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For 14-year-old Molly Kasper, “green” is a verb.
Molly is the Founder of Solar Force, a Cincinnati-based team of teenagers who invented a solar-powered car that will try to out-race 4,000 of the most advanced carbon-fiber supercars in the world this summer at the London Air Show.
Their vehicle, dubbed Icon, was recently named a finalist for Prince William’s Earthshot energy prize. The honor caps off a remarkable few years for this dream team of Detroit-area high school seniors and high school sophomores.
Molly’s parents both have MBAs and taught themselves to code, an unusual combination. After taking their idea to their robotics competitions, the team decided to pivot to renewable energy, eventually developing an elegant and high-performance solar-powered vehicle that they call Solar Force.
“Molly’s already an inventor and engineer in the making,” said 15-year-old Brittany Onion, who describes her writing as “hyper-organized.”
The tribe arrived in the Detroit area last summer to develop their vehicle, fueling their imaginations with 3D-printed panels and building blocks.
“They were able to really focus on working on developing the vehicle and looking at their options,” said 17-year-old Seth Phillips, who worked as a head designer for the project.
They were also inspired by folks like Santa Claus and the Washington Monument, as well as Brazil’s Vale Chupa, whose patented giant car has the same 17-feet-wide car’s interior space yet weighs 40 percent less and burns less fuel.
Then they got to work.
“We like to work on both sides of the car to get the highest performance available,” said Megan Topolski, one of the tech developers for the project. “Working with our physics, we’re thinking about floorboards and back and forth, as well as how our vehicle could roll faster in a different kind of environment than in a plane. It’s made for high speed.”
All the while, Molly tried to keep her distance. She said that being around other environmentalists is tricky.
“I think I’m kinda different from everybody else because we’re young and we’re both nerds,” she said, adding that while she’s fascinated by the solar industry, the fact that she and her teammates are young has been a challenge.
“We did a lot of community events, fundraisers and stuff, but people are always like, ‘Oh, gee, that’s nice. How old are you?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m 14.’ That bothers me.”
Gee. To drive a boat in a race, one is only 14. Not three.
Luckily for Molly, her band of tech-savvy teens has help. They got a head start during last year’s European Future Energy Summit with high-level sponsorship from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In addition to Lord Stanley’s Cup and a variety of insurance coverage, each teen also got $1,500 worth of products that will help with the car’s lifetime.
The Solar Force team is definitely in high demand, working full-time and nearly exclusively during the summer.
While Molly has already dreamed of the day when she can start driving her Tesla Model S, her friend, 17-year-old Megan Onion, who will be a junior at Perkett Hill High School this fall, hopes her team’s success will get automakers thinking about it.
“The technology to do it is there, but I think we’re starting to get a lot of people that are tired of driving a vehicle when they should be charging their vehicles every day,” Onion said.
To make sure she and her friends stay motivated, Molly has the best advice ever for anyone pursuing a goal that feels out of reach.
“I just keep saying that I’ll be two years older when it happens,” Molly said. “It’s a project, it’s a wonderful project. It’s a test, so let’s get it started.”