The landscape of motorsport experienced a significant transformation in 2014 with the launch of Formula E, paving the way for fully battery-powered electric car racing. A decade later, the motorsport community has witnessed both the benefits and limitations of battery-powered electric cars; and most experts agree that a more sustainable long-term solution for the sport might be found with green hydrogen.

Now, with racing events like Formula 1 and Extreme E announcing their plans for a move towards fully or partially hydrogen-powered vehicles, IECEx can play an important role in the global shift to a hydrogen economy.

The evolving world of electric racing

Many racing events like Formula E, Extreme E and Rallycross have quite literally been setting the path for innovations in battery-powered electric vehicles (BEV) racing.  

However, battery-powered electric racing faces certain limitations, such as range anxiety and the need for frequent refuelling, which is why several other prominent motor racing events hesitate to go fully electric.

Especially for performance levels of Formula 1, fully electric cars are not strong enough to match up to requisite endurance levels. In such cases, a hybrid approach seems more likely. This has led many racing engineers to explore alternative solutions.

A move to other sustainable alternatives

Green hydrogen is being hailed by experts as the way to go. It is fuel that has been generated by wind-or solar-powered electrolysis, with little to no carbon emissions.

Using hydrogen fuel-cell to power the racing vehicles presents several advantages over batteries, including a quicker refuelling rate which is a crucial asset in endurance racing. Plus, it preserves the noise, which is a big part of the show. For racing fans, having the ‘right level of noise’ is more important than one would think, and adds to the thrill of the race-watching experience.

These advantages have led many racing series to explore the potential of hydrogen technologies: Extreme E announced the first racing championship to run on hydrogen fuel cell technology, ‘Extreme H’, to get going in 2024. Even the biggest motorsport event, F1 has set a goal to reach net-zero on carbon emissions by 2030, and thus will rely on the growth of synthetic fuel technologies for reducing its emissions.

While BEVs are well-established and technically mature, hydrogen is still in its early stages of optimization. Issues around the weight of hydrogen storage, and high infrastructure and production costs need further fine tuning before the technology can go mainstream. Nevertheless, experts have been advocating investment into developing the technology and infrastructure for hydrogen, which they believe would overcome these challenges.

The role of IECEx in driving change

In promoting the adoption of hydrogen-based technologies, safety remains of paramount concern due to the flammable nature of hydrogen gas. IECEx is a conformity assessment system set up to deal with the testing and certification to IEC, ISO/IEC and ISO Standards relating to equipment for use in explosive atmospheres. By the very nature of the scope of IECEx to cover safe use of equipment where flammable substances may be present means that IECEx has covered the safe use of equipment associated with hydrogen since it began operations more than 20 years ago with thousands of IECEx certificates issued for such situations. 

IECEx oversees the compliance with international standards that address hydrogen safety, fuel cell power systems and hydrogen fuelling stations, along with certification programs for qualified personnel or to ensure that equipment and materials used in explosive atmospheres meet safety requirements.

While motorsport regulations are typically driven by sport regulatory bodies, the standards and conformity assessment practices set for vehicles outside the racing world significantly influence and shape these sporting regulations.

Even though these standards and schemes are not exclusive to motorsport, they set the general requirements for hydrogen fuelling stations, including safety considerations, and can be a reference for educating individuals involved in handling hydrogen fuel and related systems in various other applications.

Scope for transportation beyond motorsport

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is emerging as a promising avenue not only for racing but also for the broader transport sector.

It holds tremendous potential for road and water transport as well, especially for vehicles requiring higher speed, higher weight and higher range.

On the road, even though green hydrogen might be a great solution, it does not necessarily mean that BEVs will go out of use. Having a diverse portfolio of energy sources is necessary to avoid pressure on one source. Developments in both technologies allows meeting specific requirements, while contributing towards the overall goal of net-zero emissions.

As the world seeks more sustainable transportation solutions, certification schemes offered by organizations like IECEx, afford confidence to motorsport and car industries for wider adoption of hydrogen-based technologies.