Hydrogen combustion engine fires up on road to land speed record run

Hydrogen combustion engine fires up on road to land speed record run
This Ginetta G20 will be reworked into a proper hydrogen-fueled land speed record car
This Ginetta G20 will be reworked into a proper hydrogen-fueled land speed record car
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This Ginetta G20 will be reworked into a proper hydrogen-fueled land speed record car
This Ginetta G20 will be reworked into a proper hydrogen-fueled land speed record car
Not the greatest photo showcase, but the first look at the Bath Hydrogen team's H2-converted single-cylinder proof-of-concept engine
Not the greatest photo showcase, but the first look at the Bath Hydrogen team's H2-converted single-cylinder proof-of-concept engine

Hydrogen-fueled combustion engines have slowly emerged in the mobility world, designed to run everything from race cars to pleasure boats. The latest hydrogen ICE to rumble to life was born with a special mission at its core: claim an all-out land speed record or two for the emerging hydrogen-combustion space. A team of students at the University of Bath have successfully gotten their first house-built hydrogen-burning prototype engine up and running and are moving forward with testing.

The Bath Hydrogen engineering team came up with the idea of a hydrogen combustion-engine world record tour in furtherance of the greater university's pioneering efforts in the hydrogen space. The University has set out to become a leader in research capacity, facilities and expertise in the production, storage, distribution and end use of hydrogen and carriers like ammonia.

Last month, the University announced plans to join the HyFIVE hydrogen consortium with the aim of exploring the use of hydrogen as a zero-emissions aviation fuel in the UK. The consortium will work to create a world-class hydrogen fueling system and supply chain for supporting zero-emissions aviation by the 2030s.

Back on the ground, the hydrogen speed record team recently switched on their hydrogen-converted single-cylinder combustion engine for the first time. While they have their sights on bolder records, the feat is said to be a world first for undergraduates developing and running a hydrogen ICE.

The newly cleaned engine started off as a single-cylinder generator engine supplied by sponsor Vanguard (Briggs & Stratton) and selected for its simplicity and adaptability. The team reengineered the engine to work with hydrogen, relying on help and components from various corporate sponsors, including hydrogen-specific fuel injectors supplied by Clean Air Power.

"Hydrogen-fueled engines work very differently to normal petrol ones and require different parts that are not commercially available," explained Samuel Ray, Bath Hydrogen team leader. "We are lucky to have received help and equipment from our sponsors. We worked hard alongside Link Engine Management to program their ECU to work with hydrogen, for example."

The team's work was made even more challenging by the fact that none of the students had prior experience working with hydrogen or much knowledge about its use as a fuel.

"We started by reading all of the research and literature we could find, analyzing and cataloging it all to understand it and prioritize what was possible for us to pull off, as a fairly small team."

It seems the research and hands-on hard work have paid off so far, as the engine fired up on the first try. This version is simply a proof-of-concept and test bed that precedes the unit that will serve as the beating heart of the team's land speed record objectives. The record-targeted engine will be a Ford 2.3-liter EcoBoost adapted to hydrogen. Once ready, it will be mounted to the voluptuous Ginetta G20 pictured up top in pursuit of myriad hydrogen-combustion land speed records.

Not the greatest photo showcase, but the first look at the Bath Hydrogen team's H2-converted single-cylinder proof-of-concept engine
Not the greatest photo showcase, but the first look at the Bath Hydrogen team's H2-converted single-cylinder proof-of-concept engine

Beyond merely modifying the engine to run on hydrogen, the team will also need to engineer around hydrogen's pitfalls. Its plans call for equipping the vehicle with a fueling system built to FIA standards and an integrated fire suppression system. The current prototype engine is mounted to a cart for testing and must be operated outside via remote control panel to meet safety requirements.

The Hydrogen team comprises 15 third- and fourth-year students focused on various areas of engineering study, including automotive engineering and electrical engineering. It serves as one of the successors to the university's successful Team Bath Formula Student racing team, which was discontinued in 2022 to shift focus on zero-emissions vehicles.

We look forward to seeing the team's work and land speed record attempts. Much like professional racing, land speed records should prove a helpful means of advertising hydrogen combustion's ability to offer the desirable attributes of traditional gas and diesel ICEs, only without the CO2 emissions.

And in case you're wondering if this might be the first land speed record attempt using hydrogen combustion power, it's not. In fact, BMW previously set a total of nine world records with the truly ahead-of-its-time hydrogen V12-powered HDR single-seater way back in 2004.

