Go-karts go green

Aug. 24, 2006
Fuel-cell-powered go-karts?

Associate Editor

A Dutch company hopes that taking its fuel-cell-powered gokart (Mark 2) on the road will stimulate interest in zero-emission vehicles.

The Mark 2 gokart hits 60 mph in under 8 sec.

The H2 is a plug-and-play storage concept for medium-size mobile fuel-cell applications. It consists of a sophisticated reducer and module mounted on a composite pressure cylinder. Click and Go, a quick-disconnect system, from Bradford Instruments BV, Heerle, The Netherlands, simplifies cartridge removal and refilling. Besides the automotive sector, home generators and small transportation systems are promising markets for fuel-cell applications. Mobile power generators and short-range vehicles such as gokarts, scooters, and forklift trucks may apply the new technology.

How would you like to race a go-kart without polluting? A Dutch company is moving in that direction by building and racing hydrogen-fuel-cell go-karts. FormulaZero BV, Amsterdam, plans to establish the "ultimate zero-emission race" class to develop the technology and demonstrate it to the public.

With numerous partners and suppliers, the company has developed the Formula Zero fuel-cell kart. The Mark 2 is designed for powerful acceleration with unprecedented power density for a hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle. Maximum boosting power of 700 kW (for 8 sec) comes courtesy of the 8-kW Hydrogenics HyPM7 fuel cell and Boostcap modules. A 5-liter cryogenic tank of liquid hydrogen provides 8 min of clean, powerful racing. The Mark 2 can hit 100 km/hr (over 60 mph) in under 8 sec, making it the world's fastestaccelerating fuel-cell vehicle, the company claims.

Demonstrations in which a driver races against the clock give the public a firsthand experience of fuel-cell racing and hydrogen refueling. There are even plans for a Formula Zero World Championship. Interested parties can order a factory-built kart or build their own, in compliance with FIA (Formula One) regulations.

These regulations stipulate that karts must be single-seated and hydrogen-fuel-cell powered. Any technology based on hydrogen and fuel cells is acceptable. The oxygen must be extracted from the air and the only allowable emission is water.

Every vehicle receives the same amount of hydrogen at the start of the race. Hybrid propulsion is allowed but any batteries or ultracapacitors must be empty at the start. Races comprise a minimum of eight laps run within 8 min. Strict safety regulations covering the use of cartridges, maximum voltages, maximum currents, and so forth, apply.

The karts measure 2.2 X 1.45 X 0.7 m. Electric motors provide instant torque, accelerating the karts faster than internal-combustion engines. And because they're quieter, drivers can hear how the tires are gripping the road. Of course, there's no shifting, either.

Regenerative braking makes the electric motor a dynamo. Instead of losing all the kinetic energy created by applying the disc brakes, the energy is stored in the ultracapacitors and released when needed. According to Formula Zero spokesperson Eiso Vaandrager, this adds an additional competitive element: The driver who brakes better than his opponent has extra power at his disposal. (A boostbar, like those in computer games, shows the driver how much power is left.)

To reach a large number of people, the company is building a 600-meter (0.37 mile) mobile racetrack that can be set up at large public venues. The purpose, the company says, is to "create breakthrough innovation by harnessing the force of the market to stimulate demand for clean vehicles." There are no plans for any kind of permanent racetrack.

An on-location demonstration costs 10,000 ¤ (12,500 USD), while 15,000 ¤ (18,800 USD) buys an on-location demonstration race. But if it's your own Mark 2 kart you're after, 250,000 ¤ (313,000 USD) will put you behind the wheel. To date, only one Mark 2 kart has been built. But Formula Zero hopes to have at least five top-quality teams confirmed for the 2008-09 Series.

Look for the company to set a fuel-cell vehicle-acceleration record in Rotterdam on Aug. 20th by going from 0 to 100 km/hr in under 8 sec. To date, safety considerations have prevented the kart from exceeding 100 km/hr.

The fastest acceleration has been 0 to 68 km/hr in 3.2 sec with a top speed of 93 km/hr. Formula Zero expects to shatter the fuel-cell-vehicle record of 10 sec from 0-to-100-km/hr held by the Honda FCX-4.

Instead of burning it, a fuel cell chemically divides the fuel, creating an electrical current that powers an electric motor. There are two ways of producing hydrogen in a sustainable way and without-producing emissions: biomass and electrolysis with sustainable energy sources. In these go-karts, hydrogen is converted into electricity and no harmful emissions are released. The Mark 2 is more efficient than a conventional combustion engine, even one that runs on hydrogen.

A fuel cell splits hydrogen (H) into protons and electrons. The protons can pass through a membrane that the electrons cannot. The electrons will pass as electricity from the negative side of the membrane through the engine and enter the fuel cell again on the positive side of the membrane. Here they facilitate the reaction of oxygen (O) with the protons into water.

Formula Zero is betting on hydrogen for several reasons. First, hydrogen can be made from various sources including oil, gas, biomass, direct conversion from light, electrolysis, heat, and so forth. Hydrogen can also be stored and easily transported over great distances. For example, if Dubai were to start producing cheap hydrogen, it could ship the material all over the world in tankers. That way, says Vaandrager, Dubai could remain an energy supplier to the world. What's more, fuel cells are scalable and will be inexpensive to produce, he claims.

The ultimate goal, however, is to develop the technology to power a full-sized vehicle. The cost, says Vaandrager, will be about 30 million ¤ (37.6 million USD) and six years of development time. By 2015, Formula Zero hopes to have developed a 350-kW fuel-cell-stack-powered race car performing about as well as current Formula 1 cars.

Hydrogen joins the Shell game

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development predicts that 6% of the cars in the U.S. will be hydrogen powered by 2020. By 2050, the number could approach 100%. To this end, Shell Hydrogen B.V., in partnership with Connexxion Holding N.V. and MAN Truck & Bus Co. N.V., is developing the world's largest hydrogen-fueled public-transport operation, in Rotterdam. The largest hydrogen bus fleet in a single region should be operational before the end of the decade.

Connexxion, a Dutch public transport company, will operate more than 20 hydrogen/internal-combustion-engine buses under the proposal. The buses will be fueled from a combined gasoline-hydrogen service station, the first in the Netherlands. The station should be built and the buses operational by 2009.

The five-year project will evaluate public reaction as well as the reliability and economics of using hydrogen to fuel public transport in major urban areas. It will also help establish technical standards for operating hydrogen-fuel outlets. The Rotterdam project follows a successful three-year trial in Amsterdam, where Shell Hydrogen and its partners worked on infrastructure and operated three fuel-cell hydrogen buses. Rotterdam already has a well-developed hydrogen infrastructure for industrial applications.

The plan is intended as a platform for transition to hydrogen transport fuel. The gasoline-hydrogen retail station is intended to show Shell's commitment to providing sustainable energy. "We will showcase hydrogen as a reliable, safe and sustainable fuel which lowers air pollution and strengthens economic growth," explains Rein Willems, Country Chairman, Shell, in the Netherlands.

Fuel cells in space

Every U.S. manned space mission during the past four decades has used fuel-cell power plants built by a division of UTC Power, a United Technologies Corp. company. The Space Shuttle fuel cells — there are three per orbiter — have accumulated more than 91,000 hr of flight operation.

Shuttle fuel cells not only produce electricity, they also produce drinking water for the astronauts. Each alkaline fuel cell produces up to 12 kW and is more than 70% efficient, two to three times better than a typical combustion engine. Cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen feed each of the self-contained units, which are installed under the payload bay, aft of the crew compartment.

Bradford Instruments BV,
Formula Zero BV,

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