, or coach to compete in race and design categories. A "Spirit Award" is also presented to one team to recognize good sportsmanship.

2020 Model Car Competition

This is an all-day event, and participants will receive a free t-shirt and lunch. Watch this two-minute video to learn more about the competition from past participants.
Date:  Saturday, May 16, 2020
Location: To be announced by February 2020
Registration: Opens February 2020

Sources for Model Car Kits and Accessories

From the suppliers listed here, you can order kits containing solar cells modules and electric motors, surplus motors, and gears. Download the kit and component supplier listPDF for Junior Solar Sprint and Lithium-Ion Battery model cars.

Junior Solar Sprint

Solar Made


Lithium-Ion Battery Cars

Horizon Hobby


How To Build Cars

How To Build A Junior Solar Sprint Car

How to Build a Li-Ion Battery Car 

So You Want to Build a Model Solar Car
Written for teachers and students who want to participate in JSS, this document contains teacher background on photovoltaics, classroom activities for measuring solar cell output and understanding transmission components, tips on the vehicle construction process, hints for transmission design, formulas for calculating vehicle performance, and design considerations.

Inside Tips on Parts and Construction
This booklet helps students identify possible options for obtaining parts to build the vehicle's drive train and chassis and provides formulas for determining appropriate gear ratios and wheel sizes.

An Introduction to Building a Model Solar Car: Student Guide for the Junior Solar Sprint Competition
This guide assists students in the selection of components and materials for creating model solar cars. The publication identifies potential problems based on components chosen for chassis, wheels and bearings, power source, transmission and body shell and discusses possible solutions.

Li-Ion Battery Safety, Testing, and Compliance

Coach Compliance Form

Material Safety Data Sheet Lithium Polymer Battery

Tips for Planning, Building, and Testing a Model Car

Teachers and Mentors

Classroom Investigations
Teachers, mentors, and their students can use this publication to explore the components of model solar cars. It includes investigations and experiments to improve car performance.

Teacher and Mentor Guide
Suggestions to teachers and mentors for integrating JSS activities into their classroom curricula are presented here. Useful background information about the role of a technical mentor, recommendations for teaching "hands-on" design in classroom groups, a description of the engineering design process, and an eight-week lesson plan can be gleaned from this guide.

Northeast Sustainable Energy Association

Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) teaches students about the impact of today's transportation systems on their communities and explores the possible effects of shifting to alternative-fuel vehicles. The curriculum includes 35 hours of activities that help students develop problem-solving, creative-thinking, and decision-making skills.

NESEA Newsletters: Grades 7-9 (PDFs 1-8)

NESEA Solar Kit Lessons: Grades 7-9 (PDFs 1-15)

NESEA Cars of Tomorrow: Grades 9-12


For more information about NREL's model car competitions, email NREL’s Education Center or call 303-384-6565.