Interview with Daniel Trojer and Felix Specker, both 24
University of Munich
Daniel and Felix are participating in the Shell Eco Marathon project for the third time in a row together with their Hydro2Motion team from the University of Munich. They have chosen to use fuel cells in their vehicle. We interviewed them about the background of their work.
Why did you decide to use hydrogen?
Daniel: We can tell you why we’re passionate about it! There’s a rather interesting documentary that was made by our predecessors in the team about that. They also decided to use it because it’s more modern, more complex and more of a challenge. The combustion engine already exists and is simply already familiar. There are not very many teams driving hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Felix: It’s not so easy to handle, but that’s part of the challenge.
Daniel: It’s a challenge to generate as efficient an energy source as possible from the gas. But hooking up a hydrogen cylinder, using it to power the vehicle and producing water as the only by-product really is amazing.
How do you think mobility will develop in the next 20 to 30 years?
Felix: Aside from the transmission, fuel cell technology is completely silent, and it produces zero emissions. It is also considerably more efficient, from a pure efficiency rating perspective.
Daniel: You can generate power directly via the chemical process. And there are also fuel cells for the home, which have an efficiency rating of up to 80% because you can also use the waste heat they generate.
Is there a central idea that brought your project forward?
Felix: It was more of a social thing. After failing last year, we were at rock bottom. The atmosphere on the bus on the journey home was absolutely awful. But our professors built us back up again, and that was really when the team structures we have in place today first came about, and we became effective in our work.
Our boys developed a brand new engine controller, which we are testing right now.
Daniel: We also work a lot more with back-ups now to eliminate from the outset many of the errors that we were still making during the last race in Rotterdam.
How are you different from other teams?
Daniel: Obviously it’s a learning process for all those involved and not just for us, but what really sets us apart from the others is that we’ve invested a lot of time in testing. We have made substantial improvements in areas such as problems with stiffness, modularity and the overall reliability of the system.
Felix: I think that we have quite a good system simply because the heads that designed it spent so much time agonising over it.
How long have you spent working on it?
Felix: About 3 million hours! (laughs!)
Daniel: I think it’s no exaggeration to say that each of us has worked between 50 and 60 hours over the last 3 to 4 months. There are 19 of us on the team, and I think that’s around the average amount of time. We have some people on the team that worked up to 80 hours a week on the car.
But you still take time to eat and sleep, right?
Daniel: Yeah. That’s not a problem when you’re also sleeping at the university. Some of us actually do that, although we’re not really supposed to.
Felix: We’re not the only crazy people at the university. But we’ve now even been given access cards so that we can come and go at all hours, including at night.
Do you think that the project will also influence your career choices later on?
Felix: Yes, definitely. You can see that by looking at the people that have worked on the project in the past. They have all ended up in a similar professional field.
Daniel: The good thing with us is that anyone can do anything. It doesn’t actually matter what you’re studying. The project is a good way to find yourself and find out what you enjoy doing, irrespective of your degree course.
Have you found yourselves?
Daniel: I’ve found out that I wouldn’t like to go into management. I visited the design team a lot and got involved on the practical side.
I just find the interface incredibly interesting.
If there are 19 of you, how do you control your processes on the team?
Daniel: We have now reached the point where we know each other very well and are on friendly terms with each other. This creates a situation where we can also be direct with each other if something goes wrong.
Felix: We argue a lot, but that’s essential to bring the project forward. We go for a beer afterwards though, and then everything’s ok again.
Daniel: The fact that you’ve known each other for such a long time also means that you start thinking for other people because you know that this particular person tends to forget this or that.
Would you participate again next year?
Daniel: We’ve taken part three times now. I think that’s enough.
Felix: We need to concentrate on recruiting now to get new people on board because when we go, we take our knowledge with us. That’s why it’s important for new people to come in.
Are you actually documenting your progress?
Felix: Yes. We are already thinking of creating a wiki.
Daniel: We want to do this because we don’t actually know ourselves how many errors we have made already that our predecessors also made because there is no documentation.
Felix: We now link it with marks. In design work, you really need documentation.
Daniel: Yeah. If someone writes a report about their work, around 20 to 30 pages with pictures, this is quite an effective and clear form of documentation. And this should be done while you are working on the project, which keeps the work required for this at a manageable level.
Felix: The most interesting thing is how you arrived at a particular solution.
Does your motivation also lie in promoting the use of alternative energies?
Felix: Yes, absolutely. We are special in this area. That really is how we see ourselves: We are a bit unique here. We are definitely different here. We made quite a deliberate decision to use hydrogen, and we are continuing along this path.
What would be your ideal vision of the technology of the future? Where do you think technology could improve the most?
Felix: I think the problem is rather the fact that certain technologies are not actually wanted although they already exist. One example is in-car infotainment. Driving and technology are actually fading into the background here. We just need pioneers to buy these new technologies because they want to support them.
So would acceptance of technology be the most important factor for you?
Felix: Yes, definitely! We’ve spent so many years fiddling around with internal combustion engines. Now it’s time for something new.
More information about the team can be found on their blog at www.hydro2motion.de or on Twitter @hydro2motion.