High School Students Produce Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine Powered Vehicle

Some people get excited about sports, others about winning at poker or beating the slots. Then there are others who get excited when they get surprises or visit new places. I get excited when I hear about technological developments that can have a positive impact on our lives.

A little over a month ago I got a press release about a group of high school students who had done some extraordinary. The event celebrating the students’ achievement isn’t until May 8, 2010. Unfortunately I can’t be there to see first hand what these wizards accomplished but the teacher who has been guiding these students, John Weng assures me he will send me the details.

What’s go me so excited? Take a look:

Nation’s First Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine Vehicle by High School

Students of the Los Altos Academy of Engineering have created a one-of-a-kind hydrogen internal combustion engine vehicle (HICE). This is the first to be built by high school students and is rare even among the car industry. 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.

President Obama’s State of the Union Address mentioned a need for change in education and a focus on energy research. His focus goes hand in hand with the guiding principles of the academy as it has a twenty-year history producing energy efficient vehicles. In addition, the academy’s students excel in mathematics and science as students work on engineering projects more innovative than those currently offered in the marketplace. The Los Altos Academy of Engineering truly offers the world-class education mentioned by the President, to a group of high school students diverse in backgrounds, ethnicities, and genders, working in a team and project oriented environment.

Despite recent economic turmoil, students have further driven themselves to complete HICE (Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine). HICE is a one-of-a-kind vehicle using a student-modified engine to use hydrogen as a fuel. HICE is different from traditional hydrogen cars as they are generally fuel cell vehicles. The concept behind this 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.

LAAE will be hosting its fifth annual open house on May 8th in order to showcase the first hydrogen internal combustion vehicle built by high school students. This vehicle is also amongst the first to be built by any technical institution. In addition, the Los Altos Academy of Engineering would like to invite media outlets, elected officials, and community and business leaders to the fifth annual open house. Students have already been gotten response and have received confirmation from Congresswoman Grace Napolitano.

Other historical and eye-widening projects will also be displayed. Among them include: Solar Shadow, the only high school solar 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 entry government sponsored DARPA Grand Challenge. 

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.

Hydrogen as a fuel supply for vehicles is exciting. Here’s an excerpt from what Wikipedia has to say about hydrogen vehicles:

A hydrogen vehicle is an alternative fuel vehicle that uses hydrogen as its onboard fuel for motive power. The term may refer to a personal transportation vehicle, such as an automobile, or any other vehicle that uses hydrogen in a similar fashion, such as an aircraft. The power plants of such vehicles convert the chemical energy of hydrogen to mechanical energy either by burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, or by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to run electric motors. Widespread use of hydrogen for fueling transportation is a key element of a proposed hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen fuel does not occur naturally on Earth and thus is not an energy source, but is an energy carrier. Currently it is most frequently made from methane or other fossil fuels. However, it can be produced from a wide range of sources (such as wind, solar, or nuclear) that are intermittent, too diffuse or too cumbersome to directly propel vehicles. Integrated wind-to-hydrogen plants, using electrolysis of water, are exploring technologies to deliver costs low enough, and quantities great enough, to compete with traditional energy sources.

Many companies are working to develop technologies that might efficiently exploit the potential of hydrogen energy for mobile uses. The attraction of using hydrogen as an energy currency is that, if hydrogen is prepared without using fossil fuel inputs, vehicle propulsion would not contribute to carbon dioxide emissions. The drawbacks of hydrogen use are low energy content per unit volume, high tankage weights, the storage, transportation and filling of gaseous or liquid hydrogen in vehicles, the large investment in infrastructure that would be required to fuel vehicles, and the inefficiency of production processes.

Several years ago I read an article about BMW inviting top racecar drivers to drive the BMW HR2. The article was intriguing and

BMW's 12 cylinder hydrogen fueled internal combustion engine

offered the promise of great things to come. There has been a lot written about hydrogen fuel cells and various other hydrogen possibilities but I kept going back to the idea of using an internal combustion engine fueled by hydrogen.

The BMW HR2 racecar has set 9 international and FIA-ratified land-speed records for hydrogen cars. The records were set at the Miramas Proving Grounds in France. The BMW HR2 is one of the few hydrogen cars developed with internal combustion engine (ICE) technology instead of fuel cell technology.

The BMW HR2 also is a dual-fuel vehicle. With a flip of a switch the HR2 can move between hydrogen or gasoline fuel tanks for power. When accomplishing the land-speed records, the gasoline portion of the dual mode operating system was disabled.

The HR2 uses BMW’s top of the line 6.0-liter V12 gasoline engine modified for either hydrogen or gasoline and can achieve 285 hp and with a top speed on 185.5 mph. The HR2 can also accelerate from a standstill from 0 – 60 in about 6 seconds.

More recently (2007) BMW released information on the BMW Hydrogen 7 a limited production hydrogen vehicle built by German automobile manufacturer BMW. The car is based on BMW’s traditional gasoline powered 7-series line of vehicles, and more specifically the 760Li. It uses the same 6 litre V-12 motor as does the 760i and 760Li; however, it has been modified to also allow for the combustion of hydrogen as well as gasoline, making it a bivalent engine. Unlike many other current hydrogen powered vehicles like those being produced by Honda, General Motors, and Daimler Chrysler – which use fuel cell technology and hydrogen to produce electricity to power the vehicle – the BMW Hydrogen 7 burns the hydrogen in an internal combustion engine.

Ok, so when is Ford, GM or Chrysler going to grab these high school students and put them to work developing new power plants for our autos?

Tomorrow isn’t soon enough.

I will follow up with more information as soon as I get it from John Weng. If you’re interested stop in around May 8th.

Greg Sitek

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