Could you tell us about the genesis of the Gen Z project?
Mike horn : December 2019, I am in the middle of the North Pole. On my satellite phone, I receive the call from Cyril Despres. He will be present at the January 2020 edition in a car and he wants me by his side. As soon as my expedition is over, I go to Saudi Arabia. I have been criticized a lot for my participation in this rally raid which is indeed very polluting. In only thirty years, as my expeditions have progressed, I have seen the Earth change. I have two daughters, and I want to leave the planet to them in a better condition than I received it. I went to Dakar 2020, with this awareness and determination, to see how to change things.
With Cyril, we had the same idea: to come back with a clean vehicle and win to show that we can do without fossil fuels.. We talked to our partner Vaison Sport about it. So begins the Gen Z adventure.
When and how was the CEA integrated into the project?
Johann lejosne : September 2020, I receive a call from Cyril Despres. He is looking for a partner to develop the energy chain of a low carbon vehicle that can compete in the Dakar. He, Mike Horn and Matthieu Parent from Vaison Sport know exactly what they want. They have already seen different manufacturers and wish to meet the CEA… the following week! As soon as Mike Horn arrives, I understand what is at stake. His handshake is very persuasive, this project is so important to him. We visit the facilities and meet the teams. Before even starting our meeting, he announces that the vehicle must be ready for January 2022! Despite all the goodwill and energy in the world, it is inconceivable that such a vehicle could be produced in a year and a half.
Mike horn : I knew very well that the 2022 deadline was unrealistic. I said it so that we understand the urgency! With Cyril, we want to be the first to win the Dakar with a low carbon vehicle.
Johann lejosne : I confirm that, from the first meeting, Mike really put the pressure on us! For this type of project, normally, it takes three to four years.
Mike horn : Precisely, if we reason in « normal », the product will only be normal. You have to give a little more than the others, push your limits. When you leave to cross the North Pole, which has never been done, everyone tells you it’s risky. But it’s risky not to go when you know you can. It is with this attitude that I have approached all my expeditions. At CEA, I found the best engineers. The organization is structured, organized and secure. Corn
I’m here to say that you have to take risks to develop a product that has a head start. Given the delays, the CEA saw this as a risk of commitment. No: it is if you do not make a commitment that you are taking a risk, including for the planet.
Johann lejosne : Then
we are committed to have the vehicle ready in 2023 ! Technically, it is doable, but we have no room for maneuver on the schedule.
How is the project implemented with the CEA?
Mike horn : The project is very ambitious. I recall thathe Dakar is run in twelve stages of around 700 km each. There is not a race in the world which is more demanding: you are driving hard on dunes, no track, no information because there is no GPS; you discover as you go along, that’s why there are serious accidents every year, sometimes fatal. It really is an extreme adventure.
Before meeting the CEA, we had already ruled out the option of a 100% battery vehicle. How can you imagine a Dakar where you stop every 80 km to recharge? This is not to distort the spirit of the race.
Johann lejosne : We offer a hybrid hydrogen / battery energy chain. The PEMFC type fuel cell ensures the autonomy of the vehicle which we push to 250 km / h, because the organizers of the Dakar have authorized refueling every 250 km for a few years. As for the battery, it provides additional power when necessary. If it sounds simple in the lab,
this PEMFC-batteries-engine-interface-tank energy chain must ensure peak speeds of 180 km / h while withstanding the extreme conditions of the Dakar : temperatures exceeding 45 ° C; sand dust which clogs the air filters of the PEMFC; shocks and vibrations strongly constraining the whole system. Performance and reliability must be up to the sporting challenge. On the other hand, we do not compromise with the safety of the crew.
For this, we have assembled a shock team.
The best CEA experts have been recruited, even if they are involved in other projectss. There are about twenty of us with responsibilities on different batches: vehicle, PEMFC, hybridization, quality, safety, purchasing, etc. We also had to convince internally because, although the contract was not officially signed until June 2021, we had no other choice than to start the project from the first meeting!
The team is united and very mobilized to challenge developments in the field. As Mike Horn says, easy things are not interesting to do!
Mike horn : It is above all a human adventure. It is important that everyone involved in the project can share it together and with others. I film everything from the start, the failures and successes, the feelings of the team. When you go in one direction, you have to show it. Communication is very important so I will make a documentary of this adventure. It is important that the CEA can share its knowledge and technological know-how and also that we show what is happening in the car.. We all need each other.
What is the Gen Z project roadmap?
Johann lejosne : From September 2020, we developed a monitoring system to acquire as much field information as Mike and Cyril embarked on their vehicle during the Dakar 2021. We then analyzed this data to determine the typical profiles of the vehicle when driving .
Mike horn : And we even made it to the top ten with this rolling laboratory!
Johann lejosne : Next, we work on each batch (the PEM stack, hydrogen storage, hybrid architecture, choice of engines, etc.) while Vaison Sport advances on the vehicle.
The objective is to have a prototype by summer 2022 and to run it for two months on the tracks of Vaison Sport.. Then, we will make the second prototype, and the two vehicles will go to the Dakar 2023!
Mike horn : And we will win, even if we finish in the top 10.
The challenge is to show that hydrogen is just as efficient as thermal. Moreover, the organizers of the rally are aware that if they do not make this change, their race will disappear. But the Dakar is only the first step, because it is all about mobility. We want fossil fuels to no longer make sense. We will then be able to pass on to the younger generations a planet where there is hope and new challenges!
Learn more about the Gen Z project