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Mizzou team steering towards the hydrogen highway

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Mizzou team steering towards the hydrogen highway

Chemical engineering students Michael Gordon, left, and Matthias Young insert a 70-pound hydrogen fuel tank into the frame of Mizzou’s first hydrogen fuel car. The car will travel 600 miles on a full tank of hydrogen, team members said. Photo by Vicki Hodder

The University of Missouri’s alternative energy team has undergone a transformation that may prove prophetic.

After 15 years of building a solar car for competition, the team decided in late 2005 to steer instead towards the “hydrogen highway” by constructing a fuel cell car. It’s a course with few maps but great potential to revolutionize the way the nation travels, team leaders believe.

“This is a definite possibility for the future,” said team Secretary Caitlin Garing, a journalism senior. “That’s really amazing, to be a part of the future.”

About 30 undergraduate students from myriad disciplines—primarily within Mizzou Engineering, but also including journalism, chemistry and business—comprise the team, which last competed with a solar car in the 2005 North American Solar Challenge (NASC).

The Mizzou Hydrogen Car Team, officially dubbed The Society for the Development of Alternative Energy Team, will showcase its car in the upcoming NASC demonstration category. Team members will drive their hydrogen-powered car about 2,300 miles between July 13 and July 22, traveling from Plano, Texas to Calgary, Alberta in the international event.

MU’s hydrogen fuel cell car shares a vision of renewable fuel technology with solar cars, and so warrants a spot in the NASC event, said Dan Eberle, the competition’s director. Indeed, a hydrogen car can be considered a solar car one step removed, since hydrogen can be created using solar cells, Eberle said.

Mizzou’s car is one of three fuel cell cars that may participate in NASC’s demonstration category, he said.

Mizzou team President Chris Millner said his group’s car carries about 1.6 kilograms of hydrogen in a lightweight carbon fiber tank in the car’s back end. An on-board feeder draws hydrogen from the tank to fuel two cells, which combine the hydrogen with oxygen to power the car’s electric motor, said Millner, an industrial engineering junior.

Team members estimate that a single tank of hydrogen will drive the car about 600 miles, bolstered by electric batteries within the car to even out the power flow.

While acknowledging hydrogen fuel’s challenges, Millner said he hopes Mizzou’s efforts will help generate enthusiasm for the new technology in teams across the country. Many U.S. corporations and government agencies already share Millner’s zest for hydrogen technology, promoting its potential to revolutionize transportation through such publicly-supported efforts as California’s hydrogen highway and the U.S. Department of Energy’s FreedomCAR research program.

“I think we should be able to build on (hydrogen’s potential), get people behind it,” Millner said.

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