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You are here: > News > August 9, 2008

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in English in Japanese in Chinese in Korean en Franηais en Espaρol no Portuκs in Italiano auf Deutsch

Intergalactic Hydrogen Expects to Win Auto X-Prize

Using off-the-shelf components and technology they have mastered, Tai and Fred Robinson say they can surpass 100 mpg-equivalent using a high-efficiency stock vehicle modified to run on hydrogen. 

Adapted by Sterling D. Allan
Pure Energy Systems News

Fred Robinson drives an H2 Hummer that he and his son, Tai, both of Intergalactic Hydrogen, converted to run on Hydrogen, CNG, Ethanol, or gasoline.

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Tai's Toyota Tocoma and Fred's Hummer.  Both are able to run on hydrogen and CNG (in any combination), and ethanol, in addition to gasoline.

Intergalactic Hydrogen (IH) believes they can win the Automotive X-Prize championship with their multi-fuel technology. The Auto X-Prize is searching for a vehicle that can get 100 MPG-equivalent (MPGe), and would like to award the champion the ability to produce 10,000 copies of their championship design. 

Intergalactic Hydrogen multi-fuel vehicles have the ability to run on hydrogen, methane, or ethanol while retaining the ability to use gasoline. The same system can be used on a diesel engine as well. 

"The goal of 100 MPGe can be achieved very easily with hydrogen", says Tai Robinson, President of Intergalactic Hydrogen.  He runs the business with his father, Fred, who in the early '70s was converting diesel engines on boats to run on hydrogen  generated from the electrolysis of seawater.  They founded Intergalactic Hydrogen in 1999.  Both are members of the New Energy Congress.

The Hydrogen Fuel Solution

"One kilo of hydrogen has roughly the same BTU content as a gallon of gasoline, yet a kilo of H2 will take a vehicle about twice as far as a gallon of gasoline", says Robinson.  Solar-derived hydrogen can be purchased for vehicles at less than 1/4 the price of gasoline.  You can get four times the bang for your buck -- on your existing engine; from renewable, locally-derived energy.  And what are the emissions from running a vehicle on hydrogen? Water!

The reason a vehicle running on hydrogen can be twice as efficient is a combination of thermal and mechanical efficiencies.  The carbon contained in gasoline and diesel has a high radiant effect, so when that fuel is combusted its heat is transmitted to the engine.  This gives a thermal efficiency of around 23%.  Hydrogen fuel is carbon-free, so while it burns, that heat is not transmitted as much to the engine, giving a thermal efficiency of 49%.  

Mechanically, in a gasoline or diesel engine, the fuel is ignited while the piston is yet in its compression stroke, so some that energy is not being used to propel the vehicle.  However, because hydrogen has such a high flame propagation speed, it can be combusted at top-dead-center or slightly past, so more of the energy is being transmitted to propelling the vehicle forward.

Contest-Suitable OEM Vehicles

In order to achieve 100+ MPGe, the Robinsons' X-Prize entry vehicle will need to be one that can get 50+ MPG on gasoline or diesel to begin with.  They're looking at three high-efficiency vehicles presently in the market as likely choices from which to build their X-Prize contest entry: the Toyota Yaris, the Honda Fit, and the Chevy Aveo.  The Honda Fit is rated at 39 mpg, but hypermilers are getting as much as 70 mpg using efficient driving practices.  Though the present Aveo only gets 24 mpg, the 2009 is supposed to get much higher than that.

To achieve in excess of the Prize’s target 100 MPG-equivalent, the Robinsons would remove unnecessary weight from the vehicle to make it lighter and modify its engine to run on multiple fuels, including hydrogen, which is the fuel they would use in the contest.  The flex-fuel nature would create a more practical alternative to our common single-fuel vehicle, and allow it to run on cleaner-burning, locally sourced fuels.  In retrofitting an existing line of vehicles, the Robinsons’ design would easily meet the contest expectation of producing 10,000 copies within a year of the contest.

Other Clean Fuels in IH Flex Fuel Vehicles

Burning compressed natural gas (CNG) in an engine results in up to 18% better fuel economy than using gasoline; and it often costs less than one-sixth the price of gasoline, and can be obtained today at public filling stations.  Hence, with CNG you get around six times the bang for your buck -- and the emissions are much cleaner, around 95% cleaner than gasoline.  In fact, CNG burns so cleanly that the air emerging from the tail pipe is actually cleaner than the ambient air in the city.  This vehicle actually cleans the air as it goes.

When an engine is optimized for ethanol, it can deliver greater fuel efficiency than when burning gasoline.  The only commercially-available vehicle that is optimized for ethanol is the SAAB 9-5 Biopower, which gets 20% more power, 16% greater torque, and about 10% better fuel efficiency over gasoline.

