Hydrogen Racer is ready to race Porsches and Lambos, but what’s the point?
Students from TU Delft presented a prototype powered by a hydrogen fuel cell with its top speed of over 300 km/h, the “Forze IX” is ready to take on the Porsche and Lamborghini ICE in a race of stamina on the Zandvoort tour in the Netherlands. But, winning or losing – does it matter?
Before responding to that burn, “Yes?” question, let’s give these TU Delft students a victory lap for what they’ve achieved. From a pure performance standpoint, the Forze IX is an incredible machine, capable of sustained triple-digit speeds, fantastic cornering feats and enough braking force to blow out your skull.
On top of that, there’s a smart cooling system in place that keeps temperatures and pressures in check. This is absolutely essential considering that the driver is sitting on four tanks carrying 700 atmospheres (really) of pressurized hydrogen, each.
To put it simply: there are no small emergencies at 700 bars.
“We want to keep challenging ourselves,” says Coen Tonnaer, program director and team leader. “The Forze IX will have a peak output of around 800 hp. Some of this power is generated by fuel cells, but we also have an additional supercapacitor energy storage system that can give the car a huge power boost. There is a lot of performance inside this vehicle.
The previous iteration of the Forze IX (the Forze VIII, natch), was based on a carbon-fiber LMP3 monocoque chassis from 2017. It, too, competed in GT racing – and picked up a podium in the Sport category of the Supercar Challenge on the Assen circuit without benefiting from the “supercapacitor” of the IX to increase its power.
You can watch the official Forze IX reveal from TU Delft students (which includes a number of interesting explanations and cutaways) from around 24 minutes, below. We will come back to answer the question “So what?” after.
It is perhaps telling that the Forze hydrogen racing car project is sponsored by fossil fuel giant, Shell. Hydrogen reviews – and even mainstream trade magazines like Forbes – have suggested that the oft-promised hydrogen economy is little more than a fossil fuel spin, a last-ditch effort by the oil giants to keep their massive billion-dollar infrastructure relevant in a full world. giant wind turbines and increasingly efficient batteries.
From a motorsport point of view, hydrogen offers certain advantages to a pure BEV – mainly in the context of 24 hours of Daytona or 12 hours of Sebring-style endurance racing, where precious minutes should be spent in the stands either by recharging the car batteries. That seems like a pretty narrow use case, though, and one that the motorsport R&D crucible could serve better thanks to the accelerated development of liquid-cooled charging cables. like those developed by Ford and Purdue, which could recharge an F-150 Lightning in less than five minutesor even faster and safer battery swap technology.
Either way, the added risk to other riders and fans on the track caused by the seven hundred bar (over 10,000 psi) storage tanks aboard this hydrogen racer hardly seems worth the hassle. a ‘pro-hydrogen’ marketing mission to benefit Shell – especially when Shell’s biggest rival, BP, seems to have been pleasantly surprised by the relative profitability of charging electric vehicles compared to filling ICE cars with hydrogen. petrol!
The desire to clean up motorsport is hugely important to racing fans in general, and to racing fans trying to convince ICE holdouts of the benefits of electric vehicles in particular. That’s why series like Formula E and the upcoming Airspeeder and E1 electric powerboat races are so important. Shell understands this, it seems, which is why they’re putting energy into an HFC project that specifically highlights one of the technology’s advantages over BEVs: faster filling.
Everything else that makes this (and, let’s face it, every other) hydrogen fuel cell racer the capable performance machine that it is might as well be there if the terrifying 10,000 psi
Hindenburg hydrogen tanks have been replaced by much safer batteries.
Speaking of which, there’s one tech at work in the Forze IX that’s really interesting: the car’s supercapacitor. Sometimes called an “ultracapacitor” or “high energy capacitor”, a supercapacitor, like a battery, stores and releases electricity. Unlike a battery, which stores its energy in chemicals and ions, supercapacitors store electricity in a static state – like the static electricity which zaps you when you step on the living room rug to turn on a lamp – releasing a lot of energy in much less time than a conventional battery.
It’s not much use this, or, of course. Not when a Tesla Model S Plaid can already blast 60mph faster than most people would ever need or want – but what if you wanted to create an all-electric drag racing series? Wait here, I have an idea to pitch to the Formula E guys…
spring | Pictures: TU Delft.
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