Mar 19, 2016 | By Andre

Did you know that some ants spray a type of acid called formic acid for self defence? I didn’t, and if you’re the same, odds are you don’t know that “formica” is the Latin word for ant. I didn’t know either of these things.

I also didn’t know that this ant acid may one day be responsible for replacing the fossil fuels in our cars and even provide a more practical (and carbon neutral) solution to the electric and hydrogen based vehicles that are currently leading the green energy automotive boom.

This future might unfold thanks to a group of researchers (known as Team FAST) from the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands that have come up with a formic acid based fuel system already capable of running a 3D printed 30 Watt Remote controlled car and have successfully demonstrated the concept this January. 

The reason Team FAST is putting their energy into formic acid vehicles is threefold. Petroleum based transportation can’t be considered as part of any long-term solution; electric battery powered vehicles have limited range; and hydrogen based fuel systems are inherently dangerous because of their pressurized holding tank.

And just as is the case with so many innovations taking place around the world today, 3D printing had an integral role in developing the team’s formic acid powered prototype vehicle.

By using an Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer, the team was able to make quick revisions to the design of their demo unit as research progressed into 2016. The ability to create custom mounts, fittings and jigs on the fly saved them weeks compared with the alternative of relying on custom milled parts.

This speedy prototyping is somewhat extraordinary considering the idea of developing this formic acid fuel system was only first developed in September of 2014 and that they're now building a full sized bus that they hope to have finished by the end of 2016.

The reasons for moving forward with their technology as an alternative to the current alternatives go on and on. By relying on a liquid fuel system, our current gas station based refuelling infrastructure can easily be retrofitted with formic acid based fuel. On top of this, their system is completely carbon neutral.

The advantages are vast and the team acknowledge this by saying that, “we believe formic acid brings solutions to existing and future problems. These problems will not be solved by hydrogen or the electric car but formic acid possesses qualities that are inherently better than the former options.”

Team Fast continues to live up to its name. In addition to working on a full scale bus powered by their fuel system, they recently moved onto the next round to the Philips Innovation Award challenge (the largest student-entrepreneur award in the Netherlands). This speedy progress wouldn’t have been possible without the help of 3D printing.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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