Tai Robinson points out that with limitations in farming and land use, only about six percent of the U.S. fuel needs could be met by ethanol in ideal circumstances.  Consequently, as a matter principle, he only uses ethanol only six percent of the time.

With the vehicle’s ability to burn hydrogen, CNG, or ethanol, fuels that are currently expanding in distribution, Robinson says he has not had to fill up with petrol for nearly two years; and he travels quite a bit, doing booths and presenting at various green-related conferences around the U.S.

Emerging engine designs allow for super-efficient burning of a variety of fuels, but the Intergalactic Hydrogen approach enables existing vehicles to run on cleaner fuels on the existing filling-station infrastructure, while spurring increased demand for the cleaner, local fuels.

Cost Considerations

The primary downside to what is an otherwise obvious sale, is the sticker price for such conversions.  It costs around $34,000 to convert a vehicle to run on hydrogen.  The CNG conversion is more affordable at around $8,000, resulting in a quicker return on investment, which is getting shorter as petrol prices climb.  

Robinson encourages the CNG transition as "paving the way to the hydrogen economy."  The fundamentals of the infrastructure used for distributing natural gas will also work for hydrogen.  It's just a matter of higher tolerances.  The technicians trained on natural gas can upgrade to hydrogen, which has higher pressures and more stringent safety considerations.

A vehicle that is fitted for hydrogen can also run natural gas, but not the other way around, due to the higher requirements for hydrogen.

Grassroots Growth

A few years ago, the U.S. government mandated that natural gas vehicles be made and deployed.  "Because it was forced on the manufacturers, they did not do a very good job of implementing the technology.  It just wasn't done right", says Robinson.

Intergalactic Hydrogen is leading a bottom-up approach to deliver cleaner fuel vehicles to the consumer.  If they compete in, and especially if the win the Automotive X-Prize, that would significantly boost their ability to demonstrate this technology on a scale that would both prove its viability as well as create a sufficient grassroots support to then motivate the automobile manufactures to design it well into their new models.

The Robinsons expects their participation in the contest will draw needed attention to the political obstacles that make such conversions cost three times more than they should.  It's quite an eye-opener to learn about how the EPA sometimes is an obstacle to the emergence of clean fuel solutions.

Multi-fuel options are very common in other countries around the world.  In the United States, the EPA criteria for certification require that the vehicle be "dedicated-fuel", which is not plausible since the infrastructure does not yet provide enough filling stations for any single one of the clean alternatives.  A multi-fuel approach resolves this infrastructure ramp-up inadequacy by providing filling options.  "The multi-fuel concept is simple and works within today's infrastructure while creating the demand for more clean fuel infrastructure," says Robinson.

Contest Deadlines

The Aug. 15 deadline is rapidly approaching for the Automotive X-Prize entry fee of $5000.  Intergalactic Hydrogen is looking for a sponsor to help them out with this, which will guarantee a spot for them in the qualifying race. 

After that, the budget to build, test, refine and enter their multi-fuel vehicle in the qualifying race must be secured. Sponsorship opportunities are available.  The Robinsons hope to raise at least $250,000 to be competitive.  These budgeted costs include such things as the vehicle and its modification ($90k), a fuel trailer ($190k), travel, lodging, and support crew.

The qualifying race, to be held in the Spring of 2009, requires each vehicle to get at least 75 MPG.  This should not be a problem for the Intergalactic Hydrogen entry.

After competing in the qualifying race, the Robinson design will be refined to get even better performance and efficiency for the Championship round to be held in the Fall of 2009.  The Robinsons expect that they will need at least an additional $350,000 to win the Championship round of the Progressive Automotive X-Prize.

Marketing Platform

Whether or not they win this contest, which they are confident is easily within their reach, the Robinsons see this challenge as being a great platform for spreading the message about clean, home-grown fuels and their plausibility now.  Being able to display the various X-Prize insignia along the way will help in their educational outreach and help their business expand in converting more vehicles to run on clean, local fuels. 

Sticker on Tai Robinson's gas tank cover.

# # #

Special thanks to Joy Cernac and Sepp Hassleberger for help in editing.


The Water Makers preview
Tai and Fred Robinson would like to produce a documentary film about clean fuels.  This is their promotional video, posted at YouTube Aug. 8, 2008.


Multi-Fuel Tacoma - H2, CNG, E85, no gasoline required! 
(19min 20sec)
TeslaTech Extra Ordinary Technology Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2006


Tai W. Robinson 

Related Links

  • Download (13 Mb; mp3) - On June 9, 2008, Sterling D. Allan conducted a 1-hour, live interview with Tai Robinson as part of the Free Energy Now radio series. An overview of how to convert existing vehicles into clean fuel vehicles, running on multiple local fuels. A look at the process, costs, and other considerations regarding alternative fuels in general.

See also

Page composed by Sterling D. Allan Aug. 9, 2008
Last updated December 24, 2014




"It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom." // "I'd rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right." -- Albert Einstein

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