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University of Alberta

Engineering a Hydrogen-Powered Car

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The University of Alberta's hydrogen racing team recently offered Tektronix a glimpse into their labs, where they are hard at work on an ambitious mission: designing and building a hydrogen vehicle. The team is using the Tektronix 2 Series MSO, to help them with the electrical systems in the vehicle.

As they gear up for a Shell-hosted hydrogen racing competition, the stakes are high. The team is racing for more than just the fastest time and best fuel efficiency. They are also focused on demonstrating that hydrogen can be a powerful, clean energy source of the future.

The project, however, is not just about crafting a futuristic vehicle. It's also a training ground for nurturing talents and providing undergraduates with industry-relevant experience. The club is made up of five divisions: mechanical, fuel cell development, geological, business, and electrical.

The electrical team, equipped with the Tektronix 2 Series MSO, collaborates closely with the mechanical and fuel cell teams. They ensure alignment between the requirements of each board, the voltage output from the fuel cell, and the current limits. The hydrogen energy they're working with is an extremely renewable source, and the students are eager to showcase its viability as a vehicle fuel source.


One of the hydrogen vehicle's key advantages is its rapid refueling time. Imagine this: a five-minute pit stop that yields a range of 500 kilometers. It's like driving a gasoline-powered car, but without the environmental toll. This year's racing team has enhanced their model by learning from past experiences and integrating temperature and humidity sensors for effective calibration, regardless of the location.

Innovation is the driving force behind the project. The students have incorporated microcontrollers on every board, with each module using the CAN protocol for communication. This reliable protocol ensures smooth transmission of messages throughout the car. The Tektronix 2 Series MSO translates these messages, offering the students a glimpse into the electrical world and helping them understand the vehicle's inner workings.


“While writing and testing our CAN firmware the Tektronix 2 Series MSO has proved itself to be invaluable. Having the ability to decode messages has sped up our debugging a lot (believe me there was a lot of debugging) and ensured we knew the difference between what we thought was happening vs what was actually happening,” said Ryan Dutchyn, one of the student leaders on the team.  “An example of problem that came up was during one of our testing sessions. Our system was seeing ‘ghost’ messages which were causing the entire system to freeze until being hard reset. The scope allowed us to resolve the issue while at our testing session, allowing us to continue with our full car test. It would have been nearly impossible to diagnose the issue without the scope.”

The team's commitment to learning and development leads them to construct a new car every year. This tradition provides all club members with hands-on experience and a chance to integrate knowledge from past years into the new model. The senior members mentor the new ones, fostering an environment of continuous learning.

Despite the challenges of promoting renewable technologies in an oil and gas-dominated province, the University of Alberta’s Hydrogen Racing Team persists. They stand as proud ambassadors of renewable technology, crediting their partnership with Tektronix for enabling them to offer industry-standard training to new members.