By Anna Ploszajski
In June 2014, we unearthed our wellies, dug out our tentpoles and, clutching our miniature fuel cell demo kit in one hand and shewees in the other (just me then), UCell made their debut at the infamous Glastonbury Festival.
UCell entered into the collaborative project with festival veteran Mark Groves following a conversation at Green Man festival in August 2013. The Clean Green Charging Machine did what it said on the tin – house a free mobile phone charging point powered entirely by renewable energy. Our own aims for the project were to supply the system with hydrogen energy and to demonstrate to the muddy, tipsy, free-spirited public that hydrogen fuel cells really are a working technology of today.
All five of the team were new to Glastonbury, and we felt humbled to be there, yet simultaneously like it was the festival where UCell had always belonged. A homecoming if you will. Peering out of the doors of the Clean Green Charging Machine each day to see the long line of curious faces extending towards the thunderous be-buntinged horizon, we knew we were in our element.
Apart from our hydrogen-powered refrigerated ciders, the most enjoyable part of the experience was our parleys with the public. Experts and laypersons alike, the punters kept us on our toes all day with questions from fuel cell science to the wider picture of hydrogen’s place in a green economy. For the more nonchalant amongst the clientele, having to wait three days before posting their Ed Sheeran selfie online was the lesser of two evils compared to hearing James talk about his research for 20 minutes. Or maybe it was just the accent.
Either way it was always a real buzz when someone’s eyes lit up when we told them about our miracle in a can and said “oh my god that’s actually like so totally awesome”. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but our training in the engineering sciences prepared us well for the challenges we encountered. For example, the control system for the cooling fan stopped working, so we had to instal a manual switch to ensure that nothing apart from Rhod overheated.
Nine days, forty cereal bars, hundreds of conversations, thousands of full phone batteries and not nearly enough sleep later, we put the lid on our trusty fuel cell for another festival. Exhaustedly we gathered our belongings and reminisced about our uniquely crazy Glastonbury adventure by the campfire. One thing’s for sure- we wouldn’t get experiences like this with a 9 to 5. Tell ‘em, Dolly.
Green Man 2014
By Anna Ploszajski
Barely had we the chance to dry out our saturated waterproofs, air out our trusty pop-up tents and bash out our mud-clagged wellies before being summoned to another field, for another festival, for another adventure.
August 2014 saw UCell’s fourth visit to Green Man Festival. Set against the back-drop of the glistening Brecon Beacons, this four-day extravaganza of music, comedy, literature and science could not have been better-suited to our mission statement. We were positioned in Einstein’s Garden, a tranquil haven for the scientifically curious to indulge their interest and test their intellect, and we proudly powered a small performance tent and workshop area with our shiny new fuel cell stack.
As well as providing this service, our eight-person strong team tirelessly delighted in engaging with the be-face-painted revelers, discussing everything from the specific workings of the fuel cell to the role of hydrogen in a future green economy. A big challenge was our audience’s diversity; young and old, believers and skeptics, experts and laypeople. Every conversation brought fresh ideas and new perspectives, and the varied questions certainly kept us on our toes.
A new focus on feedback metrics brought about the introduction of a comments board, which asked the festival-goers “What did you discover today?”. We received some excellent responses and we’re excited to expand this area of our public engagement activities at future events. We also had a short video put together on the final afternoon, directed by Donal, featuring an overview of our stall and some glowing reviews from members of the public.
Greenpower Finals 2014
October 2014 saw UCell embark on a new collaboration with the Greenpower Education Trust at the Goodwood Motor Circuit. Here we met with the cream of the Formula 24 (and 24+) crop to power a demonstration tent at the event. The finals, which drew teams of budding engineers from as far afield as South Africa, Poland and America, were a superb demonstration of the ability and creativity of young engineers from across the globe with some spectacular looking cars being raced.
The event also offered UCell the first opportunity to test out our new fuel cell stack and display case which enabled the team to show off the system in all its glory, something the student participants were more than curious about!
The one day event also featured a talk about UCell and the team’s activities delivered by James which opened a series of presentations given throughout the day by academics and industrial leaders discussing the role young engineers have in creating and developing sustainable technologies.
Throughout the event the team were to be seen deep in discussion with the public about topics ranging from ‘how does a fuel cell work?’ to the very popular ‘how can I get this into a racecar?’. Whilst we couldn’t offer our fuel cell to the engineers of the cars the designers didn’t seem to have any problems in getting up to pace with speeds in excess of 50 km/h being reached with the 24V battery packs!