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Waterloo Wins Year 1 Challenge X with Hydrogen Fuel Cell Hybrid Design

A team from the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) beat the competition from 16 US universities to take top place overall at the Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility engineering competition with their fuel-cell-powered vehicle design.

Challenge X (earlier post) is a three-year competition sponsored by General Motors and the US Department of Energy.

The four-day event at GM University, held from June 5 to 8, marked the end of the first year of the competition, which focused on design, modeling and simulation. Years two and three of the competition—which focus on the actual engineering and integration of the powertrain into a Chevy Equinox—will be held at the end of the 2006 and 2007 academic years.

The Waterloo team, sponsored by Natural Resources Canada and Hydrogenics Corporation, was the only one to use fuel cells in their design.

The Waterloo propulsion system uses a series fuel-cell hybrid design based on a Hydrogenics PEM fuel cell, COBASYS 288-volt NiMH battery and Ballard 54-kW electric drive.

The University of Akron took second place with a parallel hybrid design using a 1.9-liter Volkswagen TDI biodiesel-powered engine and a Ballard 65-kilowatt/45-kilowatt drive motor.

The Ohio State University grabbed third-place with a parallel biodiesel hybrid design that features a Panasonic NiMH battery and a 1.9-liter Fiat 110-kilowatt CIDI engine.

(A hat-tip to Faraz S.!)



Do we know what the current unsubsidized price for a fuel cell car, and a tank of hydrogen gas are?

Recent predictions for "practicality" have varied between 10 years (Toyota) and maybe never (BMW). When people win a challenge like this with a (iirc) donated fuel cell, it leaves me a bit confused.

I'm impressed with the 2nd and 3rd placed winners, whose cars I'm pretty sure I could affored, unsubsidized.


Still stratospheric.

I’ve asked for more details on each of the top 3.

MIke Halpin

Congratulations to the troops.
A well earned victory at Waterloo. Keep up the good fight and save us from future oil wars!
Our future is with "H"





While you do bring up some interesting points, I feel compelled to a reply as I feel there may be a few items you are not considering.

As I am a member of the Waterloo team, I am quite familiar with the design and the competition. First, as to your question on cost, good question, and my response is that they're fairly expensive at this point. What I would like to focus on though is that posting a number would be very misleading as you would be comparing a very mature combustion engine technology to a much younger fuel cell technology, that requires significant R&D costs. We are seeing fuel cells being cost competitive in other markets (eg. UPS), which will help develop the technology and reduce cost.

As far as the term 'unsubsidized', I would say that subsidies are both a good thing and are present in all fuels. It is responsible public policy to provide service to a nation via subsidies, especially when it deals with an item that is critical to the citizens. Second, when you consider the non-war miliatary cost of ensuring the safe transport of oil from the middle east, tax credits for oil exploration, and a number of other subsidies, gasoline is not without its subsidies. Biodiesel and ethanol are also, again as they should be, subsidized. All subsized, and justifiably so.

As for your reference to the predictions on feasibility, and in particular the reference to BMW. I am curious about your source, as BMW, like all other OEM's have invested significant resources into the hydrogen future. What makes BMW unique, is that one of their major efforts is focused on hydrogen combustion. And I would like to highlight that all the OEM's are investing significant amounts of money into hydrogen. If they didn't think it was feasible, why would they do this? 10 years is a long time, but so is the time required to shift to a different energy carrier.

As far as being impressed with the 2nd and 3rd place winners, so am I. All 16 other vehicle designs are very, very exciting and innovative and I am honoured to be part of a competition that houses such talented and dedicated teams. While we are "competing", we are all going after the same goal - to help us shift into a new era of sustainable mobility.

Ethanol, biodiesel, and reformulated gasoline are critical in achieving that shift. My personal view is that those fuels are essential in the near and mid terms, while hydrogen will be the long term solution.

And yes, costs are higher for all of these technologies, but the alternative is to do nothing and not be prepared for when gas prices rise to an unfeasible level. I am very excited that there a number of forward thinking companies and governments that are absorbing near term costs to ensure we all share a long term future.

Thanks for the vote of confidence Mike H. We'll continue to try our best to do our part.


Thanks for the long answer Matt ;-).

I guess I do sound a little hard on hydrogen at this point. To be clear though, I do absolutely support research to bring down the costs of hydrogen fuel cell cars, and research into an economical infrastructure. My frustration really comes from the "premature deployment" of infrastructre, in "hydrogen highways" at a time when ... unsubsidized costs are to hight to even speak.

I'm big on all research actually, just cautious about deployment, and about the messages sent to the public. I think the public, FWIW, has a false impression that hydrogen cars are a "done deal."

