Innovation in the automotive industry not always starts at the R&D departments of multinationals. Universities are playing an important role in developing new ideas, industry relevant projects and to come up with solutions to existing problems too. Designing new prototypes for racing have often found its roots in college.
In anticipation of a hydrogen economy – as hydrogen fuel cell powered cars will be mass produced shortly – Cranfield University and Radical Sportscars joined forces to find out if a hydrogen powered race car would be viable.
Cranfield University established its Advanced Motorsport Engineering MSc in collaboration with leading motorsport companies in 2000. In the heart of British motorsport industry, this postgraduate programme prepares graduates for a career in top-level racing. And as the automotive and racing environment is shifting towards a sustainable direction, the engineers of the future would benefit from innovative projects such as designing a low-cost hydrogen fuel powered sports-racing prototype while using the brand new Radical RXC model.
Despite it was not actually the intention to build a car, extensive simulations and physical tests of materials have taken place. The project required close integration between powertrain modelling and new chassis design, linking real data from Radical and Ford Ecoboost engines with new materials and structural improvements. On top of that, the solutions must consider cost and safety and still perform well.
A rare phenomenon
Hydrogen racing is still rare. The first race with hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles took place in 2008 under the banner of Formula Zero on a city track in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Unfortunately this organisation was not able to push for a successful racing series, but one of the teams kept developing hydrogen race cars. Student team Forze from Delft University of Technology is currently testing its full size hydrogen fuel cell powered circuit racer. Furthermore, Aston Martin raced a hydrogen hybrid car during the 24 hours of the Nürburgring and the Green GT hydrogen powered prototype was about to race the 24 hours of Le Mans in 2013, but ran out of time to prepare the vehicle.
To come up with a viable and implementable solution for a one make racing series powered by hydrogen in a short amount of time, the students were constrained on certain parameters. But which provided certain challenges. “We were limited to compressed hydrogen and liquid stored hydrogen only”, explains student Sudeep Thangiah to ElectricAutosport.com. “No fuel cells and other forms were allowed and we were allowed to design a space frame chassis only. This provided us a platform to innovate within the boundaries that we had and challenged us.”
Sudeep, who took part in the ‘Hydrogen Motorsport Challenge’ in Group 4, explains that they were tasked to convert an existing gasoline engine to run on hydrogen. The project was not solely based on modelling and simulations. “We also carried out actual mechanical testing, both static and dynamic, to validate our results. This project was conceptual and no car will be developed in the future. The aim was to prove an alternative fuel source has its place in motorsport, than to conventional petrol at an affordable viable solution”, Sudeep knows.
Encouraging results were presented and showed that the performance and safety of a low-cost two seater race car powered by hydrogen ICE can be achieved. The car’s most important specifications: Engine modifications resulted in a peak deliverable torque of 768.3 Nm at 4750 rpm and peak power of 498.6 kW at 6500 rpm. The quantification of the performance of a hydrogen internal combustion engine has been achieved too. A storage system of 6.69 kg of compressed hydrogen was installed and all safety requirements have been met.
Who knows we can expect another hydrogen powered race car joining the circuits in the future?!
Images by MSc Advanced Motorsport Engineering Student Sudeep Thangiah of ‘Group 4’ at Cranfield University.