Source: University of Bath

Spud Murphy
Still with the fallacy that hydrogen is a zero emissions fuel. Nearly all hydrogen comes from steam reformation of natural gas, so it is basically a different version of that fossil fuel. To make green hydrogen and then use it in a fuel cell vehicle, for example, requires 3 times the green electricity than if you just used that electricity directly in a battery electric vehicle. A shocking waste. But for hydrogen fuelled ICE, that number blows out to 5 times or more, utterly ridiculous and pointless.

Hydrogen will never become a common fuel for transport, it's too inefficient, expensive and difficult to contain, not to mention the safety aspect (look it up, the stuff is explosive in a very wide range of concentrations with air).
Jim B
They should just make a car that runs on Formic acid (methanoic acid). This is non toxic and can be used in fuel cells.

"If done with traditional carbon dioxide devices, formic acid production requires energy-intensive purification steps, which are costly, explains the leader of the research team, chemical and biomolecular engineer Haotian Wang, who is an author of a new study in the journal Nature Energy.

The direct production of pure formic acid solutions will help to promote commercial carbon dioxide conversion technologies, Wang adds. During tests conducted in the laboratory the team’s electrocatalyst produced an energy conversion efficiency of around 42%, which means that half of the electrical energy can be stored in formic acid as liquid fuel.

“[Formic acid] is a fuel-cell fuel that can generate electricity and emit carbon dioxide — which you can grab and recycle again,” Wang explains.

“It’s also fundamental in the chemical engineering industry as a feedstock for other chemicals, and a storage material for hydrogen that can hold nearly 1,000 times the energy of the same volume of hydrogen gas, which is difficult to compress. That’s currently a big challenge for hydrogen fuel-cell cars,” he adds.
Quite so, Spud. Such a shame these young, enthusiastic, energetic and not-yet cynical minds can't be put to better use - eg experimenting with electricity grid-tethered agricultural machines (for high-energy purposes that would not currently be suited to battery power eg ploughing).

For me the main issue with any inclusion of hydrogen (H2) in our day-to-day energy needs is all the fluff that has been talked about 'green' H2 - ie using surplus renewable energy to make H2 by hydrolysing water. If only these ee-juts would spend just 5 minutes looking at the practical problems associated with this foolishness, they would realise it is completely bonkers.

The appalling lack of overall efficiency is only one part of it. The next major problem is where is all the water needed is going to come from? We (in the UK) are already regularly facing fresh water shortages and hydrolysing water to make H2 requires ~8 litres of water for every kg of H2 - enough to take a typical H2 fuel cell-powered car about 60 miles or ~18kWh of energy. Not just 'water', mind, or even 'fresh water' but *ultra pure water* which means energy has to be spent making it pure enough to hydrolyse (or it ruins the hydrolyser).

If you consider the implications of this fact, by way of illustrating the issue, if the total energy currently derived from fossil fuels were replaced by hydrolysed H2, the UK would need ~ *5 times* its current fresh water needs to make that amount of H2... and compared to some countries we are awash with water.

Let's hope these youngsters (and perhaps more importantly, their supervisors) come to their senses sooner rather than later.
Mix CO with hydrogen, pass the mixture over a catalyst, and out-comes liquid hydrocarbon fuel. The transformation begins when CO2 is broken down into oxygen and CO, the latter of which can be combined with hydrogen to make a variety of hydrocarbon fuels. Adding four hydrogen atoms, for example, creates methanol, a liquid fuel that can power cars. The trouble with just hydrogen as a fuel is it will sooner or later go bang, it really really likes to go bang.
Expanding on Spud Murphy's comments,hydrogen is hamstrung right out of the gate by the fact that widespread use would require ~ 115,000 H2 fueling stations nationwide,which is roughly the number of gasoline stations currently supplying fuel to ICE engined vehicles. Read H2 stations would cost about one million each. Who would build such a station that would be unused for months/years until a hydrogen combustion engined vehicle showed up? Hydrogen,either in fuel cells or directly combusted is a cult. EVs have won,as an AC power outlet is easy to find almost anywhere,and battery energy density is already adequate for all practical purposes.
I think that is both cool and green. I have found articles on green ways to produce hydrogen. I believe there is much development in the production, storage of hydrogen and much development in fuel cells and getting ICE to use hydrogen. IMO; I think hydrogen is the future. Others might not think so but this is just my opinion.