June 2016 - Engaging with the Fuel Cell Vehicle Drivers of Tomorrow

  June 2016, Sonning Common Primary School, UK  - Engaging with the Fuel Cell Vehicle Drivers of Tomorrow

As part of the communication activities in the INSPIRE project, a team from Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells took part in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) week in the UK. This provided an opportunity for over 400 children from primary and secondary schools to experience science and technology close up and see how important it is for our future well-being, particularly in the area of energy and fuel cells. It was also a chance to take JMFC’s fuel cell car around the community, allowing children and parents to experience fuel cells in action.

Secondary school pupils trying out the fuel cell car

The first stop was the secondary school with the 12-13 year old students who were studying climate change and had all been doing project related work that week. It was a great opportunity to discuss all the issues around energy generation and usage. What impressed the most was not only their unbounded enthusiasm but also the perceptive questions around where and how we will get, and use, our energy in the future and what technological solutions can help on both local and global scales.

A couple of the students had previous experience of full battery electric vehicles and were quickly impressed with the fuel cell car having a far greater range without worries about not being able to get home, and being capable of rapid re-fueling. They were also very interested to hear how the support provided by the European Union, for projects such as INSPIRE, will help the team take this exciting technology to the next level and increase its prospects of becoming one of the main ways our cars will be powered in the future.

The next stop was the primary school for three science assemblies with over 400 schoolchildren aged from 5-11 years old, where we introduced the concept of renewable energy and electricity using classic fruit battery, potato clock and ice tray battery.

Fruit based battery and fuel cell experiments at the primary school

A next set of experiments introduced the idea of electromagnetism via the Homopolar motor, water electrolysis using two pencils and salty water and finally fuel cells with an educational fuel cell car model refuelled by hydrogen.

Each assembly finished with a bang as we discussed the danger with stored energy with the famous whoosh bottle experiment (stored solvent fumes).

The whoosh bottle experiment





This all gave me a great segue into the fuel cell car which I brought along the next day into the playground for each class to experience. Once again the enthusiasm and the way the kids were able to relate the experiments to the real life science and engineering was brilliant.

But what was remarkable was how much of their learning had permeated to their parents and as the bell rang for the first period I ended up with so many parents in the playground fascinated by the car and what their children had done the day before.


This was a great experience with INSPIRE staying true to its name inspiring our future users, scientists and engineers.

I will finish with a great observation: Tuesday evening I took the fuel cell car to football training and was amazed to see one of the kids with strong dyslexia and learning difficulties explaining in detail to another player and his dad how the car worked; this is what science in action can do.

Silvain Buche
Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells
July 2016