“I’m asked all the time if installing a hydrogen fuel system on a family car or truck is going to result in a ‘Hindenburg outcome.’ Rather than tell you it is safe, I decided to show you it’s safe in conditions that your vehicle would never encounter.” –Brian Hess founder and inventor of Hessgen Inc., on why he drove a vehicle equipped with his fuel system in the Baja 500, a brutal 500-mile off-road race
Hydrogen has a bad (if undeserved) reputation as a transportation fuel for over seven decades now – the result of the infamous explosion that consumed the German dirigible Hindenburg in a horrific fire back in 1937 while it attempted to land in New Jersey – an explosion caused when a bolt of lightning ignited the lighter-than-air hydrogen gas used to keep the massive airship aloft.
Ever since, hydrogen’s proved a tough sell in the transportation sector – whether used directly as a fuel or indirectly, to help generate electricity as part of fuel cell power systems.
Brian Hess, however, is out to change all that – largely by racing a rough-and-ready “hydrogen hybrid” he recently raced in the brutal Baja 500, putting it through extreme conditions (and crashes) most vehicles will never experience over their life cycle.
[Check out the clip below – it’ll give you a flavor of how rough the conditions are – including some “pilot view” shots of one of the rollovers Brian experienced.]
The founder Hessgen Inc., Hess wants to convince everyone that operates motor vehicles – everyday motorists and truckers alike – that hydrogen is a fuel just as safe as the gasoline and diesel currently powering their cars and trucks alike.
His technological invention – dubbed the H2G System – injects a percentage of hydrogen gas into the combustion reaction, on the order of 10% to 20% of the total fuel mix, for either compression (read as diesel) or spark ignition engines. It’s available for passenger cars with up to 4.6 liter engines, trucks and SUVs operating 4.6 liter to 7.3 liter engines, and big rigs running 7.3 liter engines and up.
Every model comes with the required engine management modules in a plug and play format that control the hydrogen injection, he said. That addition of hydrogen has been shown to decrease the formation of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and unburned hydrocarbons coming out of the vehicle’s tailpipe andyehre from 20% to 40%, while boosting fuel economy 20% to 40% in the bargain.
The theory behind this concept of lower emissions/greater fuel economy is that the addition of hydrogen can extend the lean operation limit, improve the lean burn ability, and decrease burn duration.
OK – that’s nice, of course. But the top questions truckers ask when such technology arrives with great fanfare revolve around price and reliability. How much does a “hydrogen hybrid” system cost? I don’t know the answer to this one. Now, in terms of its reliability, Hess’s sojourn in the Baja 500 reveals some answers.
For starters, his “Hessgen Hydrogen #88” off road truck racer is powered by a 700 hp engine – showing that Hess’s “hydrogen hybrid” concept can work with the “big bore” units used by commercial trucks. Second, he had only three weeks to get this prototype ready for action – meaning that this wasn’t some specially-crafted vehicle that required years of lab work to get ready.
Finally, Hess flipped his racer over within the first five miles of the race, landing the entire vehicle – weighing some 5,000 pounds – right on top of the hydrogen fuel injection system. No explosion resulted from this rollover and, once righted, the vehicle’s engine and hydrogen injection system turned over and kept running – allowing him to finish the race.
“This alone proved that the system is safe in an impact-rollover crash and tough enough to meet the demands of everyday over-the-road driving,” Hess said. All told, Hess covered the 500 miles of the Baja off-road race in just over 21 hours and 40 minutes of nonstop driving.
Does this mean Hessgen’s H2G system is a “silver bullet” to meet all of our complex transportation energy needs? Hardly. What it DOES demonstrate is that we may have more options for fueling our cars and trucks on the table than we suspect – technologies that might, with the right engineering and planning, be a lot simpler to implement than we think.