Aston Martin will race this hydrogen-powered, twin-turbocharged Rapide S at the Nurburgring 24 hour endurance race in May 2013. The radical Rapide is set to become the first hydrogen-powered car to compete in an international racing event, and the only car ever to complete a racing lap of the infamous Nordschleife without emitting so much as a gram of carbon dioxide. Read on for the under-the-skin tech lowdown.
What modifications does the Aston Rapide S Hydrogen hybrid get?
Under the bonnet, you'll still find a 6.0-litre V12 engine, like the ‘regular’ Aston Rapide S. However, this V12 has been boosted by twin turbos, and can run on pure gasoline, pure gaseous hydrogen, or a mixture of both.
Using hydrogen to run a piston engine isn't anything like as efficient as utilising a fuel-cell-juiced electric motor like the Honda FCX Clarity’s drivetrain, but hydrogen engines do cut overall CO2 output compared with raw petrol power. The Aston’s dual-fuel ability allows the race team to switch strategy during the event, opting either for maximum petrol performance, or more frugal hydrogen running. And while lapping on pure hydrogen, the Rapide racing car emits nothing but water vapour from its dual exhausts.
The car's hydrogen is stored in four ultra-high strength carbonfibre tanks, holding 3.23kg of hydrogen stored at a pressure of 350bar. Two of the tanks are housed next to the driver, while the other two live in the boot. Aston Martin claims the system offers sports car performance, and the carbon footprint of a supermini. The system offers a 250km range: enough for 10 laps of the Nordschleife.
For its racing brief, the Rapide S has had its cabin stripped out, and is equipped with upgraded brakes, lightweight alloy wheels, and racing tyres. Interestingly, there are no obvious aerodynamic tweaks. It's likely that a slippery body shape for ultimate efficiency has been judged more important than a huge level of downforce – this is a technical exercise first, and a competitive racer second.
Tell me more about the development of hydrogen power in regular cars
The Aston's hydrogen powertrain has been developed by Austrian firm Alset Global. The Austrian firm says its philosophy of making internal combustion piston engines hydrogen and petrol-friendly overcomes the problems of a lack of hydrogen fuel infrastructure, while reducing our petrol dependency and greenhouse gas emissions.
Though there are no plans to make a road-going Rapide S Hydrogen Hybrid, Alset Global argues that converted hydrogen/petrol cars could easily beat the new EU CO2 emission regulations, set to come into force in 2015 and 2020, and that the dual-fuel tech side-steps the need for manufacturers to downsize their engines. Essentially, they’re saying hydrogen plus petrol know-how could prove to be the saviour of large-displacement engines as used by classic brands like Aston Martin, Ferrari and Lamborghini.