NASCAR Helps Puts Spotlight on Fuel Cells at Daytona 500

Apr 18, 2014 On Thursday, April 17th, DOE held a webinar on NASCAR’s recent experience using fuel cells to power broadcast cameras as part of its NASCAR Green initiative. It included presentations from a spokeswoman from NASCAR Green and a representative from Acumentrics, the fuel cell company that provided the solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) generator for the trial. Prior to the webinar, DOE posted a blog piece on the demo. NASCAR launched NASCAR Green five years ago and has made a substantial impact in educating its tens of millions of fans and supporters on sustainability and environmental issues. NASCAR Green leads the sports world in green initiatives such as tree planting, with more than 267,000 trees planted to date, and recycling programs, which expands well beyond bottles and cans (20 million) to cell phones, tires (605,000), automotive fluids and other car materials including batteries. As part of the DOE-supported project, at the Daytona 500, the first race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Acumentrics redesigned its product to fit NASCAR’s requirements. Then two 250 watt SOFCs were deployed to power remote broadcast cameras and two 1 kW SOFCs to power the lights in pit row. These fuel cells run on propane, which can be bought easily at most gas stations, home improvement stores and other outlets. Each system was outfitted with a 1-week fuel supply. Compared to the Honda 3000is gas-powered generators that NASCAR currently uses to power equipment, the fuel cell units reduce carbon emissions, are quiet and have very low noise vibration. This is important for media quality purposes – video streams are more stable and interviews can be conducted closer to the equipment without disruption. One of the main advantages, however, is the fuel savings. Since fuel cells are very efficient, they use less fuel and last longer. A typical generator uses around 5 gallons of fuel during a 10 hour race period, scaling up to 20 gallons for a four-day race weekend. The average price for fuel is $3.63 a gallon, so for 30 generators (normal deployment) at $73 per generator, that is more than $2,100 a race weekend. Compare that to the fuel cells, where one 20 lb. bottle of propane that costs around $5 would last the whole weekend, equaling about $150 in fuel costs. NASCAR estimates switching to fuel cells could save around $77,000 per season in fuel. On top of that, the fuel cells only have to be fueled once per weekend, which not only saves time but is a lot safer. NASCAR sees a lot of potential for fuel cells in the future. They utilize hundreds of portable generators, not only for the broadcast equipment, but in the media compounds, fan campgrounds, vending suppliers and maintenance areas. As electric and fuel cell vehicles move from the demonstration to the commercialization phase, perhaps we will see them racing on the track in the near future. A recording of the webinar is available HERE.

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