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Pennsylvania Shell Eco-Marathon Team Given Critical Support by Horizon Educational

At Horizon Educational, we pride ourselves on not only delivering fuel cell stacks quickly (with lead times often only being a number of days), but we’re renowned for our customer service and support. Once a fuel cell stack is delivered – this is often only the beginning of a conversation between the customer and Horizon Educational about how we can meet their needs and ensure their system operates as intended.

A good example of this process in action is in from Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, USA. Twenty Montgomery engineering students working on ‘Project INNOVA’ (a Shell-Eco Marathon car powered by a Horizon fuel cell stack) took their hydrogen-powered car to the 2023 Shell Eco-Marathon Americas race in April – but things didn’t quite go to plan.

“The IGBT, which is part of the Short Circuit Unit (SCU), failed and prevented the fuel cell from starting. Radek Jelinek [Horizon’s Fuel Cell Customer Advisor] helped us identify that as a problem and find a solution” said Griff Francis, Technical Advisor at Montgomery County Community College.

Pennsylvania Shell-Eco HorizonEducational
Pennsylvania Shell-Eco HorizonEducational

There were an array of other issues Horizon Educational helped the Pennsylvania Eco-Marathon team solve:

“Our Fuel cell wasn’t functioning. After exchanging e-mails with Horizon, we decided it was likely that the System Controller was broken. A new one was expensive (50). After noticing that the microcontroller in the System Controller was socketed, I asked Radek from Horizon if it was possible to get another one and try it before buying a whole new controller. This is not a normally available spare part. He was able to arrange for us to get two microcontrollers for the cost of shipping them. That fixed our problem’.

Horizon’s ongoing support continued when the tubing that carried the hydrogen needed to be replaced: “The tubing is specially designed for hydrogen and is in metric size I couldn’t find any for sale in the United States that wasn’t an Imperial size. Horizon found some and provided a means for me to get a very quick delivery.”

Overall the Pennsylvania team didn’t pass the technical check before the race, but were given a new lease on life by the generosity of another team who were willing to donate their fuel cell stack to help a competitor in need.

“They were initially skeptical”, said Professor William Brownlowe of Montgomery County Community College. “A fuel cell is not something you would readily lend to someone because the knowledge of how to operate and maintain it is critical. You could do what we did to ours, which is damage it. We over-pressurized it. That’s what caused it to leak. So, you’re pushing a lot of hydrogen out of the cell and you’re not even using it. It’s like blowing gasoline out your tail pipe, and you’re not even burning it.”

Pennsylvania Shell-Eco HorizonEducational

As a demonstration of their gratitude, the students from Pennsylvania nominated the team for the Shell Eco-Marathon Spirit of the Event Award, which it eventually won, and its members took home a $ 3,000 prize.

Another issue the Pennsylvania team had to overcome was the size of their energy storage system, or super capacitor bank.

“We didn’t have a supercapacitor bank of any great significance. We noticed that all of the other cars that were in our hydrogen urban concept category had substantial supercapacitor banks. And we didn’t.” said Professor Brownlowe.

To keep his team competitive, Professor Brownlowe was able to organize a shipment of a larger supercapacitor bank at lightning speed overnight.

“The team was ecstatic,” he said. “They were so, so happy.”

Interested in learning more about how Horizon Educational has powered Shell Eco-Marathon Teams to Victory? Check out our story about Green Team Twente from The Netherlands here.

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