April 1, 2012
Sunday was the final day for competition. As the team woke and headed down to locate and fix the hydrogen leak the pressure was slowly getting to us. Today we had our last opportunity to put in a successful run. As it stood at this point, none of the 7 teams running hydrogen at the competition had put in a successful run yet. There were 4 teams in the urban concept category and 3 in prototype and all had been bogged down with trouble shooting, just as our team, and had been unable to complete a successful run. Things were getting close for the hydrogen teams.
As soon as the technical inspection booth was opened we borrowed the hydrogen “sniffer” and began working on the leak. We discovered that a small leak was coming from one of the fittings and re-threaded it with Teflon tape to fix it. The other small leak was discovered to be coming from inside the fuel cell (one of the internal fittings). This was a leak we were unable to get to and would not be able to fix. This was a major set back as not only would we risk tripping the hydrogen safety sensor which would shut down our car when we ran, but it would also hurt our efficiency as hydrogen would be escaping un-reacted. However, there was nothing we could do so we did our best to ensure the back compartment was ventilated to help prevent the sensor from tripping.
It was now time for the first run of Sunday morning. The urban concept vehicles had a 2 hour time slot and we were hoping to be able to put in at least 2 runs during this time. However, as we rolled up to the starting line disaster struck again. Just feet before the starting line, the hydrogen sensor tripped. One of the connections must have started to leak. The vehicle was pulled back from the starting line and the body lifted off. A hasty search for the leak began and we worked to fix it in time for at least one successful run in the morning.
A stressful half an hour later everything in the back was sealing again and the vehicle pulled up to the starting line. It was time for our second attempt. As the car pulled away from the starting line we knew we only had this one chance for a successful morning run. For the first 3 laps everything was looking really good and the vehicle was looking much faster than it had on the initial run. However, one the 4th lap disaster struck again! A distorted message came through the radio “broken…again”. The body had shifted to the side in one of the corners and the bumps had caused it to slip off the nose piece. This time this happened right at the halfway point of the track and an event tow vehicle had to be called to take our car off the track. So ended the morning attempt for our team.
As we took our car back to our booth for repairs we knew we only had one more opportunity to make a successful run. As it stood at the moment only one of the seven teams running hydrogen had been able to complete a successful attempt. With just over two hours to fix our car a quick trip to home depot was made. Several metal springs were bought and these were used to better secure the body to the chassis. The springs were a good solution because they allowed for small vibrations between the body and chassis caused by the roughness of the road, but they ensured that any larger bumps wouldn’t dislodge the body. With the mechanical side of the vehicle ready again we had some time to check the hydrogen situation of our vehicle again. Everything was looking good, and it had to be because we only had one more attempt.
Finally the time came to roll the car out onto the track for the last time. Nerves were definitely running high for the team as we all knew this was our last chance. The flag was waved and the car took off and the laps were started:
Lap 1 2:12
Everything was looking good.
Lap 2 4:26
Lap 3 7:03
Lap 4 9:09
The stress was building up again, we had made it farther than ever before.
Lap 5 11:32
Lap 6 14:07
Lap 7 16:25
Lap 8 18:45
The fuel cell shut down for 15 seconds due to overheating. Everyone’s heart stopped.
Lap 9 21:19
Fuel cell working properly again.
Lap 10 23:32
Successfully completed trail! We had done it! On our last chance we completed a successful run. Now all we could do was wait to see what our measured fuel efficiency was. An interesting fact to note is that during this last run, 6 of the 7 hydrogen teams went out and only 2 (including us) were able to successfully complete.
Shortly after our finish our results were posted. We had achieved 16 miles/kWh (this is energy equivalent to 60 miles/gallon or 3.9L/100km)! This means we were beat for first place by Illinois University by just 1.6 miles/kWh (they achieved a total of 17.6 m/kWh).
Considering all of the last minute challenges our team had to overcome to make it to competition and the fact that this was our first generation vehicle and the first time at competition this is a result our entire team is extremely proud of! All of the hard work and countless hours invested into this project had been rewarded.
That evening there was the final dinner and the awards ceremony where we received our silver medals and prize money.
At this point I would like to briefly mention the project partners that have made our success at this competition possible.
Motive Industries, Shell, Bullfrog, Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, the University of Alberta Office of Sustainability, Rohit Group of Companies, the University of Alberta Faculty of Engineering, 3M, MIT RCF, Entropy Resins, Lincoln Fabrics, the Composite Innovation Centre, TTS Industries, Twin Anchors, and Fantom Tuning.
It was a really enjoyable evening to end the competition with. Following this ceremony our team packed everything back up into the trailer and made sure everything was ready for an early morning return to Edmonton.
– Matthew Sponiar, Project Manager