Extreme H: The challenge of off-road racing, now with more hydrogen

By Colin Wood
Aug 31, 2023 | FIA, Hydrogen, Extreme H, Extreme E, Off-Road Racing

Photography Credit: Sam Bagnall

We have hydrogen-powered race cars and off-road racing, but an all-new racing series plans to combine the two into one championship: Extreme H.

Billed as the first of its kind, Extreme H is the result of a “non-binding Memorandum of Understanding” between the FIA and Extreme E, an off-road EV racing series that sees competitors using of spec electric SUVs.

What started as a conversation many years ago about racing in extreme environments, showcasing the incredible performance and innovation of E-SUVs, has now demonstrated enormous growth and further pioneering technical advances as we move forward with the transition to hydrogen and Extreme H–a world-first” says Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Extreme E.

If everything goes to plan, Extreme H will be an official FIA Championship starting in 2025, with plans to have the 2026 series become an FIA World Championship.

For now, the finer details of Extreme H are still being hammered out, but the series does plan “to have a prototype launched later this year ahead of the first season in 2025.”

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J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
8/31/23 3:19 p.m.

There seems to be a distinct divide on what should be the next way to power cars - electric or hydrogen or some combination of both. It'll be interesting to see this play out. Fun times.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
8/31/23 3:23 p.m.

In reply to J.A. Ackley :

I'm not totally convinced of the feasibility of hydrogen power (though I do think it is really cool), but I'm going to keep an open mind.

GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/31/23 4:07 p.m.

I'm generally not a fan of hydrogen cars, especially for general-purpose transportation, which is why considering the goals of Extreme E/H, this bothers me. Hydrogen has remained a footnote in the production car market for very good reasons.

Hydrogen cars offer the best selection of the worst downsides: high up-front vehicle costs and relatively long recharge times like a BEV, expensive fuel that is currently fossil-sourced like an ICE (actually worse in our era of E10 or E15 being the norm), and fuel availability, transport, and storage issues unique to hydrogen cars. Right now you can get gas at any gas station or electricity from most manmade structures, but there are only a handful of hydrogen stations outside of California.

The only reason this idea keeps coming back is because the fossil fuel industry keeps funding it. They're making virtually all of the hydrogen available to fuel these cars right now mostly by steam-reforming natural gas.

All these issues say that hydrogen doesn't make sense as a mainstream power source for cars. Not now, and as battery tech advances, even less so in the future.

californiamilleghia UberDork
8/31/23 4:29 p.m.

locally it seems to be about $15 a kilo for Hydrogen  , no idea how many miles that equals out to ?

I wonder how long these races will be ?

UPDATE:   from Google

A Toyota Mirai can travel about 76 miles per kilo in the city and 71 on the highway.


alfadriver MegaDork
8/31/23 5:45 p.m.

In reply to GameboyRMH :

According to Toyota, a full H2 fill is 3-5min. Just over gas. And shorter than electric, even with the best batteries as there will be a limit to the power passed through the main wire. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/31/23 6:14 p.m.

In reply to alfadriver :

My understanding is that you only get that fast a fill if the high pressure tank at the station is full. Once a car or two has filled, the station needs to repressurize the high pressure tank. Multiple cars filling at the same time can be problematic. Check out this Motor Trend long term test update to see how fun some of that can be: https://www.motortrend.com/reviews/2021-toyota-mirai-long-term-test-review-update-3-dispatches-hydrogen-fuelpocalypse/


Is this new series using liquid hydrogen in an ICE or a gaseous H2 fuel cell powering batteries? I'm assuming the second given the association with Extreme E.

The big thing that hydrogen power has going for it is that it's familiar. People who have used gas cars (ie, basically everyone) understand the concept. The promise of a fast fill is comforting, as people seem to be more worried about spending time in the middle of a trip than having to refill their car at a refilling station on a regular basis - the lack of gas station visits is Janel's #1 reason for owning an EV now that she's experienced it. But man, does hydrogen power have some serious problems. It's leaky. It's a nasty thing to make. It loves exploding. There is absolutely no infrastructure. You can't refill at home. 

alfadriver MegaDork
8/31/23 6:21 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Everting has its drawbacks. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/31/23 6:28 p.m.

