Aston Martin has become the first racing team to field a hydrogen powered car in an international racing event.
Making its debut at Nurburging 24 hours, the hydrogen powered Rapide S four-door coupe also became the first car to ever complete a CO2 emissions free lap of a motor race, being propelled solely by the gas.
The car, which is a joint project between Aston Martin and automotive technology company Alset Global, is designed to show not just the feasibility, but also the durability and reliability of hydrogen powered cars, by testing it to the limit in one of the most taxing endurance races in the world.
It was piloted by Aston Martin boss Dr Ulrich Bez on its initial emissions-free laps, which is a first in automotive racing history.
The technology behind the car is relatively straightforward. Whereas other manufacturers are developing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, in which the gas is used to generate electricity that in turn powers the car, the Rapide uses the same 6.0-litre V12 (albeit bolstered by two turbochargers) as the standard petrol powered model, but is fitted with an additional fuel-injection system to deliver hydrogen into the cylinders.
Given the unproven nature of the technology, particularly in the dangerous arena of motor racing, Aston Martin had to go to extraordinary lengths to convince organisers that the car, which is the only one fielded in the E1-XP2 experimental category in this year's 24-hour race, was safe.
Not only has every conceivable crash scenario been factored into the car's design, but the hydrogen itself is stored in near unbreakable aluminium and carbon-fibre reinforced tanks. Aston Martin has also fitted a special purge valve, which can empty the hydrogen tanks through a vent in the roof.
However, as combustible as hydrogen is, the fuel presents much less of a fire-risk than regular petrol, as it quickly escapes into the atmosphere, where conventional liquid fuels remain where they are spilt.
Also beneficial from an endurance race standpoint is the speed at which the hydrogen tanks could be refuelled. Aston's engineers originally calculated a re-fill time of 45 seconds, but managed to cut this down to 30 during the race weekend.
While Aston Martin never expected to contest the race leaders in the Rapide, it was critical the car performed well, with the reputation of hydrogen mobility resting on the team's shoulders.
Thankfully, the car did finish – 119th – and managed to hit 160mph powered by hydrogen alone.
Speaking after the race, Jose Ignacio Galindo, CEO and founder of Alset Global, said: "This is a historic day for two reasons: besides being the first hydrogen-powered race car to compete and undertake zero CO2 emissions laps, it has showcased the most practical technology available to fundamentally, and within a very short period of time, address the challenge of global emissions, without disrupting the automotive industry."
The Rapide S wasn't the only unique Aston Martin on show at the Nordschleife. The British marque is celebrating its centenary with a show-stopping open top two-seater called the CC100.