Shell Eco-marathon: Putting hydrogen in pole position

Efficiency meets talent: At the Shell Eco-marathon 2017, next-generation engineers are fueling their vision of hydrogen mobility. In our interview, Henning Tomforde, Head of Communication and Public Funding for Technology and Innovation at Linde, reveals what it takes to activate the full potential of this sustainable venture – and the spirit that defines a winning team.

We’re empowering young engineers to take on complex technical challenges – and master them.

Linde Careers: Linde has been sponsoring the Shell Eco-marathon for seven years now – a successful partnership to showcase the potential of sustainable mobility. What would drive you to take part?

Henning Tomforde: The Shell Eco-marathon (SEM) is all about efficiency and mobility: More than 450 international student teams are designing their own vehicles to compete in different fuel categories to see who could travel the longest distance with the least amount of fuel. To me, that’s pure suspense – and from a sustainability and future mobility standpoint, a highly relevant topic!

Linde Careers: There will be three SEM events this year – with the first one in Singapore just around the corner. How is Linde supporting the university teams – during the prep phase as well as during the race?

Tomforde: We are supplying the teams in the hydrogen category with hydrogen, as well as advising on how to use it properly, offering webinars and hands-on support from our local experts. Yet the SEM is about far more than just a race: We’re empowering young engineers to take on complex technical challenges – and master them. Linde has been a prime player in pioneering hydrogen mobility and infrastructure solutions for more than 25 years, and the SEM is an ideal platform for showcasing our expertise.

Linde Careers: How exactly does the hydrogen get to Singapore – and what amounts of fuel are we talking here? 

Tomforde: We’re actually talking about very small doses here – at least by our standards as a large global gas company. So supplying the hydrogen is not an issue. At the SEM, fuel efficiency is the supreme discipline. And thanks to fuel cell electric drive, these vehicles can meet the challenge. For example, in the SEM’s ‘Prototype’ category, the cars’ cylinder volume is 0.4 liter – these cars don’t carry more than a few grams of hydrogen. 

Linde Careers: Which milestones have the teams set during the past years – and how have the hydrogen cars advanced? 

Tomforde: The crucial question here is: Who can go longest on the least amount of fuel? The way it is determined by the rule book is by having all participants do a certain number of recorded laps. That way, we can measure each car’s actual hydrogen consumption and extrapolate it to judge the winner from that. Then it’s even possible to project the maximum distance he or she could have travelled, if you had fueled the car with e.g. one kilogram of hydrogen. Here we’ve seen teams reaching the magic mark of 10.000 kilometers per kilogram of hydrogen, even 13.000 in some cases. Of course, teams are also optimizing their vehicles in terms of lightweight design and aerodynamics – two prerequisites for the perfect race. 

Linde Careers: What defines a winning team – and do you sense a certain spirit from them? 

Tomforde: The SEM is a little bit like the Formula One – it’s all about teamwork and high-tech. But unlike in professional racing, these aspiring minds are volunteering for it. Not only does this demand individual drive and a bold “can-do” spirit – but also an excellent chemistry within the groups! I’ve seen junior engineers tweaking and fine-tuning their vehicles until 2 A.M. in the morning – certainly not a thing you do just for the fun of it. The second pillar is know-how and technology. Some teams have 3D printers at their pit lane – a vital feature if your vehicle is missing critical parts.  

Innovation and a pioneering spirit have been at the core of Linde’s DNA ever since our founding father Carl von Linde started this very company.

Linde Careers: Let’s take a glimpse into the future: Could you imagine a SEM that runs completely on hydrogen and e-mobility? 

Tomforde: Fuel cell and battery electric drive are certainly one of the – if not the – key innovation fields for future mobility. And we might already be going in that direction. In 2016, the SEM still had six fuel categories. This year, with combustion, fuel cell electric and battery electric, it’s three. But at the end of the day, we are convinced that there won’t be a one-size-fits-all fuel solution, but rather a mix of powertrains and fuels. And that is also reflected at the Shell Eco-marathon. 

Linde Careers: What’s your key message to the student teams partaking in the SEM but also for potential candidates – especially those who might consider to join Linde as an employer?   

Tomforde: Innovation and a pioneering spirit have been at the core of Linde’s DNA ever since our founding father Carl von Linde started this very company. By sponsoring the SEM we are showing to all of our prospective talents that we plan to keep this going! Innovation is at our very heart – and our ground-breaking hydrogen solutions are just one striking example of it.

Linde Careers: How can those already going to the SEM best approach you to learn more about career opportunities at Linde?

Tomforde: Whether in Singapore, Detroit or London, we’ll be present with our Human Resources team at all three SEM events this year. We’ll be more than happy to inform you about our career opportunities as well as diverse internships and graduate programmes. All of you who are looking for new challenges and perspectives are encouraged to stop by. We look forward to meeting you!