In reply to alfadriver :

Of course. But you can't hold up "3-5 minute fill time!" without some major disclaimers. It's equivalent to having a gas station use gravity fed tanks instead of pumps, with a fairly slow refill of the tank. And the other drawbacks are pretty major - they don't really seem to come with many corresponding advantages for individual use.

For point-to-point trucking with central logistics, it works better.

alfadriver MegaDork
8/31/23 7:01 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

My point is that you can't equate h2 to electric as it's still closer to gas than what people project here for charging speeds. Which I personally question based on the electrical energy it would take.

Given where Toyota has been, seeing where they are going makes me think they have solutions. 

But I'll step out now, as few seem to want to hear the raw physics issues of high power charging. 

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
8/31/23 8:00 p.m.

Hummer should build a hydrogen powered SUV and call it a, uh,...H2?

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/31/23 8:02 p.m.

In reply to alfadriver :

I don't think we're ever going to see 5 minute 0-100% charging for batteries. Like you said, the physics doesn't work. I think what we'll see is a gradual acceptance that the speed of charging is not a big limiting factor in daily use. In fact, if you can charge where you park (at home, at work, at the mall, at Starbucks), the actual process of charging disappears. You don't run it to empty then fill it up, you just plug in wherever you can - Always Be Charging, as a Jalopnik (of all sites) article said. I know that's not possible for everyone at the moment, but building out the electric infrastructure is not a technical challenge and it's happening.

The fact that hydrogen has one trick (fast fill) doesn't really forgive most of its downsides for passenger cars. It works for heavy trucks that have a certain use pattern better than electric does. Basically, it's like gas/diesel but worse. It shouldn't be compared to electric, it should be compared to other liquid fuels. And it doesn't compare well to them, it brings almost nothing to the table and it has huge drawbacks.

The Japanese government is big on hydrogen and has been for a while. That's why you see Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers trying again and again to make it work. Heck, Mazda made a hydrogen powered rotary Miata in 1992. 

VolvoHeretic GRM+ Memberand Dork
8/31/23 9:56 p.m.

Sorry, totally off topic, but I can't find any answer online. How efficient is the charging and discharging of batteries? If you charge a battery with 1 kilowatt of electricity, do you get 1 kilowatt of electricity out when you use it at the motor? ICE cars are something like 25%. How efficient are battery/electric cars? How about H2/electric cars?

GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/31/23 10:13 p.m.
VolvoHeretic said:

Sorry, totally off topic, but I can't find any answer online. How efficient is the charging and discharging of batteries? If you charge a battery with 1 kilowatt of electricity, do you get 1 kilowatt of electricity out when you use it at the motor? ICE cars are something like 25%. How efficient are battery/electric cars? How about H2/electric cars?

Production ICEs are in the 30-40% range for modern cars, for lithium batteries charge and discharge efficiency is 90%+. EV motor/powertrain efficiency isn't 100% either but it can come close, usually in the 85-98% range for production EVs.

You need high-end equipment to prove that Formula E motors aren't breaking the laws of physics, they're so close to 100%.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/31/23 10:15 p.m.

Without counting regen, the DOE says battery electric is about 60-73% efficient. Add in regen, it jumps to 77-100%. I know the charging method matters, the high speed DC charging is actually a lot more efficient.

Again from the DOE: Fuel cells are about 60% efficient. If I'm reading this right, you then have some of most  of the same losses as a battery electric as a fuel cell is basically an onboard charger. Still a big step up on gasoline. 


VolvoHeretic GRM+ Memberand Dork
8/31/23 10:21 p.m.


kb58 UltraDork
9/1/23 12:59 a.m.

