Nation’s First Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine Vehicle

For me this story started in April of this year. For the students in the story it started two years ago. I received an invitation to an open house for the unveiling of the country’s first hydrogen powered vehicle. At first I thought it was a breakthrough by one of our automakers. It wasn’t. Then I thought it was a hoax. It wasn’t. On April 24th I posted an article about the students at the Los Altos Academy of Engineering having completed an engineering project that resulted in the creation of the nation’s first hydrogen internal combustion engine vehicle—HICE (Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine). Then I had biggest surprise of all. These are high school students.

The press releases, media information and invitation were professionally written and extremely well done. I literally receive several hundred press releases a week and the material for this event was better than the vast majority that clogs my inbox. I presumed that a teacher serving as the “coach” for the team developed and sent the materials. I was wrong. It was in fact one of the students, John Weng. If I was concerned about the future of this country these students certainly did more than their share to relieve those concerns.

The open house was held on May 8, 2010.

As Weng puts it in his post-event release, “With unyielding ambitions and state-of-the-art technology, students of the Los Altos Academy of Engineering (LAAE) have hosted their fifth annual open house in conjunction with a press conference on the nation’s first hydrogen internal combustion engine vehicle—HICE (Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine). The press conference discussed the vehicle while the open house displayed the countless other accomplishments of the program.

“After the completion of HICE, students were eager to display the one-of-a-kind vehicle using a student-modified engine to burn hydrogen as a fuel. HICE is a redefinition of traditional hydrogen cars as they are generally fuel cell vehicles. The concept behind this contemporary vehicle is similar to that of a gasoline vehicle. Using a four-stroke engine, it is designed to burn hydrogen without the use of gasoline, therefore reducing carbon emissions.”

2010 Class Los Altos Academy of Engineering

About the Amazing Engine

The following report was written by Alexander Sosa, 2009-2010 Mechanical team member/Engine Specialist

“HICE” has three wheels: two in the front and one in the rear. The tires used for this prototype car are low-coefficient of rolling resistance electric vehicle racing Bridgestone Ecopia tires. The rear wheel is serving as the drive wheel powered by a Honda GX-35 Internal Combustion Engine.

“The chassis of HICE consists of ten bulkheads perpendicular to the length of the car. The bulkheads are made out of aluminum

Hydrogen tank

honeycomb, which are aircraft grade materials from Boeing.

“The vehicle’s front suspension consists of a single rotating axis system made out of precision-machined aluminum. The aluminum rail of the system serves as the holder for the wheel mounts. The rail stations mounts directly on to the side bulkheads by the drivers bay area. The rail holds two pieces of machined aluminum with angles and eye bolts, which serves as the holder for the main bolt for the turning of the wheels. The axles for the front is made out of Hot Rolled Steel that has been lathed for precise fitting and to smooth out the “lumps” in the steel that can possibly increase the friction coefficient. The axles have been welded to a mounting plate using a MIG welder equipped with argon gas. The axles are mounted on the mounting rail with a ¾” bolt serving as the pivoting point.

“The rear of the car consists of a Hot Rolled Steel bar that bolts directly on to the rear bulkhead. That bar is the axle for the back wheel, which is also the drive wheel.

“Each wheel is equipped with both a machined lightweight aluminum hub and two bearings. The bearings are double sealed for oil containment. The bearings serves as the main friction-reducing component, the bearings are used so the engine does not have to work too hard in moving the vehicle. The bearings are made with a hardened stainless steel outer assembly and ceramic ball

Expansion chamber

bearings for a dramatic decrease in frictional forces. The bearing balls have a rating of an ABEC-5 (Annular Bearing Engineers Committee) that translates to an ultra high precise machined piece.

“HICE’s steering system is a lightweight aluminum rack and pinion system found in automobiles. The system is miniature sized because the force need to turn HICE is not very great. The steering wheel is an Italian made MOMO go-kart race-wheel.

“The car is equipped with one main two wheel braking system. The two brakes are both in the front wheels; each brake is foot-actuated with hydraulic fluid. They are disc brakes that have been modified to fit our application. The disc brakes are performance-approved brakes from Shimano. The future plans for HICE is to incorporate disc brake for he rear wheel, which will also be hydraulic.

“The hydrogen system of HICE is pressurized using a 33A hydrogen tank filled with 2000 psi of High-Purity Hydrogen Gas. The

Engine set up with starter motor

hydrogen goes through Swagelok made ½” NPT 304L Stainless Steel Hydrogen tubing. The hydrogen is always in its gaseous form; the hydrogen is regulated down from 2000 psi to a max of 7 psi. The hydrogen gas travels from the tank to the regulator, to the safety shut-off solenoid, to the flow meter, and then to the electronic hydrogen fuel injector. The injector is controlled by a parallax board programmed using BASIC STAMP.

“The hydrogen is injected into a machined aluminum intake manifold. The intake manifold combines the natural air with the injected hydrogen so they can be injected into the engine as a mixture. The mixture goes into the engine using the four-stroke cycle method. The first stroke is the intake stroke; the mixture is brought into the combustion chamber. The second stroke is the compression stroke; the piston goes upwards so the mixture can get under high pressure. The

Hydrogen piping to engine

third stoke is the power stroke; the spark plug fire a high voltage electrical spark that ignites the mixture and forces the piston downwards. The last stroke is the fourth stroke, which is the exhaust stroke; the burned mixture leaves the combustion chamber. The cycle is then repeated again.

“The engine uses the spinning piston on the crankshaft to spin a clutch with a drive shaft. The drive clutch engages when the engine reaches 2000 rpm so there will be enough power to move the wheel. The engine in this application spins approximately at about 5500 rpm in order to achieve optimum horsepower and torque. The current engine setup we have will give 0.9 horsepower.

Back To The Press Conference

Congresswoman Grace Napolitano attended the event in order to show her support of education and green technologies. The Congresswoman commented, “I commend these young men and women for their remarkable achievements. Too often the positive news about our students goes unnoticed and we do not realize how proud we should be. The clean energy research done by these young scientists and engineers is the kind of innovation that will keep our country competitive in the twenty-first century. It is critical that we continue to support science education locally and at the federal level – just look at what our kids can accomplish with the proper support.” She also provided contact information to individuals in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and even stated her intentions to put the program before President Obama.

Other historical and eye-widening projects were also displayed. Among them were: Solar Shadow, the only high school solar

Fuel injector

vehicle that raced across Australia in the World Solar Challenge; Infusion, the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle built by high school students, which won first place in the Shell Eco-marathon; Speed Racer, one of the first electric cars built by the program; and Project Zeus the school’s vehicle for the original DARPA Grand Challenge.

In addition to the various projects they have displayed, students also had a special unveiling of the new website, which they had hinted about prior to the event. Despite the already extensive website, students continued to strive for a more user-friendly and efficient site. In a design completely rebuilt from scratch, new features include an “at-a-glance” home page, historical timeline, reorganized press section, and blog updates.

The LAAE at Los Altos High School is a joint program between the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District and La Puente Valley Regional Occupational Program. Founded in 1989, the LAAE is one of the remaining career and technical education programs in California and is also the only engineering academy amongst public high schools. LAAE has many notable achievements building alternative energy vehicles. The Los Altos Academy of Engineering is a student-run program that offers high school students opportunities to explore career paths through education, training in vocational and business skills, hands-on experience, and exposure to engineering and technology.

I guess the thing that confuses me is the fact that this school, these students and HICE isn’t all over the news. With the state of our economy, our need to become less oil dependent and the oil spill in the gulf industry should be knocking the doors down to see how fast we can apply what these students have created.

Greg Sitek

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