Spark of genius

Patrik Molitor loves challenges. Together with his team the 27-year-old Linde employee developed a zero-emission model vehicle. How? With his vision – and with the power of chemistry.

There are people who like to take the easy path. Patrik Molitor is not one of them. When he has reached a goal, he already has the next in sight. Thus during his mechatronics training at Linde’s facility in Hamburg he learned so quickly that he could finish it several months ahead of schedule. After working as a service technician for a while he started a dual-education program, combining studies and work, in mechanical engineering with a focus on process technology.

In his fifth semester he had to select a research project and could effectively choose between taking it easy and tackling something big – he opted for the latter. The pay-off was simple: An unforgettable project and the second place in a big student competition.

When choosing the topic for their research project students at Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University in Mannheim can choose from a list. „There are some topics like reviewing the standard literature on certain components, which have been done 500 times before,“ remembers Patrik. „Or you choose something exciting. And I was immediately struck by ,ChemCar’.“ ChemCar looks like a project made for students like Patrik. It sets the challenge of developing a vehicle that can drive the distance of exactly 14,50 meters – not a centimeter more or less. The clue is: the vehicle must be powered by a chemical reaction that should be emission-free and as safe and clean as possible.

Patrik Molitor
Team ‘LoChemotive’ (from left to right: Markus Ketterer, Inga Müller, Patrik Molitor)

Good chemistry – teamwork is everything

The final for the student teams taking part in the competition was set for March 2018. In November 2017 Patrik’s four-member team met up for the first time. They divided their work into four areas like construction and process technology. This was the start to a very intense phase of Patrik’s life. He and his teammates gathered ideas, debated them and discarded some. Sometimes they worked all night. “The project was more time-consuming than the others, but it was exciting and there was a lot to learn,” he says. On their way to turn the project into reality by March 2018 Patrik’s team also encountered setbacks. “It was very challenging to align all our ideas, reach agreements and to unite all the different parts into one large project.” After all, the task was not only to build the vehicle but also to convince the judges with an innovative technology for propulsion.

But the team had an idea – like a spark of genius: They would use hydrogen peroxide combined with iron chloride. “Some people know these chemicals from dying their hair,” explains Patrik. “Iron chloride is like a powder. If you combine the two elements, you get a strong reaction. The hydrogen peroxide decomposes into water and oxygen. So you are left with water and oxygen in gaseous state. The oxygen generates pressure, which we could use to power our motor to set the vehicle in motion. This chemical reaction is a well-known classic, but we fine-tuned it with a homogenous catalyst.” For the design of the vehicle the team also relied on an unconventional model: a miniature locomotive with a 3D-printed vehicle body in Linde design. From there it was only a small step to settle on a name for the team: LoChemotive. In building the vehicle the team received support from Linde, for which Patrik is very grateful. “Linde sponsored many parts, for example an expensive safety valve. Plus, we had access to the company workshop, to conduct experiments. So Linde supported us a lot.”

It all started with a big bang

After extensive tests of the vehicle the highlight of the project was the actual ChemCar competition. It was part of the 2018 ProcessNet convention in Aachen. This annual event is one of the most prestigious conferences for process technology, chemical engineering and technical chemistry. To take part in it was Patrik’s reward for working many long nights. “It was an incredible feeling. In a project like that you go through numerous phases. First, you’re totally euphoric and have so many ideas. Then you also have stretches of disillusionment because you have to work many night shifts. Especially at the end you’re relieved and proud that you got through it.” In the end, Patrik’s ambitious approach paid off: of the seven teams that had entered the competition his team came second.

The future is sustainable

The experience of the competition has had a lasting influence on Patrik. “The main things that I have taken away from it is to take decisions, find compromises and to set priorities.” After finishing his university degree Patrik is now a sales engineer for Linde’s in the North-East of Germany. He works in locations such as Hamburg, Hanover, Berlin and Leuna. There he keeps progressing – and is never interested in standing still. He seems like someone who will pursue his path. As a final remark he reveals: “There are always people interested in the ChemCar project – so in that sense it is never really over.”

The ChemCar at the ProcessNet 2018 in Aachen

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