Dec 28, 2015 | By Benedict

Students from the Technical University (TU) of Eindhoven are developing a sustainable 3D printed car. The vehicle, set to be unveiled next summer, will be fueled by formic acid, a natural substance produced by ants.

Whilst the market for hybrid and electric cars has grown significantly in recent years, sustainable transportation still lags miles behind the fuel-guzzling standard. To help accelerate the growth of sustainable vehicles, 23 students from the Technical University (TU) of Eindhoven joined forces earlier this year to create Team FAST (Formic Acid Sustainable Transportation). After successfully fueling a model car with formic acid, Team FAST is now aiming to build a full size 3D printed vehicle, also powered by the naturally occurring substance. “By now it has become quite clear that the world needs to be sustainable,” said Tim van Lohuizen, PR & Marketing at Team FAST. “We as Team FAST want to make our own contribution to that.”

Formic acid is a sustainable and renewable fuel, and its use in the Team FAST car will be entirely emission neutral. This is because the resources required for formic acid are used, but not consumed. The natural substance, which is produced by ants, also has an extremely high energy density, much greater than batteries and highly pressurized hydrogen tanks. A car driving on formic acid could travel up to 500km on a full tank, without the need for recharging or refilling. Furthermore, drivers need not rely on ant colonies to produce large quantities of the substance, since it can be generated by wind farms and solar panels. This form of production is entirely carbon neutral and poses no environmental impact. For these reasons, Team FAST sees formic acid as a cost effective alternative to other sustainable energy solutions.

Although it is not a direct fuel, formic acid is a hydrogen carrier, and can therefore be decomposed into hydrogen. The technology developed by Team FAST is able to convert the formic acid into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, before purifying the hydrogen for use in fuel cells. The game-changing catalyst, which can merge hydrogen and CO2 into formic acid and vice versa at an unprecedented speed, was developed by dr. G. Filonenko at the university.

To build the first formic acid powered car, Team FAST are making extensive use of 3D printing technology. “3D printing allows us to speed up the prototyping cycle significantly,” explained Team FAST member Max Wentzel. “Lots of parts are unique and have to be specifically designed. The fact that we can do that right inside our office is simply amazing.”

Initially, the students used a 3D printer built by team manager Max Aerts. That machine provided several prototype components, but the team soon required an upgrade. In order to procure a higher standard of 3D printing materials, Team FAST met with Jan Willem Slijkoord, owner of CIORC, and Roger Sijlbing, Sales Manager Innofil3D, who were impressed with the project and jumped at the chance to get on board. As well as providing some of their InnoCircle recycled 3D printing filament, Slijkoord and Sijlbing got in touch with their compatriots at Ultimaker to talk about the 3D printed car. Ultimaker staff were similarly impressed with the work being undertaken by Team FAST, and donated a 3D printer to the cause.

“This project is amazing,” said Marcella van den Burg, education chief at Ultimaker. “Young entrepreneurial students that want to shake the (fuel) establishment are initiatives Ultimaker wants to support. The way these guys use 3D printing as tool really shows the possibilities of 3D printing. And of course we hope they will remember us when they hit it big with their idea.”

The Team FAST project has already caught the eye of many notable scientists, with the project receiving a €50,000 grant at the Open Mind conference in November 2015. A functional scale model will be unveiled by Team FAST on January 14th, with the full size prototype car to follow. The 30kW system required for the full size vehicle will be roughly one thousand times more powerful than that of the scale model, so the team will have to put its foot firmly on the gas to meet its summer 2016 deadline.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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