A 2005 Prototype Hydrogen Motorcycle from British Engineers May Hit Market by 2006

With gas prices increasing by the day, sales of SUVs are down, while sales of scooters are up. Scooters offer a step above opting for mass transit, walking or biking to destinations saving big on gas and parking. So what is the status quo of a scooter? Well unless your cruising seaside resorts near the Aegean Sea they don’t have much presence on the consumer radar. Scooters, like the Vespa, have been strictly functional and don’t make the cut in the fast lane of a biker’s world. A few rare individuals can pull off the euro-style attitude on a scooter, but it certainly does not fulfill a biker’s presence on the road.

One of the first hydrogen powered motorcycles was developed by British engineers at Intelligent Energy and design firm Seymourpowell in 2003. Hoping to land deals for the ENV (emissions neutral vehicle) with companies developing their own hydrogen vehicles like BMW, Mazda or Toyota, Intelligent is working to give their prototype a roar. Designers feel the bike’s quiet engine could be a danger on the road, so something is being developed to give the bike an audible presence.

The ENV can top a speed of about 50 mph in 12 seconds having to refuel about every 100 miles and recharge the fuel cells after 4 hours continuous use. The bike is forecasted to hit the market around 2006 and may be priced up to $8,000, but mass production could lower it to $5,000. The bike has one thing going for it and that’s sustainability, as in an alternative to fossil fuels. It definitely lacks what most buyers look for in a motorcycle, speed and sound, but most of all a place to recharge. Biker’s live for revving the engine at top speeds through a tunnel echoing the call of attitude.

That’s a three to one disadvantage for the Hydrogen bike with consumers; a potentially dangerous, quiet bike fixed with fake sound and low speed with limited recharge stations vs. it being a cutting edge technological energy saver. As it stands now, it could be the ideal city bike to scoot around town, a perfect step up for delivery employees. The fact that it is silent appeals to opponents of noise pollution like Peter Wakeham as the BBC reported him saying that adding artificial sound “defeats the purpose of designing a silent bike.”

If the ENV model resonates with consumers it will be on its own terms. As Intelligent Energy CEO Harry Bradbury says the ENV isn’t “equivalent to anything”, so it can’t be compared to buying a traditional motorcycle because it is a totally different experience. There isn’t much comparison to a scooter either as a Vespa only reaches about 30mph, costing $3,000 or doesn’t have the ENV’s futuristic appeal.

The ENV is easy to maneuver at 175 pounds made with hollow cast aluminum. It uses no gear shift and is controlled by throttle like a motorbike and because of its swift, silent moves is said to ride like a hyped up mountain bike. The model has an urban appeal, but may strike accord with off road enthusiasts too. The biked is designed around a CORE fuel cell pack which detaches from the frame. If Hydrogen fuel cell technology takes off, then one could easily interchange the energy pack from the ENV’s off road suspension to a new wave motor boat or plug it into a camper. The possibilities are plentiful if transportation, sporting, and energy industries catch on together.

That’s a big “if” and for the ENV to hit the market by 2006 may cause a short life without the infrastructure to support them. This depends on the success of hydrogen cars and the pet projects of politicians like California’s governor Schwarzenegger. He has spearheaded a hydrogen infrastructure in the state and it has extended to Las Vegas as well.

Shell oil has built a station in Washington D.C. and other stations have been built in Europe. Interestingly enough Intelligent Energy board chairman Sir John Jennings was chairman at Shell at one time and they are planning more hydrogen stations. A transition to hydrogen is proposed as easily made with a few stations already offering both gas and hydrogen refueling. If gas prices continue to rise at the rate they have been in 2005 a hydrogen infrastructure may become more than a pet project generating serious industry investments.

Though that road still only leads to Vegas and Intelligent Energy isn’t betting on it quite yet. Unless automobile giants like BMW or Toyota boost their fuel cell car line with bikes, the ENV will have minor investors keeping prices high. For now the prospects for ENV reside in California as there is nowhere else to refuel every hundred miles. The reality of hydrogen is not as futuristic as it seems as an article in Bike world says the U.S. has pledged $1.5 billon to get fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2015.

The biggest challenge is in developing alternative energy to create hydrogen fuel cells. It is relatively expensive to make the cells and still requires fossil fuels, but there is the possibility of using a bio-diesel alternative for production. Fuel cells propel the vehicle or bike engine by generating electricity from combining hydrogen stored in a tank and oxygen from the air. Since water vapor is the only byproduct, environmental groups are whole heartedly behind hydrogen, but there is still a massive industrial and political will needed to see it manifest.

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