As you may have noticed, the motorsport (and indeed automotive) world seems to be moving at an alarmingly rapid rate towards an all-electric future. And whilst that’s all fab and groovy and yay, we’re going to save some polar bears, there are other options out there. In fact, there’s a group in the Netherlands who are working with a much more gaseous solution.
For the last 9 or so years, Forze Delft have been putting together teams of students to build increasingly complex hydrogen powered vehicles. But why hydrogen? “There are two main reasons for building hydrogen powered vehicles instead of, for example, battery electric vehicles,” explains acquisitions manager Mathieu Blanke. “The first reason is very straight forward and a result of the rise of a new competition called Formula Zero in 2008. This championship was the world's first race series using only hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles. Consequently, the team constructed fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Secondly, a reason for the team to compete in the Formula Zero championship is the strong belief that battery electric vehicles are not the only solution for zero emission transport. The team strongly believes that FCEVs are part of the sustainable automotive future. Therefore Forze Hydrogen Electric Racing focuses on the promotion of this technology by showing its potential.”
The team have progressed massively and earlier this month (August) they competed with their latest creation, the Forze VII, at the Gamma Race Days in Assen - the ﬁrst hydrogen powered vehicle to race alongside traditional ICE vehicles. A fantastic achievement in itself, but when you consider that the Forze VII clocked up laptimes quick enough to place them 4th alongside their, lighter petrol powered brethren, things start to sound really promising.
Let’s take a look at the car itself. The Forze VII is based on a familiar prototype monocoque - the Adess LMP3. However, where the Adess would normally house a 450bhp Nissan engine, the Forze VII instead has two high pressure gas tanks and what’s known as an FC Stack, Fuel Cell Stack to give it its unabbreviated title. The FC Stack, manufactured by Ballard, produces 135bhp, and 258bhp of boost power. The boost power is generated by the fuel cell when cornering and braking - similar to a KERS system. This power is then temporarily stored in supercapacitors. When accelerating out of a corner the car has access to both the fuel cell and the stored power from the supercapacitors.
So how does that work? “By pumping hydrogen and oxygen into the fuel cell we generate electricity on board,” explains Mathieu. “Of course, there are many more components which facilitate this process, but in order to get a general idea about the concept of the technology behind the car these two components will suffice.”
One of the advantages of generating electricity by using hydrogen, (and one of the reasons that Forze Delft have opted to use the gas) is that the resulting power train is actually lighter than that of a battery powered electric vehicle. Add in the fact that you can refuel this car in the same way as you would do an ICE car, and you start to get a green machine that resembles the traditional beasts we know and love.
Of course it’s not all been sunshine and roses for the student squad. Like any race car, the Forze VII could be a ﬁckle ﬁend, particularly when team ambassador Jan Lammers was about! From small challenges to disconnected driveshafts in testing, even to their baby refusing to start on its maiden formation lap, this team has rallied together through everything this project could throw at them and they’ve done brilliantly, especially considering this iteration of the team only started working together on September 1st last year. They’ve produced a car that not only looks the part, but ticks all the green boxes - its only exhaust product is water by the way (evidently it’s drinkable too!) In my opinion, these guys have made fuel cell vehicles look fantastic and a viable alternative to my beloved ICEs.
So what’s next for Forze Delft? At the moment this is unclear, as the team is made up of students, every year the whole group, board and all, changes. Mathieu tells me that over the coming year the team will continue to promote hydrogen by building race cars. It’s a dream of his to see a Forze car compete at the legendary race that is the Le Mans 24 Hours, but it’s seemingly a long way off. Never say never.
The new team is currently assembling and putting together their plans and goals for the next year, so perhaps we’ll learn more in the coming months. As for me? I hope these guys keep doing what they do for a long time. Hydrogen power is a really cool technology, and it’s time we acknowledged that a bit more.