Trying to run 1,200 miles (1,931 km) in a notoriously tough and thorny desert is difficult on its own. Developing a zero-emission fuel cell off-roader, the first of its kind, to complete this task is even more difficult. Skipping hydrogen as a common compressed gas in favor of cryogenic liquid hydrogen, so you can’t even find it to test, let alone pump it into your 4×4…well, that’s just madness. But if your resume already includes an entry titled “Frankenhooker,” your screws are probably loose enough to try. Or it is at Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus (SCG), anyway. The company’s plans now call for its hydrogen-powered Boot Baja racer to run on liquefied hydrogen, which stores at -423ºF (-253ºC) and ignites with the smallest of sparks.
Last we looked at it, SCG’s fuel cell trunk was a pretty nondescript crew-cab pickup truck with its rear seats replaced with hydrogen-powered gear. Six months later, it’s an absolute beast with a front-mounted spare tire, an exo-cage, headlights swept back almost to the windshield and a bed filled with a returned hydrogen tank.
We’re emphasizing “rendering” not just because we’re looking at early renders instead of photos, but because Glickenhaus hasn’t yet figured out how exactly it’s going to transport liquefied hydrogen on board. So it’s basically coloring in a cool-looking metal tank protected by a knobby bed cage.
“There are no FIA regulations for off-road hydrogen safety, no NHTSA regulations for on-road vehicle safety, only about four labs that can even test at cryogenic hydrogen temperatures overall. from the United States, no existing on-board tanks that meet our needs, no refueling infrastructure,” SCG bluntly admitted in a creative Q&A-style announcement this week. “Hell, we haven’t been able to get us cryogenic hydrogen for testing.”
So why on earth is the company looking for cryogenic hydrogen to power a vehicle that will blast its way through the desert? From what we can glean from the ad, SCG sees its role as being a small, high-end racing and road-focused shop that pushes boundaries and comes up with new ideas that mainstream automotive won’t touch. – in this case, developing the knowledge and means to use cryogenic hydrogen as a viable automotive fuel.
“Glickenhaus Zero builds the future of transport, so we don’t make existing things,” the company points out.
The advantage of using liquid hydrogen lies in its higher energy density, at least by weight. Liquid hydrogen has a density of 120 megajoules per kilogram, while gasoline contains just over a third at 44 MJ/kg. At the bottom of the scale, lithium-ion batteries have a fractional energy density of less than 1 MJ/kg.
But as we all know from school age, hydrogen is the lightest of all elements. Liquid hydrogen is, of course, denser than gaseous hydrogen, but it still takes a large volume of liquid hydrogen to reach that kilogram, so its energy per volume decreases significantly. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Hydrogen Storage and Fuel Cell Technologies points out that liquid hydrogen has a quarter of the energy of gasoline per liter at 8 MJ/L versus 32 MJ/ L for gasoline. That’s why liquid hydrogen tends to be stored in huge stationary tanks and transported on tank trucks…not two-door Baja pre-runners.
And storage space is just one of a list of major hurdles facing this project, a list that also includes flammability, energy loss during liquefaction, and evaporation during storage. . Such hurdles have so far prevented liquid hydrogen from becoming the hydrogen fuel of choice for small race cars or street-legal light vehicles, although efforts have been made in the past. SCG will also need to develop its own refueling infrastructure in order to fill the cryo tank during the Baja Race.
Long story short, it looks like SCG has a world of work ahead of it, especially since it’s previously indicated it wants to run the hydrogen boot at the 2022 Baja 1000. It’s teamed up with what seems to be the perfect engineering to push the boundaries partner of Australian-American company First Mode, which brings its experience in working on massive (literally) hydrogen-related challenges.
“Today, if you look at a hydrogen vehicle, it runs on hydrogen gas. The industry has kind of just embraced that,” said Tomás Lafferriere, First Mode’s SCG Boot project manager, after SCG ran the V8-powered Boot in last year’s Baja 1000. “There’s no big technical reason for that. Liquid hydrogen provides a bit more power, but running it on any circuit has never been done before. It’s brutally at the state of the art.”
Brutally avant-garde, indeed. But what’s the point of having an experimental world adventure 4×4 like the Boot if you can’t cut some edges with it?