To me, the whole hydrogen-based transportation system has feet of clay. People gloss over what it takes (in terms of energy) to produce hydrogen in the first place, and just skip to the last bit about how awesome car/truck performance will be and how clean it is.

It's very much like being told, "once we create anti-gravity and faster-than-light drives, it's going to be awesome." Yes, yes it will, but dismissing that first bit as a given is wildly delusional. Heck, we're STILL waiting for flying cars that we were all promised 70 years ago!

I like to quote James May, who said, "The trouble with hydrogen is that it's connected to other things [and is very energy-intensive to separate]."

triumph7 HalfDork
9/1/23 9:45 a.m.
kb58 said:

People gloss over what it takes (in terms of energy) to produce hydrogen in the first place,

Just like they ignore what it takes to mine the materials and process them to make lithium batteries.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/1/23 9:56 a.m.

In reply to triumph7 :

You only have to make the battery once, and you can recycle it. You need to produce every single kg of hydrogen.

fidelity101 UberDork
9/1/23 10:54 a.m.

yes yes yes and yes

tyronejk New Reader
9/1/23 11:17 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

In theory, producing hydrogen can be 100% clean if the energy used is 100% clean, while producing lithium-ion batteries is not.  I think a more fair comparison is batteries to hydrogen tanks, neither of which (with today's tech) is totally clean.  Just like how batteries degrade slowly over time, pressure vessels also have a limited lifespan (due to fatigue cycles?)

Does anyone know what the energy density of a hydrogen system is?  I mean more than the pure hydrogen itself, if we include the tank and fuel cell to better compare to EV batteries.  I would guess that it's lower than EVs.

Another major issue is crash safety.  We've seen that charged lithium-ion batteries, once ruptured, can burn continuously after a crash, but a hydrogen tank, once ruptured, will just blow up.  Which is preferable?

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/1/23 11:58 a.m.

Clean hydrogen is definitely possible but a bit of a dream in reality. I think the utopian vision of a hydrogen infrastructure is on-site production using windmills and solar panels. I'm not sure if the math works, but it's a nice vision for sure.

Hydrogen is flammable with as little as 4% concentration in air, and you can't see or smell it. The potential for a surprise is significant. I think I'd prefer to deal with a relatively contained thing that burns, but I'm gonna get far away from both.

There are two ways to use H2 in a vehicle, I'm assuming we're just talking about the fuel cell type unless specified otherwise. And those high pressure tanks are bulky things, plus the fuel cell, then the actual drive units. Here's a naked Mirai with powertrain.

Toyota launches the new Mirai - JEC

Here's a BEV (Model S with structural battery) that has about the same external dimensions as the Mirai. The biggest difference is probably the flexibility of packaging for the batteries, there aren't really alternate shapes for high pressure composite vessels. Weight for the S and the Mirai seem to be within a couple of hundred pounds of each other. The energy density of H2 is such that fuel weight is a non-issue.
Tesla Will Leave 'Skateboard' Behind & Move To Structural Battery Packs

matthewmcl Dork
9/1/23 12:14 p.m.

I don't think hydrogen will become a standard thing for cars, but if we can work around the sonic problems screwing with whales, I would love to see wind farms way out at sea generating hydrogen and running filling stations to replace bunker fuel for shipping.

On a similar topic, why are trains still running diesel rather than natural gas? It is not like they can't drag big tanks around and they sure don't have to be able to refill in unplanned areas.

triumph7 HalfDork
9/1/23 12:35 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Same as gasoline.


GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
9/1/23 3:11 p.m.
matthewmcl said:

I don't think hydrogen will become a standard thing for cars, but if we can work around the sonic problems screwing with whales,

I was looking into this and apparently there isn't a problem of screwing with whales, just an almost-coincidence that gave some people the idea earlier this year:



matthewmcl Dork
9/1/23 3:41 p.m.

In reply to GameboyRMH :

Thank you for that. It had seemed odd, but there all kinds of weird vibration issues with the big wind mills, so one more didn't seem too out of line.

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