Our friend and colleague Stephen Kilbey has been fascinated by the potential for Hydrogen fuel cell technology from the start of talk that this might be a key to cleaner, electrified mobility, and in particular in motorsport.
He’s been slogging along finding out more about the potential for the tech, and the current plans to roll it out in endurance motorsport via both the H24 technology demonstrator programme, the current car makes its race debut at Monza in the Michelin Le Mans Cup, and with the arrival in a few year’s time of the new regulations for the Le Mans 24 Hours which are set to see fuel-cell powered cars potentially competing for an overall win at Le Mans.
Well worth noting up front here is the difference between fuel cell tech and a couple of other notable racing efforts which used hydrogen as a fuel, but with hydrogen combustion and not fuel-cell hydrogen electric drive.
Both the 2013 Aston Martin Rapide (which raced successfully at the Nürburgring 24 Hours), and the Toyota Corolla raced at the 2021 Fuji 24 Hours used hydrogen combustion, a fundamentally different technology, though it gives the potential for a zero emissions adaptation of current engine technology, it is far less energy efficient than the fuel cell alternative.
The H24 testbed has progressed very substantially since its first public test runs two years ago, with huge progress being made despite the challenges of the pandemic.
The industry partnership behind the effort now includes GreenGT, Totalenergies, Michelin and Adess as well as the ACO themselves with the radically upgraded 2021 car set to shoot for GT3 levels of performance on track.
That though is but a stepping stone for what comes next with ACO President Pierre Fillon telling DSC last month that the technical working group discussing the planned 2024 regulations now numbers eight manufacturers.
He was clear though that this does not mean that there will be a long queue, initially at least, for early entry with a fuel-cell equipped car for the new regulations, indeed DSC expects there to be a single early taker, though whether this is as early as 2024 is still to be determined , Mr Fillon telling DSC that “we will make a decision at the end of June about timing.”
Against the new regulations, the car(s) are for Le Mans only for 2024 (or whenever year one emerges) though it is expected that compliant cars could be accepted into other WEC races in the following season.
The logistics of hydrogen filling facilities at WEC tracks are amongst the principal reasons for delay with TotalEnergies refining their portably filling station, already demonstrated at Spa in 2019.
At present DSC believes that the manufacturer closest to committing to a fuel cell car, with the already announced ‘spec’ package of an ORECA/ Red Bull Advanced Technologies chassis, Green GT powertrain and Plastic Omnium tanks is Hyundai, multiple industry sources confirming that the South Korean manufacturer is keen to display its technological progress on a global stage.
The picture above is Hyundai’s Muroc concept car, a 2025 virtual design that has no immediate relevance to the rules in question, other, that is, that the ‘design’ features hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Bringing a competitive hydrogen fuel cell racer to a stage already occupied by the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, Peugeot, Toyota and Acura/ Honda (with others to follow) would certainly achieve that, particularly in light of public statements from some of their rivals that have cast doubt on the maturity of the technology at this point.