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MotorWeek Video Transcript: DOE Fuel Cell Model Car Challenge

John Davis:Get together a bunch of teens excited about everything from cars to chemistry, and it’s amazing what they can come up with. At the National Science Bowl, our Henry Kopacz discovered thousands of kids who are challenging themselves to take technology and their imaginations “Over The Edge.”

Henry Kopacz: Energy conservation is a popular topic these days.  And nowhere is it more important than in the automotive world. But, as it turns out, some of the best ideas are coming from somewhere other than the industry’s big guns.

What do you get when you take a piece of balsa wood or foam, add a fuel cell, electric motor and few other assorted bits and pieces?  Well, you have a fuel cell vehicle!  And while these “cars” might be small in size, they’re big in new technology.

And the place to see these high-tech wheeled wonders is at the United States Department of Energy’s 17th Annual National Science Bowl.  Held at the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland the Science Bowl is the culmination of an academic competition consisting of more than 12,000 students from 1800 high schools across the U.S., Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

As part of the bowl’s activities, which ranged from knowledge competitions to in-depth seminars with guest speakers, sixteen teams of students competed to build, and race, hydrogen fuel cell model cars.

Designing a fuel cell car from scratch using some pretty high-tech parts isn’t exactly a piece of cake.  So, event supervisors were at the students beckon call if any “shocking” questions had to be answered.

General Motors, a major sponsor of the fuel cell race, and a committed player in the research and development of fuel cell powered vehicles, had their HydroGen 3 fuel cell car on site.  Students and spectators alike had the chance to check out and see first hand where this new technology is heading.

Raj Choudhury, Manager Public Policy, General Motors, Washington, DC: We firmly believe that the high school students who are here at the National Science Bowl will have the opportunity as they come out of college careers to  work on this type of technology should they choose to.  And we also hope and firmly believe that they will have the opportunity to drive vehicles that are based on fuel cell technology.

Kopacz: Completed cars were judged in two events, the first being a ten meter speed race where the fastest car wins.  The second was more of an endurance-hill climb, where cars had to reach the summit of a six foot inclined-track in less than two minutes, with each run steeper than the previous.

All the buzz about fuel cell powered vehicles isn’t about what they produce, it’s about what they don’t produce, and that’s greenhouse gasses like Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide. Fuel cell powered vehicles use a chemical reaction that turns their hydrogen fuel into electricity, which in turn powers an electric motor to propel the vehicle.  Unlike conventional internal combustion engines, the only byproduct of the chemical reaction is water vapor. Pure H2O!

And this is no kids stuff. If the positive reaction the teams had to building and racing their cars is any meter, alternative fuels will have a big impact on motoring world’s future.

And, these young adults just may be the ones to develop them.

Sue Ellen Walbridge, Manager National Science Bowl, U.S. Department of Energy: Well, we do want to interest students in math and science, we want to encourage them, for careers in those fields, because we want them as our future workforce, and our seventeen national laboratories, all of our facilities as well as our industry and university partners.

This isn’t just a competition, it is an educational event and we like to stress the fact that they’re coming here to learn, not just to compete.

Kopacz: So, who were this year's winners?  Team Edwin O. Smith High School from Storrs, CT for the speed run and Team Bridgeport High School from Bridgeport, WV for the hill climb.  Each team took home $1,750 dollars for their school’s science departments.

Now, while these cars may never see the production line, because of events like this, in the not too distant future, vehicles using similar fuel cell technology just might.