Could Hydrogen Combustion Be a Better Alternative Than Electricity for Race Cars?

Jason Crosby
Updated on Jun 1, 2022 · 3 min read
According to one automotive expert, a federal ban on ICE vehicles could render the current racing world obsolete, unless engineers and enthusiasts alike invest in alternative energy forms. One of those fuel sources includes hydrogen combustion—a way of powering a vehicle that you may have never heard of. With the possibility to be used in everything from NASCAR to Formula 1 cars, hydrogen combustion power could be an essential key to the future of modern racing. 

Mike Copeland’s hydrogen-based dreams

Autoweek explains that the 26-year GM employee and the founder of Arrington Performance (a racing company), Mike Copeland, predicts a big problem looming above the racing world: the elimination of ICE vehicles. Autoweek reported that Copeland is pushing for the acceptance and development of hydrogen-powered vehicles as an alternative to gasoline. 
Having developed a drag-racing, hydrogen-powered ‘48 Chevy truck that churns out over 500 hp, Copeland wants the California Air Resources Board to consider hydrogen-combustion-powered vehicles as a viable alternative fuel for California residents to use—and the board agreed. 

Why use hydrogen instead of electricity? 

The reason that Copeland is pushing for the use of electricity in race cars is that EVs don’t make the noise that fans and drivers are used to. This might sound like a silly reason to turn away from racing EVs, but ask anyone who’s ever been to a Formula 1 or NASCAR race: the roar of the engines is half the fun. 
Copeland described how Ford’s Cobra Jet 1400 (an EV) failed to impress crowds at a recent NHRA meet in Las Vegas. Even though running a quarter-mile in under 9 seconds, it was so quiet that fans didn’t know how to respond. 

How would hydrogen be used in race cars?  

Copeland’s plan sounds impossibly simple: to keep developing ICEs in race cars, but to use hydrogen to create the necessary combustion needed to power the vehicles. The ‘48 Chevy being developed by Arrington Performance is a test run—a way to determine if an aftermarket kit could help owners and technicians to convert gasoline-powered cars into hydrogen-powered hot rods. 
While no key developments have been released so far, Copeland explained that gas-powered engines will need upgraded pistons and piston rods, as well as injectors that have to be modified to spray hydrogen into the engine, which weighs less than gasoline. 

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