Radio-controlled car runs on soda can rings
By Ben Coxworth
April 19, 2011
As anyone who has seen Back to the Future will remember, the movie ended with Doc Brown fueling the time-traveling DeLorean's "Mr. Fusion" reactor with household waste. Well, a student and a professor from the School of Industrial and Aeronautic Engineering at Barcelona's Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) have taken a step towards making that scenario a reality by adapting a radio-controlled model car to run on hydrogen fuel derived from waste aluminum and water. In a nod to the movie, they have named the car the dAlh2Orean ... as in, d-aluminum-water-rean.
The car was created as the final project of engineering student Aleix Llovet, whose work was supervised by Prof. Xavier Salueña. It's also part of UPC's Aluminium project, which is aimed at the development of actual passenger-carrying microcars that use recycled aluminum as fuel.
The first step in creating fuel for the dAlh2Orean involves combining waste aluminum with a sodium hydroxide catalyst. The reaction produces hydrogen, which is passed through a vinegar and water filter to remove hydroxides. It then goes through a silica gel filter, to remove moisture and boost its performance. Finally it goes into a fuel cell, where it provides enough power to run the car for about 40 minutes, sending it to a top speed of 30 km/h (18.6 mph).
Llovet and Salueña state that their patented system produces no carbon dioxide, and that its other byproducts can be reused – aluminum hydroxide created in the aluminum-sodium hydroxide reaction can be converted into alumina (which can then be made into aluminum), while salt can be harvested from the vinegar-water filtration medium.
The two researchers are now looking into the feasibility of scaling the system up for use in real automobiles. Readers who simply like the idea of a hydrogen-powered r/c model car can already buy one, in the form of Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies' H-Racer 2.0, or Corgi's H2GO.