Aston Martin: Just Add Hydrogen

It's hitherto unknown whether the hydrogen-powered Rapide S that Aston Martin is racing at this year’s 24 Hours of Nürburgring event will set the first ever zero-emissions lap of the notorious Nordschliefe circuit or recreate the equally infamous Hindenburg disaster, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

The Rapide has, to be fair, recently completed a non-competitve lap (above), and I’ve been assured by Gonzalo Auil - one of the regional managers at hydrogen experts Alset Global, who have made this attempt possible – that “the latest technologies have proven that compressed hydrogen is no more dangerous than any gasoline tank”. It still seems a courageous deed to take an already highly-strung and now potentially volatile race car around the 12.8-mile track that encloses the tiny village of Nürburg, pop.148. That’s seventy-three corners and an elevation change of 984-feet, all at speeds approaching 260km/h.

The Aston Martin Hydrogen Hybrid Rapide S, to give it its full name, will use a twin-turbo 6.0-litre V12 that can take either gasoline or hydrogen exclusively, or a mixture of the two for maximum power. It’s a unique, relatively inexpensive and altogether more straightforward application of hydrogen mobility in comparison to the ruinously expensive fuel cell technology that we’ve been promised by various manufacturers for the past thirty years. Auil adds that the actual application of the hydrogen gas is very similar to that of compressed natural gas, which is already relatively widespread.

The Rapide carries 3.23kg of gaseous hydrogen in four super-strength carbon fibre storage tanks, two of which sit next to the driver. In more moderate driving conditions that’s enough fuel for a 200-300km range, but at race-pace it will last only a precious few laps. Each time the Rapide pits during the 24-hours the race it will be refuelled firstly with hydrogen and then with gasoline. Somewhat awkwardly, the facilities at the Nurburgring do not permit the replenishing of both fuels simultaneously.

Whilst a hydrogen-powered racecar gives Aston Martin a nice slice of green technology in a portfolio full of heavy drinkers, the real goal is to get this technology into road cars. Auil says it’s currently mature enough – although admits that there are still reliability tests to pass - and believes that unlike electric and hybrid cars (which, he adds, will always have their own urban-centric niche), Alset Global’s approach focuses more on changing the type of fuel our cars use, rather than the engine.

Estimated conversion costs amount to around 15% of a vehicle’s standard value, so a hydrogen hybrid Volkswagen Golf GTI, for example, would cost in the region of £28,750. Considering such a Golf would have 200-or-so miles of driving range with nothing exiting the exhaust pipes except water, on top of the 500-mile gasoline range, Alset’s model is hard to dispute.

Aston Martin’s impending lap of the ‘Ring makes for a stirring headline, but the bigger story here is the potential this technology has to transform the way we use hydrogen. Alset Global is currently working to open up a dialogue with various European governments to garner some political commitment to the hydrogen cause. After all, they can only build the cars, not the infrastructure.

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