Learning about Renewable Energy Through Racing – The 2023 H2GP NorCal Qualifier
On February 18th 2023, something caused pandemonium at Florin High School in California. The usually quiet, subdued campus of this leafy Sacramento school was alive with energy. Students walked through the halls after class to the sound of engines revving, groups of students in intense conversation, and teachers directing everyone where to go. Students from all over Northern California had gathered to do something unthinkable just a few years prior: race radio-controlled cars powered exclusively by hydrogen gas.
The H2 Grand Prix (H2GP) – a STEAM-based educational program that challenges high school students to design, construct and race a 1:10 scale RC car powered by hydrogen – had come to Florin High School.
These days there’s a big emphasis on STEAM education. Everyone from teachers to community leaders to government officials extoll the virtues of traditional STEM integrated with the arts. There’s also a big push to teach more kids about renewable energy, giving them an education that will equip them with the skills, competence and technical knowledge to master the future energy economy. Yet up until now, very few programs were able to teach high school students about renewable energy using this holistic STEAM approach.
The H2 Grand Prix (H2GP) aims to fill this gap. Challenging high school students to not only engineer the internal hydrogen components of the 1:10 scale RC car, but to redesign the chassis and even use computer-aided-design to create more aerodynamic car bodies – the H2GP is able to successfully integrate traditional science and engineering with the arts. Students leave the program with not only hard engineering and science skills, but the ability to successfully work in a team, find creative solutions and solve practical problems.
As we enter Florin High School’s gymnasium the air is alive with anticipation. A large racetrack is ready for students to put their hydrogen cars to the test for 4 hours to see who makes the best overall time. The best teams will make it to the State Final on April 22nd.
Luis Cervantes Ochoa, a Senior and in his second year of the program, gives us his thoughts after the race is eventually over:
“There’s no better feeling than seeing your hard work racing against the clock, and it was an incredible experience to be back on the track and doing whatever it takes to actually stay on the track.
“This year’s competition was a worthy one; since, like us, they learned from the struggles of the year prior. Although I won’t be participating in next year’s race, I know that the competition is going to continue to evolve and that our team will grow with it, just like the technology that fuels the race cars we build. Growth is inevitable, so it’s fair to assume mistakes are too”.
Even students from teams who didn’t qualify, such as Cindy Liang, were able to appreciate how the experience of racing as a tram brought her closer together with classmates:
“Like many other teams, our struggles and successes from last year motivated us to continue learning and to build upon our skills. Our stress during last year’s competitions has transformed into excitement for friendly competition and self-improvement. As a result, we felt much more confident and satisfied with our accomplishments during the 2023 NorCal regional race.
“Although we didn’t qualify for the California state finals this year, we’re still incredibly proud of ourselves for creating a better design, troubleshooting our issues with ease, and, most of all, forming meaningful bonds within our team.
The top 5 teams – two from Independence High School in San Jose and three from Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo – qualified for the State Final at Orange Country Fairgrounds on April 22nd. The winners of this State Final will then qualify for the H2GP World Final, to be held in Las Vegas in September 2023.