Competition: You can also drive cars with baking powder

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You can also drive cars with baking soda

Competition: You can also drive cars with baking powder-drive

Mathias Musch from the TU Berlin puts the finishing touches on his competition car.

Source: Dorothea Loffler / TU Berlin

Almost all manufacturers try their hand at electric drives and believe they are very progressive with it. In terms of innovation, however, the participants in the ChemCars competition are much further ahead. They only propel their cars by chemical reaction, using things that everyone has at home.

F.Eat with Red Bull, this energy drink? It does not work? Go then. In the “ChemCar” competition, the TU Graz team produced an “enzymatic oxidation of glucose or sucrose” that powered a model car. That was in 2008 when edible oil was also used as fuel. This year, several participants had sodium hydrogen carbonate (baking powder) react with either citric acid (RWTH Aachen University) or hydrochloric acid (TU Berlin, University of Karlsruhe) to set cars in motion.

Eight teams were allowed to compete in Mannheim during the week. Eight teams with the best young chemists that can be found in this country. And they demonstrated that even in mom’s kitchen there is enough material to generate a chemical reaction that propels a car forward.

At the “ChemCars 2009”, in which the TU Dortmund prevailed, it was not about the invention of a new alternative fuel for cars. “The cars are only platforms for chemical plants,” explains Professor Ulrich Kunz from the Clausthal University of Technology. This had given the winner three times in a row, but could no longer compete in Mannheim in the practical test due to problems with her car.

In the “ChemCars” competition, students have to demonstrate that they have chemical reactions under control. One hour before the start, the jury, which this time was provided by BASF, Evonik and Merck, determined the length of the route to be traveled at eleven meters and the load of 200 ml of water to be transported.

From this point on, the teams started calculating and mixing in order to measure the exact amount of fuel so that the model vehicle comes to a stop exactly where the jury had specified it. Neither braking nor remote control were allowed. Nevertheless, the TU Dortmund was only 20 centimeters above the mark on the best attempt.

“With chemical plants, I have to know beforehand what will happen when I put them into operation,” says Reinhard Schomacker from the Institute for Chemistry at the TU Berlin, who came second. The use of self-built model cars only guarantees that the concepts can be compared.

Even if the competition is not about the discovery of new fuels, such research and test arrangements are nevertheless important for the automotive industry. Especially when it comes to the question of future battery technology, which plays a decisive role in the further development of electromobility. Clausthal University of Technology is already working with VW on this issue.

So it is hardly surprising that their previous ChemCars managed to get by with batteries they had designed themselves. Metal-air batteries, for example, in which oxygen from the air reacts with water. Batteries that work with air, plus fuel made from baking soda or an energy drink? There is probably nothing among chemists that does not exist.

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