Anyway, the BMW statement was this:

We think the future is not so radical. All of our consideration is on internal combustion engines. We’re not sure fuel cells will happen—other than as the power source for everything driven electronically, such as air conditioning, in-car entertainment, lights, etc. For this application, the fuel cell makes perfect sense. But as the power source for driving the car? That is a huge step.

Rather, we think the internal combustion engine, fuelled by liquid hydrogen is perfect. The technology exists. The internal combustion engine also offers much better power density and efficiency than fuel cells. Fuel cells have such a long way to go. I'm not sure anyone would be able to pay the bills.

From an earlier GCC:


(I've probably missed a few points - I shouldn't post right after I wake up - with a coffee level of zero)


As I wake up a little, I think I should just name my fear:

That people will keep driving big cars (and SUVs) because (they are told) they can switch to fuel cells in ten years (when they are "economical").

Heck, I saw a blog where some poor guy said something like "gas is getting to be $2/gal ... I'd wish those fuel cells would arrive." Like we have any idea at this point that (unsubsidized) fuel cells will beat $2/gal gas!

Anyway, you might have a different starting point north of the border, because AFAIK you don't have the whack'd wet of fuel economy standards (and SUV loopholes) we have down here in "the land of (depleted) oil."


(lots of typos above, but maybe "whack'd wet" instead of "whack'd set" is most confusing)


Maybe my first response was just a little long. :)

For hydrogen highways, we need to test both the vehicle and the refueling technology. And these "highways" are the best way for this testing, eventhough it may/will supercede full scale commercialization.

More importantly, you and I both share the same fear. While hydrogen vehicle technology is rapidly advancing, there still remains more work. The general approach that many people on our continent (both sides of the border) have taken that energy will always be cheap and readily available is reason for concern. Hydrogen is an energy carrier and still requires an energy source. While some of those sources are renewable, natural gas is among those that will be depleted first. Regardless of fuel, we need to start being more aware of our energy use.

The idea that people shouldn't rely on a hydrogen future to allow us to waste energy today is a great point. I hope more people take that to heart.



Thanks Matt, again for what it's worth, a google news search on the "hydrogen highway" shows what's up around the world. I think the short-term expectations are running a little high.


Congractulations on all teams participating int this competition, though its less of a competition as they all have similar goals, only the idea of a top spot motivates people.

I am really all for R&D into new technology, but its shocking how little or ill informed the public is on the topic of Hydrogen economy. Media and politicians throw the term around around too often making it act like a pacifier for all the bad fuel habbits.

What is really needed is a paradigm shift in the way the american society behaves. And environmental conciousness should be taught right from kindagaten so students could take what they learn in class to the outside world.

Regarding the ChallengeX GM should have iniciated something more realistic. I don't see the idea of reengineering an already inefficient piece of automobile as a solution, but as a familiarity experience for the participants. Why did they not use a malibu or chevy aveo. The SUV craziness is already too much.

All this research money could have been used for battery development programs and competitions which would yield more fruitful results. Battery electric vehicles are much closer than the much tauted fuelcells and the best part is the infrastructure already exist. No need for expensive hydrogen highway or storage tanks.

MIke Halpin

Since making contact with the troops at Waterloo I have had this recurring dream.
It is all about catching the hydrogen wave.
I am walking through the sand dunes the location must be California as all the people on the beach are wearing smog masks. in fact they are wearing more on their faces than their bodies.
A strange happening is taking place at the waters edge a motley crew are sitting on deck chairs hands linked in what seems to be a Canute like effort to stop this huge wave from surging up on to the highway.
From a distance I can make them out as a mixture of Oil Barons, Industrialists that have invested in the old combustion engine, A couple of train spotters who are flying the "bring back steam flag" a party of "petrol heads" and finally a lone guy pushing his own wheelbarrow loaded with books, the title "Hydrogen must be a myth because I can not see it"
Mean while out at sea the troops from Waterloo are sitting astride their new nano tube carbon boards having a whale of a time.
Should I join the "boring old wind breakers at the waters edge or should I grab one of those new fangled boards, paddle out and join in the fun and ride the biggest wave in history.
The decision was made easy the wind breakers capitulated and started singing the old Abba song "Waterloo".
I hit the water with the words they were singing "I was defeated you won the war" ringing in my ears
Sadly the dream ends here.
Your comments will be analysed and appreciated!!


what this country needs is a massive.. hoover dam, apollo space program, manhatten project like endevour to bring in the hydrogen/fusion age. If i were president i'd have declaired my intent of making fossil fuels obsolete in ten years instead of landing people on mars. I have little doubt it could be done excepting the power the fossil fuel industry holds over this countrys politicians. Little money.. mabye a lot.. up front to free us in the future. sooner we start reaping dividends the better. but no.. looks like mars is the best/least offensive "goal" this country can permit.

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