SYRACUSE — Engineering students at Wawasee High School are learning how to tame and bring under control the highly combustible and flammable gas known as hydrogen.
The super mileage car team overseen by teacher Allen Coblentz is working on a prototype hydrogen fuel cell car to enter in the Shell Eco-marathon April 18-23 at the Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Prior to that, the car will run at the Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis April 8-9.
Coblentz said the hydrogen powered car, much smaller than the diesel car Wawasee is also entering in the competitions, is still in the concept stage. “We have created some energy from the fuel cell,” he said, to move the car, but it doesn’t have enough torque yet to start the motor.
There is enough voltage, but not enough amperage, he said. Amperage is the “pushing power” in electricity. Coblentz illustrated this by using an example of a large fire hose. The large hose doesn’t do much good if there is not enough water pressure, or power, to push the water through.
Watching for leaks is very important, he stressed, because hydrogen is so flammable and combustible. “It’s a great energy source if you can contain it,” he said. “It is such a light gas, it slips through cracks easily.”
Conversely, though, the diesel car, to be entered in the urban concept category, is nothing new for Wawasee. The car has been entered in competitions previously and this year will sport a new, lighter and more streamlined body made of carbon fiber. “We should be able to get better mileage with it,” Coblentz noted, and the car has already been test driven.
Logistics will be a definite challenge this year. There are only a few days between the Indianapolis and California competitions and the two cars will have to be shipped to the West Coast apart from the students. “That will not leave us much time for modifications,” he said.
In addition, California is three hours behind and multiple time zones away from Indiana and that in itself will pose challenges for sleeping and eating patterns.
Though excited as always to be entering high mileage cars in competitions, Coblentz admitted even though his students are thrilled to be going to California, he is not so thrilled from a logistics perspective. “It was easier to go to Detroit, it was easier to transport the kids,” he said.
Wawasee has participated in the Shell Eco-marathon since 2010. Previous competitions have been held in Houston and Detroit.
There are 21 students on the super mileage team this year.