12 Juli 2017

How to power a bus on formic acid

Eindhoven University "Team FAST", consisting of 35 students, developed this so far unknown fuel all by itself

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Tiijn Swinkels, technical manager at Team FAST, and their selfbuilt system inside the trailer. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Yesterday Team FAST, a student team from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), unveiled the design of the world’s first system that allows a bus to drive on formic acid. Their self-built system comprises an electric bus that is hooked up to a small trailer – which the students have christened ‘REX’ – in which formic acid is converted into electricity. The benefits of using formic acid are that it is sustainable, CO2-neutral, safe and liquid.

Hydrozine is the energy carrier’s official name. It’s 99% formic acid with a performance enhancing agent. What is striking is that Team FAST, consisting of 35 students, developed this so far unknown fuel all by itself. At the beginning of 2016 they presented an initial scale model that illustrated how it works. After another twenty months of hard work, they now have a system that is 42,000 times stronger and is capable of 25kW power.

Expanding range

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Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

In the trailer that was built by the team hydrozine is split into hydrogen and CO2. The hydrogen is then used to produce electricity that powers a city bus of the Eindhoven company VDL. The team calls the trailer a ‘range extender’, REX for short, because the trailer expands the existing range of the bus as a standalone component. The team is still running final tests with the aim of the bus actually operating by the end of this year.

Multiple benefits

The benefits of hydrozine are many. It is a cheap and safe alternative to the transport of hydrogen that normally requires large tanks and high pressure. The CO2 produced in splitting the hydrozine is also used in the production process, which results in zero net CO2. Hydrozine has four times as much energy density as a battery and since it is a liquid, very few modifications will be required to the current infrastructure of filling stations.

Unveiling of the bus

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The first filling station for hydrozine. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

During Thursday’s event, at the VDMA premises in Eindhoven, Team FAST unveiled its unique system and presented the results achieved over the past year as well as looked ahead to what these results will mean in the future. The first filling station for hydrozine was also presented. The event marked the moment when many of the students will be leaving the team to be replaced by their successors.

Presentation of Team FAST

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Visitors walk through the bus which is turned into a mini experience about Team FAST. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

The presentation was quite original. Visitors walked through the electric bus in which the history of Team FAST is revealed and all the features and benefits of hydrozine are illustrated. Then it was the turn of REX, which has a led screen on which an animation explains in simple term show the system works and what the different components, visible through the transparent hood, do exactly.

Energy carrier for the future

The mission of Team FAST is both admirable and ambitious. Together with partners from the whole production chain, Team FAST is making hydrozine a safe, sustainable and standard energy carrier for the future. It hopes to introduce a unique mobility concept that can be implemented in the current infrastructure, one that is safe and therefore easy to adopt in our current way of living.

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The complete team of Team FAST. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Source: Eindhoven University of Technology, press release, 2017-07-07.

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