An Aston Martin Rapide S, running on hydrogen, successfully completed the Nürburgring 24 hours

Aston Martin has raced the world’s first hydrogen-powered race car in an FIA-sanctioned event, completing the first race-pace zero-emissions lap of the Nürburgring in the process with technology that could feasibly be adapted to its road cars in the future. 

The Aston Martin Hybrid Hydrogen Rapide S competed in the Nürburgring 24 Hours at the weekend, where it completed laps on hydrogen power alone both in qualifying and at the front of its class at times during the rain and fog-affected event.

The project was born one year ago when Aston Martin was approached by its technology partner, Alset Global, an advanced powertrain specialist that wanted to showcase its ability to adapt petrol engines to run on hydrogen.

Aston was keen, but rather than limit it to a road car demonstrator, the decision was taken to put it in a racer “to find out the limits and boundaries of the technology by racing it”, Aston’s special projects and motorsport director, David King, told Autocar.

“We have an eight-year history of using the Nürburgring 24 Hours race for engineering challenges,” he said. “Alset’s technology seemed plausible, so we decided to try and race it.” 

The brief included completing a whole lap of the Nürburgring at race pace using purely hydrogen. A Rapide S was chosen because it offered the most packaging space for the four hydrogen tanks and because it would be the model most likely to be fitted with the technology should a road car application follow.

The Rapide S race car is essentially a road-going version with a stripped-out interior, stiffened suspension and an added rollcage.

The hardware changes necessitated by the hydrogen adaptation add about 80kg to the Rapide S’s weight. But King points out that this is considerably less than the weight of batteries that would be needed to complete a flat-out lap of the ’Ring on electric power, the other way of achieving zero tailpipe CO2 emissions. The overall weight of the car is about 1600kg.

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King describes those hardware changes as being “relatively straightforward” alterations. A whole re-engineering of the Rapide S was certainly not needed.

Four hydrogen fuel tanks have been added: two over the rear axle and two where the passenger seat would be. These hold 3.3kg of hydrogen at 350bar, enough for about a lap and a half of the 16.1-mile Nürburging circuit (Nordschleife and grand prix circuit combined), and the equivalent of about 15 litres of petrol.

Hydrogen fuel lines take the fuel to Aston Martin’s familiar 6.0-litre V12 engine, which King said “needed no new hardware” to be able to run on hydrogen as well as petrol, or a combination of both.

“The biggest challenge was to equalise the power delivery,” said King, hydrogen having a much lower power density than petrol. The solution was to fit a pair of turbochargers to the V12 engine for the first time. 

Hydrogen injectors were added next to the petrol ones to inject into the manifold, with other changes including a reduced compression ratio, a revised intake manifold and a revised cylinder head gasket.

“The clever bit really comes in the electronics of the engine management,” said King, adding that changes were made here to allow the engine to adapt to the different properties to burn hydrogen instead of petrol.

The driver is able to select between running on pure hydrogen, pure petrol or a blend of both. But Aston wanted to limit the running on the blend mode to fully test the capabilities of running on pure hydrogen and demonstrate that it could be done.

The rules of the Nürburgring 24 Hours limit power outputs to 550bhp for entrants, so Aston was unable to gain any power benefits from the turbochargers when running in petrol mode, although mid-range torque is said to have improved substantially.

When running on pure hydrogen, power is down by about 50-60bhp, according to King. In clear traffic, lap times of 10min 15sec were expected in petrol mode, and 10min 30sec on hydrogen. Aston started stints by running on pure hydrogen and then ran the tanks until empty after a lap and a half before petrol power automatically took over.

To refuel, a special hydrogen filling station was at the entrance to the pits, where the Rapide S’s four tanks were filled with hydrogen (supplied by Linde Gas, headed by former Premier Automotive Group chief Wolfgang Reitzle) in just over a minute before heading down the pits to its normal stop for petrol, tyres and a driver change. Being able to run an extra lap between stops more than compensated for the minute lost in the pits while taking on hydrogen. 

Any road car application for the technology is five years away at the earliest, said King, adding that there were no plans at all to do so at the moment. “The idea of the car is as a credible alternative to a battery hybrid vehicle,” he said. “You can travel at start-up, in the city, and in traffic on hydrogen, and get all the benefits of petrol performance out of the city.

“Converting internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen is a good bridging technology to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, which the industry is fully behind. It can help expand the network, bring down the cost and improve the technology.

