Monthly Archives: May 2017

Alternative fuels being put to the test

Hydrogen-powered vehicles promise no local emission motoring, but face significant problems in the refueling and storage of the hydrogen fuel. Students at the Technical University of Eindhoven in The Netherlands have avoided these problems, albeit at the expense of energy density, by developing a self-contained system that helps power an electric bus using hydrogen produced from formic acid.

The formic acid system is designed to act as a range extender for the electric-powered bus. It’s towed behind the bus in a compact trailer, and converts a fuel called hydrozine – made up of 99 percent formic acid and 1 percent a performance enhancing agent – into hydrogen and CO2. In turn, that hydrogen is used to generate electricity in a conventional fuel cell.

According to the students, there are a few benefits of using hydrozine to create hydrogen on the fly instead of just fueling the vehicle with hydrogen in the first place. For one, pure hydrogen needs to be pressurised in big tanks, something that adds weight and complexity to the vehicle as well as refueling stations. The University of Eindhoven team says the fuel has four times the energy density of a conventional battery, too, for big range in small packages.

On top of that, formic acid occurs naturally in some plants and ants, but it can also be manufactured easily on an industrial scale. All the CO2 created in the process of turning the formic acid-based hydrozine is used in the energy production process, making it a net zero-emissions fuel source. And because it’s a liquid, it could be slotted into existing filling station infrastructure with very little modification required.

The “Team FAST” students that developed the fuel initially built a scale model of the range-extending trailer, known as REX, in early 2016. The subsequent year and a half was spent refining the design, resulting in a system that can output 25 kW. The standalone system was officially released overnight in Eindhoven, alongside the first hydrozine filling station.

Although it’s just a prototype at the moment, Team FAST is hoping to have REX running around Eindhoven before the end of 2017. Long term, the goal is to make hydrozine a widely used, industry standard fuel source.

Formula E with fully-fledged factory team

Audi has committed to Formula E for the upcoming season, completing its push away from its World Endurance Championship glory days. Having slowly grown its involvement in the sport through ABT Sportsline this year, the company will be the first German manufacturer to line up on the Formula E grid when the season kicks off in December.

Although it offered a significant injection of money and development support into the ABT Sportline team ahead of the (current) 2016/17 Formula E season, the German giant stopped short of becoming a fully-fledged factory entrant. That changes next year, when ABT Sportline becomes Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler.

The team will be taking on the 2017/18 season with a new powertrain, developed in tandem with partner Schaeffler. Although strict regulations limit the potential for significant differences between powertrains, teams are able to tweak their motors, transmissions, software and suspension components.

“Formula E delivers spectacular motorsport in the hearts of fascinating cities and is a tremendous stage to present electric mobility and motorsport in their most emotive forms,” says Head of Audi Motorsport, Dieter Gass. “We’re currently seeing an extremely exciting season with a gripping title race. I’m happy that now everything has been put on track for a successful future too.”

The Ford Transit into a modular

Van life has become such a big trend we’re not even sure it’s counter-cultural anymore. Actually, it seems like a pretty nice business to get into, whether you’re tallying up followers on Instagram or selling van conversions. California’s ModVans is one of the latest to do the latter, transforming the Ford Transit into a comfy rolling abode made to wander countrysides, coastlines and cityscapes. The modular van can also convert back to passenger and cargo forms, so when van life has to cede the stage to real life, it can handle daily commutes and errands just as well as it handles open-road adventures.

The Ford Transit doesn’t seem to get quite as much camper van love as the Sprinters, Transporters and Ducatos of the world, but Ford does in fact own a 64 percent share of the American motorhome chassis market when you add in larger Class A and C models with Class B camper vans, according to data from Statistical Surveys, Inc. The Transit is also quite young in North America, and Ford is quick to point out that American converters only just got started making Transit campers last year. Dearborn seems confident that the Transit will find its footing on the big wave of camper van enthusiasm.

If ModVans gets its operation up and running, it’ll give Ford some help gaining that footing. The startup has built a Transit-based prototype van named the CV1 that looks quite well thought out. It’s now trying to get a full-fledged conversion business off the ground.

After becoming disillusioned with larger Class C motorhomes, entrepreneur and ModVans founder P.J. Tezza thought smaller and decided to go with a camper van build. He narrowed his base van choices down to the Sprinter and Transit, choosing the latter based on reviews and ease of serviceability. Specifically, he started with a long-wheelbase (148-in/3,759-mm) Transit with 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine.