What if an alternative to electricity was acid?
Building a car that is powered by formic acid: that is the ambition of Team FAST, a multidisciplinary student team from Eindhoven University of Technology. Formic acid is basically a sustainable liquid that stores hydrogen but having more benefits compared to hydrogen and electric powered cars.
By using formic acid as a fuel, Team FAST hopes to combine the strengths of electric and hydrogen powered cars without any of the drawbacks. Electric cars depend on batteries and thus have a limited range and a long charging time. An electric car can go further using hydrogen but the drawback here is that hydrogen is expensive to transport and store, and it also has to be transported under high pressure, which poses explosive risks.
TECHNOLOGIST: What would happen in case of a road accident?
TEAM FAST: We do take safety into consideration. The amount of acid won’t so much of a problem, considering it will only be small amounts and is neither flammable nor explosive: compared to fossil fuels or hydrogen this is a huge advantage. When you water down the solution it is definitely no problem, since the acid also exists in nature (plants and ants for example). One solution could be adding a base to neutralize the acid, and on top of that, we are planning to put the system in an extra safety box.
Team FAST is a multidisciplinary team of 20 students. Their idea for a formic acid powered car won them one of the Eindhoven BRAINS awards for sustainability last year as well as a grant of €50,000 in the Dutch STW technology foundation’s Open Mind competition.
Formic acid – so called because ants (formica in Latin) and other insects can produce it – offers the possibility to store hydrogen easily. A chemical reaction, discovered last year by TU/e researchers, enables hydrogen and CO2 to be converted at high speed into formic acid, and vice versa. Due to the liquid nature of formic acid, hydrogen can be transported easily and cheaply.
Equivalent to gasoline
Team FAST sees possibilities for these reactions to take place in a car, whereby hydrogen is used to power a fuel cell. For the consumer using formic acid will be like using gasoline. This similarity will also ensure that formic acid can easily be incorporated into the existing fuel infrastructure, Next to that, formic acid can be much more widely applied as an energy carrier; solar and wind energy can also be stored in formic acid, and then used when required.
First car to run on formic acid
In 2017/2018 Team FAST wants to have built the world’s first car powered by formic acid. They will do that by converting an existing hydrogen-powered car. In January 2016, the team presented the concept on a small scale car (about a meter long), which is able to drive on formic acid. Before the end of 2016, they hope to see a formic- acid-powered bus running down Eindhoven’s streets.
Adapted from article by TU/e Online News