Extreme H: new 2024 off-road series aims to take hydrogen to the extreme

18 Feb 2022

Bosses of the Extreme E electric off-road championship have announced bold plans to launch the world’s first hydrogen-powered international motorsport category.

The new category is set to launch in 2024 and will effectively form a sister series to Extreme E, running on the same events. So you won’t be surprised to learn that the championship will be called Extreme H. See what they did there?

Extreme E 2022: everything you need to know about the new season

The only difference between Extreme E and Extreme H will be the powertrain: they will both use the same spec SUV-styled buggy, and feature the same format of short two-lap races contested by teams of male and female drivers. And they will run on the same events, which will continue to take place in remote locations impacted by climate change.

But while Extreme E cars will use a 400kW battery electric powertrain, Extreme H cars will be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell system. Series chief Alejandro Agag said that the hydrogen cars would have the same power output as the electric ones. 

While the two series will run as separate events, Agag added that they could stage some form of combined final at events - potentially utilising a 'relay' format with one driver in an XE car and the other in the XH machine.

bosses have yet to outline how much power the cars will have or further details of the powertrain. They have said it is already under development, and they will begin testing a prototype early next year.

Notably, the power for the Extreme E and Extreme H cars could ultimately come from the same source. Extreme E cars are currently powered by a system generated by British firm AFC Energy, which uses solar power and water to create hydrogen. That is then stored until required and used to charge up a generator, which in turn is used to power the XE cars. It it designed to ensure a supply of electric power in remote locations without a charging network.

AFC has already done substantial development of the technology used in the system, meaning it has the capacity to develop a unit that could potentially power the cars for both categories.

While hydrogen fuel cell technology struggles to be competitive with battery electric technology when it comes to powering road cars, hydrogen does offer benefits for large-scale power needs, such as container ships and heavy industry, where battery sizes would prove prohibitive.

Agag said that the aim of Extreme H was to help drive development of 'green hydrogen' technology and show how it can be part of a sustainable future. “Extreme E was designed to be a testbed for innovation and solutions for mobility,” he said. “It has become increasingly clear to us that creating a hydrogen racing series is a natural evolution of our mission to showcase the possibilities of new technologies in the race to fight climate issues.

“Sport is the fastest and most effective platform for driving innovation, and by using the existing Extreme E platform we can also utilise our transport, talent and operations to ensure we are minimising footprint in the process. This effectively means we can have double the race action, with marginal additional impact.” 

Asked by Move Electric about criticisms that hydrogen-electric powertrains aren't as efficient as battery-electric versions, Agag said: "I've heard this question and I understand the critics, but my view is that I just get on with it. Hydrogen is an option that can help in the mix.

"There's no ideal solution: battery-electric is not the ideal solution. Hydrogen is not the ideal solution. To get us out of the place we're in will take a mix of solutions."

Various teams and manufacturers have been looking into hydrogen power for use in motorsport. Audi contested this year's Dakar Rally – which features a class for alternative fuels – in a hydrogen-powered contender, while Toyota is also developing a Corolla race car featuring a hydrogen-combustion engine.

While hydrogen has advantages over battery electric cars over longer ranges, Agag added that Extreme H would stick with the same short-race format as Extreme E. "It's a format that works for us, works on the event and makes for great TV," he said.



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