Extreme E is still working on plans for the full hydrogen-fueled championship it initially announced at the 2022 season opener. Since then it has been working on a prototype vehicle, and that is still on target to begin testing this summer.
But while that timeline has remained on course, what is less clear is what the “Extreme H” project means for the series as a whole. Initially the plan was for the hydrogen class and the current battery-electric class to co-exist, but given the lack of prominent hydrogen racing series, Extreme E and Formula E series founder Alejandro Agag has suggested the new development could become the championship’s sole focus.
“We’re using fuel cells and I think it’s really relevant to create a platform for motorsport and hydrogen — there isn’t really motorsport with hydrogen,” he told select media including RACER at the recent Desert X Prix in Saudi Arabia. “There’s been some attempts — Le Mans, Dakar with a truck and so on — but I think the format is not the right one. Our format is the right one to test hydrogen. I think short races like the ones Extreme E does will be the perfect format for hydrogen.”
“We still need to figure it out,” he conceded. “We haven’t decided yet if we’re going to do both, if we’re going to focus on hydrogen, if we’re going to transition — both and then hydrogen only. We have ongoing discussions with the teams and then we will make a decision which way to go. They could even be different weekends.
“My feeling is that we will focus mainly on hydrogen. But we have to still make the decision.”
Extreme E’s sister series Formula E has just introduced its third-generation race car, the two before it each lasting for four years before being replaced. With Extreme E having just entered its third season — one that will be twice as long as those before in terms of championship rounds — naturally talk has already started regarding a Gen2 Extreme E racer.
Agag says the introduction of that will coincide with the introduction of a hydrogen vehicle, regardless of what form that will take, but ultimately the timeline might not need to match that of Formula E’s car development.
“I think the Gen2 will be the hydrogen cars,” Agag says. “Then, we may decide to do another battery.
“The thing is, with Formula E we needed to develop along the generations because in the first generation the cars couldn’t finish the race — we needed two cars. Then with Generation 2 we finished the races but the cars were quite big. Then Generation 3 finally we finished the race with a smaller car. Then we’re going to do ultra-fast charging next year.
“In Extreme E these cars are perfectly capable of racing as much as we want. For our format, these cars are perfect.”
Another question mark is whether the cars will take the form of hydrogen electric, or hydrogen combustion.
“We need to explore hydrogen combustion,” Agag insisted. “Fuel cells have an advantage with absolutely zero emissions, Combustion of hydrogen has certain emissions.
“We have to analyze exactly how much the emissions are, NOx for sure. But they have certain advantages: for example, combustion makes noise. Some people find that obviously exciting for motorsport.”
If Extreme E (or Extreme H) chooses to not go down the hydrogen combustion route, Agag says it could be a viable alternative for Formula 1 instead of e-fuels. While F1 is already exploring the use of e-fuels as it looks to become carbon neutral by 2030, he points out they come with their own pitfalls.
“I think they will continue to be combustion. I think maybe e-fuels, but e-fuels, for me, is a technology that’s very niche and Formula 1, for me, shouldn’t be niche,” he says. “It should be technology that can be deployed for mass adoption and e-fuels, even the price of the fuels is going to be, in my opinion, for some sports cars or special situations.
“Combustion of hydrogen could be the future for Formula 1, so having the testbed of combustion of hydrogen will be very important, but the technology’s not ready yet. E-fuels release CO2, the same amount of CO2 as gasoline, but in theory, you have (already) captured that CO2 to make the e-fuel. You have captured the CO2, that’s why it’s neutral.
“But it has some issues. In theory, the oil comes from forests that millions of years ago absorbed CO2 that you are releasing back into the atmosphere, so in theory it’s also carbon neutral.”
As well as the racing cars themselves Extreme E’s St. Helena, the ship which it uses to transport the entire series infrastructure around the world, could also be powered by hydrogen. Currently the ship’s livery features the phrase “Not electric… yet” but Agag admits it will remain that way for some time.
“The only possibility — I need a little more money for this — is hydrogen, actually. Because battery powered, the whole ship would be a battery, 90% of the volume of the ship would be a battery,” he explains. “Hydrogen technology is the one that can power ships, so we’re talking with some partners about exploring that possibility.
“But I don’t know if we can retrofit St. Helena — we would maybe have to make a whole new ship with a huge carbon footprint to make a ship, so that’s kind of where the balance is. But we don’t give up — let’s see. It’ll say ‘Not electric… yet!’ for a while.”