RMIT Hydrogen Racing Car

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More than 3 weeks ago, I went to RMIT Bundoora East Campus to see the RMIT hydrogen car, Australia’s first hydrogen racing car. It is the result of collaboration of RMIT’s School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and Germany’s Fachhochschule Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences. Professor Aleksandar Subic (head of RMIT School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering) describes it as a demonstration vehicle for the future – a car that is powerful, fast and runs on clean, sustainable fuel. The car uses an internal combustion motorcycle engine modified to run on hydrogen, and the hydrogen comes from in compressed form in a lightweight carbon fiber gas tank on one side of the car. The tank contains the amount of hydrogen that is equivalent to 4 to 5 kg petrol, which is not a lot comparing the size of the tank and the amout of fuel on board. They found it a bit hard to handle the hydrogen, you can either store it under dangerously high pressure or at nearly-impossible-to-reach low temperature. They choose the high pressure because it is the only system their German collaborator can afford and lay their hand on. The chassis is constructed in aluminium tube frames and covered with carbon fiber body panels. In theory, the car can reach 170kmh, making it the fastest hydrogen car of its class in the world.

During the chat with lecturer Geoff Pearson from Automotive Engineering department in RMIT racing team workshop, i found out that in theory, any internal combustion engine can be modified to run on hydrogen, and ideally, it will be more powerful than the same petrol version engine. To burn hydrogen directly in an internal combustion engine is the simplest, easiest way and most light weight system compare to fuel cell or hybrid. And weight is everything, efficincy, economy, performance. The other thing I learned was that from an engineeror point of view, petrol power is still the best all rounder, the only downside is it will run out and it is not clean. When environmentalists and green hippies comes in, they brought alone a whole series of problems and headaches. The only upside of all the alternative energy source is “clean”. Hydrogen is clean but not clean to produce and hard to handle; hybrid, fuel cell and electric systems are too complicated and heavy. Our city, our society and our lifestyle is built around car, we live knowing we can travel from A to B easily on daily base, and that “travel from A to B” will have an environmental effect no matter what form it is, even walking will produce CO2. It is an imperfect world, it all down to what we want and what we need to give up.

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