Zero Emissions Hydrogen Car Unveiled For Upcoming Competition
March 6, 2013

Zero Emissions Hydrogen Car Unveiled For Upcoming Competition

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

A University of Alberta group has unleashed a single-seat hydrogen cell car that will compete against teams in the Shell Eco-marathon challenge this spring in Houston, Texas.

Mechanical engineering student Matt Sponiar established the team in 2010 to build a sustainable automobile. The group made a debut at the Shell Eco-marathon last year, competing against 150 universities and high schools, taking second place in the Urban Concept Vehicle category. This year, Sponiar said his team wants to maintain that top three tier status.

"At the Shell Eco-marathon we are hoping for a top three finish," he told redOrbit. "We have worked hard to improve the powertrain of the vehicle from last year´s car and hopefully this will provide us with the improved performance we are looking for. The body has also been changed to be much more aerodynamic. While we are moving at fairly low speeds, this won't be major, but still an improvement."

He said the main difference between their vehicle, and other similar cars, is they focused on the complete package of sustainability.

"This means that when we were designing our car we were not only considering the emissions of the vehicle, but the entire life cycle of the car," Sponiar told redOrbit in an email. "For example, in order to select the material for the vehicle body, our team considered materials such as carbon fiber, fiber glass and kevlar. However, all of these materials require a significant amount of energy to produce, and have a lot of waste associated with this process. In the end our team ended up going in a completely different direction."

He said they ended up collaborating with companies that are working on new plant based "bio-fibers," which they used in their car.

"Our vehicle body is made of two of these 'bio-fibers'," said Sponiar. "The top half of the body is made of a woven cellulose based fiber, while the bottom is made of a chop-strand hemp/flax fiber. It is really exciting to work with these materials as they are not yet commercially available. Hopefully, in the coming years we will see these materials enter the market. They offer a more sustainable alternative to materials such as fiberglass. The cellulose based fiber is from a company called Lincoln Fabrics. The hemp/flax is from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures."

Sponiar pointed out it would be pretty unrealistic to assume his team's futuristic car concept could go into production as is. However, he did say the goal of their project is to use their vehicle to promote sustainability and innovation, which may strike a new chord in an industry aiming to help the consumer curb those rising gas costs.

"We hope to engage the public with our vehicle and demonstrate new alternative technologies. It would also be great to see some of the aspects our project is working on make it to consumers. For example, it would be great to see the bio-fibers make it to market," he told redOrbit. "While the credit, and rightly so, of this accomplishment would all be for the companies developing these innovative materials, it would be great if our car could have been a part of that."

Other companies helping to contribute to the team's zero emissions car include Faculty of Engineering, Shell, Motive, Bullfrog Power, Alberta Council of Technologies and Rohit Communities. The team will be competing in this year's event, April 4 through 7.

"So in a nut shell, we are hoping to use our project to help gain awareness for sustainable transportation and offer students interested in sustainable design the ability to work on a full scale project that helps develop their skills," Sponiar concluded.