Building Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars for a Better Tomorrow
Officially called The Society for the Development of Alternative Energy, the Mizzou Hydrogen Car Team is an engineering student competition team that designs and builds hydrogen fuel cell cars. Currently the team is building vehicles to compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon Urban Concept Challenge. The team was originally founded in the early 1990's as a solar car team. In 2005 the team began creating hydrogen fuel cell cars. We have about 30 active members spanning almost all engineering disciplines at the University of Missouri.I served four years as a mechanical engineer on the University of Missouri Hydrogen Car Team. This project has undoubtedly had the greatest impact on my college education. I joined the team as an eager biological engineering freshman with too much time on his hands. I worked with chemical engineers to create the hydrogen fuel delivery system for Tigergen I. My interests in mechanical engineering spurred me to machine a locking device for the fuel regulator and then to machine small components for Tigergen’s suspension. During my sophomore year I volunteered to design the suspension for the next hydrogen car, Tigergen II. I was both excited and nervous about committing to a project that relied on concepts that would not be discussed in my curriculum for another year. I read books about suspension design and analyzed the previous car’s suspension. I learned Pro/ENGINEER as I transformed my hand drawn concepts into solid models. Eventually I needed to collaborate with upperclassmen to adjust the design and perform finite element analysis. While many students were working on perfecting their summer tan, much of my spring break was spent in the basement of Engineering Building West, hammering out the suspension and chassis design with the team's head mechanical engineer, Eric Sawyer.
At the end of my sophomore year I was elected as president of the Hydrogen Car Team. It was the beginning of a period of great personal growth and excitement. My job was to ensure team cohesiveness and good communication between the team's engineering departments as well as to serve as the liaison between the team, public, MU College of Engineering, and Shell Eco-Marathon race officials. My position required me to be prudent with my time, prompt with my communications, and organized with my studies. My position typically consumed 20 hours a week during the fall semester, but the work was extremely rewarding. Not only did I learn invaluable management skills leading a large group on a long term engineering project, but I also had the opportunity to give back by mentoring new members and by sharing my passion for engineering while presenting the hydrogen car project at public events throughout Missouri.
The team typically spends one year designing the car and the next year building it. My junior year was a "build year" which meant that deadlines needed to be met to finish the car by race time. Our project manager Grant Slemp did an excellent job organizing the milestones each department needed to complete to keep us on track. However, delays in shipping, waiting for funding to process, and technical difficulties quickly taught us to "expect the unexpected." We were able to make up lost time with marathon build sessions and late night pizza parties. The spring semester tested the limits of my determination and mental fortitude. In addition to a full course load and undergraduate research, I spent over 30 hours a week in the hydrogen car laboratory: designing, organizing, and fabricating. As president, I encouraged my team to keep trying when the odds of success seemed stacked against us. We faced mechanical failures, fuel leaks, and electrical glitches, but we never gave up. Our hard work was rewarded. We completed Mizzou’s first hydrogen car to compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon. At the end of the competition, the team was recognized with the “Perseverance in the Face of Adversity" award.
The Second Time is the Charm
The team returned to the Shell Eco-Marathon the following year with an improved version of Tigergen II. With a fresh coat of paint and slick sponsor logos the car looked ready to win, but the internal upgrades made the difference. The key change was a new gearing for our DC motor to optimize the torque and efficiency for our city cruising speed of 25 mph. We also improved the air intakes it enhance flow over the fuel cells to prevent overheating.
The car was thoroughly tested for performance, leaks, and durability. At the end of the race we placed first in the Urban Concept Hydrogen Fuel Cell Division, and won the Team Spirit award.