Principles of Engineering: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Project


WHY did I pursue this project? Where am I getting my inspiration from?

This is a project that I pursued as a junior in high school at Clear Springs, which was from Fall 2016 to Spring 2017. The course is known today as Engineering Science. There were two main purposes of this project:

  1. To teach us how to effectively use gear ratios to increase the efficiency in the drive train of a vehicle
  2. To expose us to sustainable forms of energy that could be used to fuel cars in the future

The prompt for the project is as follows: design the lightest yet fastest possible car that utilizes at least one hydrogen fuel cell. We will be graded on quality of sketches, speed of car, and weight of the car.

HOW did I pursue this project? What processes were needed to complete it?

I started with a brainstorming session with my partner, Justin. We first revisited the empirical formulae for gear ratios:

Notice how all the ratios have output gears in the numerator and input gears in the denominator, except for that of angular velocity.

We specifically used heliocentris reversible fuel cells, which are used in VEX robotics. This fuel cell can generate electricity from the electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and hydroxide. Simply add water and hook up the alligator cables to see it in action!


Here are some examples Justin and I have developed to tackle the design problem. We used a rapid, iterative process where we observed the problems and developed solutions:

Attempt 1:

Time = 999 seconds (16–17 minutes)

Weight = 660 g

Problems = The front gear gets caught, differing gear ratios. The support beam is too long, or there’s too many support beams

Solutions = take away one support beam, match gear ratios on the other side

Attempt 2:

Time = 999 seconds (16–17 minutes)

Weight = 679 g

Problems = fuel ran out (stalled previously), bottom wire touched floor, biggest gears are scraping in the opposite direction

Solutions = adding a second fuel cell, changing the gears (taking off one gear from both sides and decreasing the gear ratio from 1/3 to 1/5).

Attempt 3 (Final Attempt):

This attempt remains untested. The time, weight, problems, and solutions are all unknown.

WHAT did I learn in this process? What new skills did I acquire (soft or technical)?

I learned about gear ratios and how they are crucial in the efficiency in the drive trains of vehicles. I also learned about hydrogen fuel cells and how they have the potential to decarbonize our transportation.

I also learned how to work well with a fellow engineer and how to rapidly test and iterate to fix the problems in a design as quickly as possible.

WHAT are my next steps? Do I have another project planned? How have people responded?

While I only have sketches and technical info left from this project, this course prepared me well for my high school CAPSTONE course, Engineering Design & Development. I will write about this course in my next blog post.

Male | 21 | He/Him | UT Austin ‘22 | Engineer/Entrepreneur | Space City (Houston, TX) | 3rd Gen German-American