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INFICON Leak Testing Technology Helps Launch Hydrogen-Powered Racecar

The Aston Martin Rapide S.

The Aston Martin Rapide S.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Leak-detection equipment helped launch the world’s first racecar equipped with a hydrogen combustion engine in 2014 and will play an important role in bringing hydrogen-powered engines to consumer markets in years to come.

INFICON hydrogen leak detectors were used to develop the Aston Martin Rapide S that completed last year’s 24-hour race ADAC Zurich race, clearly demonstrating the reliability of hydrogen powertrain technology, notes Thomas Parker, INFICON’s automotive sales manager for North America.

German-based Alset GmbH led a team of 35 systems and component suppliers to develop the Aston Martin Rapide S’s hybrid engine that can be driven with any mixture of hydrogen or gasoline fuel.

When highly volatile gases such as hydrogen and oxygen are used in a vehicle’s combustion system, it’s essential to identify and eliminate any possibility of a leak. The Alset team selected INIFCON leak detectors to test their system throughout the development process and on race day as well.

“Developing a functional hydrogen-hybrid drive system in principle is not all that difficult,” explains Gonzalo Auil, a regional manager for Alset. “The challenge was in the details. Our goal was to achieve optimal combustion during every form of operation to obtain maximum performance from the fuels without putting a strain on the engine.”

CO2 emissions were reduced significantly when the engine was operated in hybrid mode without a noticeable horsepower loss (521 horsepower for hybrid operation compared to 578 horsepower for gasoline). When powered purely by hydrogen, the engine provided 438 horsepower with virtually no CO2 emissions.

“Modifications to the Aston Martin’s engine were kept to a minimum and according to the development team could be transferred to production vehicles without considerable expense,” Parker said. “Preventing leaks within the hydrogen engine system is essential and will result in additional testing and production requirements.”

Conventional water or spray leak-detection methods would be much too costly and time consuming for assembly-line hydrogen testing, especially for fuel lines, connecting parts or even the injection systems. New hydrogen leak-detection devices such as INFICON’s Sensistor Sentrac provide auto makers and their suppliers with a cost-effective solution.

Hydrogen itself is harmless; it can only develop an explosive effect in the engine’s combustion chamber when it is mixed with oxygen. For maximum safety, certified, high-quality components are used; various system values are monitored, and a cover on the hydrogen system is installed in the passenger compartment. Sensors are placed in the interior and under the cover, which check the hydrogen concentration of the ambient air.

In order to conduct on-site leak tightness tests at the ADAC Zurich race at Germany’s famous Nuerburgring, Alset used the mobile battery-operated version of INFICON’s hydrogen leak detector.

“We checked all components for leak tightness,” Auil added. “Since stress levels are greater for the vehicle and its components than during normal traffic conditions, the development team needed a seamless, comprehensive documentation to demonstrate safety and suitability for series production.

“Many leak-detection devices take a long time before they are able to again deliver meaningful results. That was not the case with INFICON’s system. If we pinpointed a leak, we continued the test in just a few seconds.  With the INFICON device we conducted a comprehensive check of all components in one hour. The combination of quick test times and high precision results are crucial for planned series production.”

Today’s hydrogen engine technology is highly advanced, according to INFICON’s Parker, noting that “once the hybrid technology is installed in production vehicles, owners will only need to take their vehicles in for regular inspections. INFICON provides leak-detection equipment that will allow this to be done quickly, precisely and affordably.”

INFICON achieved record fourth-quarter sales of more than $86.4 million globally in 2014, up 7.2 percent from $80.5 million in the same year-ago period. In North America,  the company’s sales during the fourth quarter totaled $28.2 million, up more than 15 percent compared to results a year earlier.

INFICON is one of the world’s leading developers, producers and suppliers of instruments and devices for leak detection in air conditioning, refrigeration and automotive manufacturing. The company has manufacturing facilities in Europe, China and the United States, as well as sales and service offices throughout the world.

April 30, 2015 - 10:38 AM