Talking Hydrogen - Forze Q&A
In my last post, I introduced you to the Forze VII – a hydrogen-powered LMP3 car built by a student team based in the Netherlands. Whilst I was writing that piece, the team were kind enough to answer my questions, and I’m now going to share their answers with you!
In order to answer my questions as well as possible, different team members took on various answers, and you can tell who answered what by their two-letter codes:
• Mathieu Blanke, Acquisitions and Events Manager (MB)
• Coen Lastdrager, former Chief of Vehicle Dynamics (CL)
• Leo van der Eijk, Driver (LE)
• Tinie Lam, former Marketing Manager (TL)
I know the group have been working on hydrogen projects for almost ten years, but why did you guys choose hydrogen?
MB: There are two main reasons for building hydrogen-powered vehicles instead of, for example, battery electric vehicles. The first reason is very straightforward 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 (FCEV). 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.
What was the reasoning behind using the LMP3 platform for Forze VII, and was there any particular reason for choosing the Adess?
CL: We choose the LMP3 for two reasons. The first one is that it makes sure our car complies with a large part of international racing regulations. The LMP3 chassis guarantees the safety of the driver because it is FIA homologated for international racing. The second reason is that an LMP3 chassis is a very good basis to build your own race car. It gives us a lot of design freedom since we can engineer our own subframe, drivetrain, suspension and bodywork around the monocoque. An LMP3 chassis is high tech and has a great performance potential to start with. The Adess monocoque is the most spacious of all the current LMP3 cars, which again gives us some design freedom to for example place a hydrogen tank inside the monocoque.
Could you tell me a bit more about the technology in the car?
CL: The Forze is a Hydrogen electric race car, which means that we use Hydrogen as energy storage (instead of conventional batteries in electric cars). The Hydrogen is stored as a gas in very high-pressure tanks that go up to 700 bar. We let the hydrogen react with oxygen in our so-called fuel cell. During this reaction, an electric current occurs while the hydrogen and oxygen react together to form water.
This electric current is interesting for us since we can use that to power our electric motors and drive the car itself. So in basis, we have an electric car. However, our way of storing energy is way different from for example a Tesla, which just has its energy stored in batteries. Our way of energy storage means we can refuel like conventional cars since we have hydrogen gas stored in high-pressure tanks. With an efficient refuelling station, we can refill the tanks in approximately 15-20 minutes. For now, that is way faster than fully charging an electric car since that can take more than an hour.
What was the car like to drive? How does it compare to an ICE vehicle?
LE: First of all, it’s amazing to drive and I feel really honoured to be in the driver position. But I think your question is more about the physical/mental part instead of the spiritual (team) part. Driving this car doesn’t differ much from other race cars, which are ICE vehicles. The team has managed to build a nice geometry and suspension on the car which is at least as professional as I was used to. So the longitudinal acceleration is, of course, comparable with other cars in our class, but the lateral acceleration (performance) is better and at least as good as the higher/faster classes. This is because of our packaging which results in a very low centre of gravity.
The main difference is the drivetrain. Normally in an ICE vehicle, you need to change gears, which is not the case in our concept. Therefore you can focus more on the driving part and more importantly, the car will be stable during downshifting. So this is a big pro, but of course, there are also some downsides of our concept (at the moment).
The buffer (accumulator) needs to be filled during braking, which we currently do with regenerative braking. The downside of this is that we only can regenerate with the rear wheels and therefore the braking distance is longer than our opponents. So to manage the regenerative braking distance and hydraulic braking distance in the right way, the driver needs his free mental workload (from gearshifting) to manage the energy level as good as possible.
Besides the driving differences, there are also some differences in power/torque. The electric motors deliver a constant torque so the reaction on the throttle is, in any case, the same which is not the case for ICE vehicle. So I think, as a driver, that the car is more reliable on the throttle.
The conclusion is that a fuel cell electric powered car is like driving an electric vehicle with small differences between the ICE vehicles.
How well has the car been received? There are always mixed reviews for non-ICE vehicles, particularly in racing (just look at Formula E) but what sort of feedback have you had for the Forze VII?
TL: We understand that we cannot satisfy every racing fan, but we did receive many compliments. It was amazing to see the many admiring reviews. Although we were competing in a regular race, with more than 90.000 spectators that love the smell of burned rubber, we felt certainly supported by the audience. They can relate to the fact that alternatives are needed and cheered for us. Also, the ‘regular’ platforms like Motorsport.com gave us positive feedback and wrote a story about us. We know we have not convinced the entire world yet, so there is more work to do!
What are the plans for the project in the future? Would the team consider something like a Garage 56 entry in the future?
MB: During the coming year, the team will continue to promote hydrogen by building racecars. For me, it will be a dream to compete with a forze car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go before the team will be ready to compete at this legendary event. Therefore I think that it is very unlikely to see forze at this race but never say never.
When is Forze VII hitting the track again?
MB: Again, I cannot give you a clear answer to this question. The foundation consists of students only. Even the board, which are people who stop studying for a year and voluntarily work on the project. Every year on the 1st of September the complete board changes, as the previous team has to continue their studies or start with a 'real' job and start earning money. Here you can find a link to my personal story after completing the Gamma Racing Day: www.forze-delft.nl/backstage-at-forze-during-gamma-racing-days/.