"We’re at least five to seven years away from seeing it in a road car, but running it successfully in a race car can only increase interest and awareness.”

Join the debate


25 May 2013

Fascinating article!  It doesn't mention the car finished 112th and 27 laps down on the leader, nor the fact that it's best lap was a monster 10 minutes and 2 seconds. Love Astons, but let's keep the spin for the race track not these pages. 

For the record this machine was beaten by humble Peugeot 208s, Clios, and the like. Funny that bit wasn't in the report.

25 May 2013

Well, it's the technology that matters rather than the performance. It's probably most relevant that it finished the race.

Surprising and ballsy for Aston to attempt such an innovative project, too, I'm impressed. Not so impressed that an entire interior packed full of hydrogen tanks is equivalent to 15 litres of petrol (which has to be refilled, whereas an electric hybrid's alternative power is self-sustaining). But as Mark said in the article, it's a waypoint to getting the hydrogen network operational ahead of the arrival of fuel cells.

25 May 2013

15 lires of petrol weighs 10.5kgs. So hydrogen weighing 3.5kgs for the same energy use is a good sign for an all hydrogen car.

But I'm a bit confused about it saying it was down 50-60bhp on hydrogen. The rules were 550bhp max so they should have set the 550bhp to be when running on hydrogen and then when on petrol instead of gaining 50-60bhp the ECU caps power to 550bhp.

But it also seems they already did this as it says they couldnt use full turbo when in petrol mode so as to keep power down, but this gives an increase in mid range torque, hence the better lap times?



25 May 2013

supertax wrote:

15 lires of petrol weighs 10.5kgs. So hydrogen weighing 3.5kgs for the same energy use is a good sign for an all hydrogen car.

"The hardware changes necessitated by the hydrogen adaptation add about 80kg to the Rapide S’s weight"

The weight of the hydrogen may be lighter but 4 tanks to contain that hydrogen will weight alot more than a tank holding 15 litres of petrol

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

25 May 2013

It would be interesting to hear how much energy went in to obtaining, storing and transporting the hydrogen.  I imagine it will be very far from zero emissions.

25 May 2013

Clarkey wrote:

It would be interesting to hear how much energy went in to obtaining, storing and transporting the hydrogen.  I imagine it will be very far from zero emissions.

It doesnt really matter how high the emissions are as long as they are not at street level on public roads.


4 July 2013

My partners have Wind Farms producing just under 2000MW/hr (or 2 million homes).  Off peak prices for Electricity more than justify the use of this energy to Power a distributed network of Hydrogen Generators as produced by the world's largest distributor of Hydrogen Gas.

In conclusion in this scenario, Wind produces the electrical energy required to generate Hydrogen, and the Hydrogen can be used for "instant" energy output either in vehicles or as electricity on demand.

If you are interested in Hydrogen as a diverse Energy source, bear in mind that in the last week, GM, Honda and Toyota are making statements for production of Fuel Cell vehicles.

Simultaneously, Air products have unveiled a low cost containerised module for Hydrogen production - using Gas (or Electricity) sources for the process




Malo Mori Quam Foedari


26 May 2013

The idea of any form of propulsion, short of gravity and self-propulsion, as producing zero-emissions is a pipe-dream. However, it is nice to see a small company like AM testing hydrogen as an alternative.

It's a shame that some insist on seeing the glass as half empty.

30 May 2013

I include myself with those others who believe that hydrogen fuel is the preferred - most logical - route of all the “alternative” fuels.

The “SPOTLIGHT” article (pages 28/29, of the 22 MAY 2013 issue), documenting Aston Martin’s  Rapide S - fuelled by hydrogen - and, competing at the Nürburgring 24 Hours event, was therefore of particular interest.

However, hidden away in the copy of the article was a very interesting detail, of more immediate interest and possible application than the (experimental) use of hydrogen fuel.
It is reported that Aston took the opportunity to  “ . . fit a pair of turbochargers to the V12 engine for the first time”,  and that other changes included “ . . a revised intake manifold”.

Aston were required to adhere to the “rules of the Nürburgring 24 Hours event (that) limit power outputs to 550bhp”.  However, it is suggested that freed from such constraints, the now possible option of the Aston Martin V12 engine to be fitted with a pair of turbochargers, is a prospect that would be seriously considered by a significant number of potential Aston Martin customers . . . . amongst which I can NOT - unfortunately - include myself!

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