Pitt | Swanson Engineering
How Do Our Cars Run?

2015 University of Maryland Regional Competition Car: "Walt" (named after Walter White of "Breaking Bad" fame)

Reaction: "Walt" utilizes a reaction of solid magnesium and 3M sulfuric acid.

Mg(s) + H2SO4(aq)  MgSO4(aq) + H2(g)

  • Reaction products, as seen above, are magnesium sulfate and hydrogen gas (used in a hydrogen fuel cell to run the car)
  • Hydrogen gas produced in the original reaction vessel is transferred to a connected vessel filled with water to remove unwanted vapor produced by the reaction
  • The gas then travels through a desiccant which removes any excess water vapor, resulting in purer H2 that flows to the fuel cell
  • The fuel cell is used to power two electric motors attached to the rear wheels that move the car forward


                          Picture of "Walt" Prototype, reaction vessels in back, stopping mechanism in front


  • In accordance with AIChE regulations, we have taken necessary steps to ensure "Walt" is safe to use in competition.
  • All hydrogen gas produced by the reaction is consumed by the hydrogen fuel cell
  • The other reaction product, Magnesium Sulfate or Epsom Salt is non-toxic
  • All vessels with chemicals are double contained by being placed in a sealed plexiglass chamber
  • Chemicals are properly disposed of following each of the cars runs

2016 Regional Competition Prototype Car: "Jesse" (named after Jesse Pinkman also of "Breaking Bad" fame)

Reaction: "Jesse" is being designed to run by producing a temperature gradient across a system of thermoelectric generators

  • The cold side of the gradient will reach a temperature of -78oC using the combination of acetone and dry ice
  • Safe and effective exothermic reactions are currently being researched to be used on the hot side of the gradient
  • Two systems of electric generators will be sandwiched between metal conductors and surrounded by reaction vessels where the gradient will be produced

Jesse is still in the developmental stages but stay tuned for more information and design parameters as they are refined!