Recently, a British tech company named Intelligent Energy (among other companies) has been showing some promising work on new hydrogen fuel cell powered motorcycles. These bikes, called Emmision Neutral Vehicles (ENV) boast silent engines, low fuel cost, lack of emissions, and portable fuel cells
and could lead to some exciting future technology.
How Do Hydrogen Powered Vehicles Work?
The ENV runs on the principle of reverse electrolysis. Electrolysis is when an electric current is run through water to produce hydrogen and oxygen. Thus, reverse electrolysis (in terms of hydrogen powered vehicles) is when hydrogen and oxygen are joined to make water and electricity. Instead of pollutants being emitted from these vehicles, water is. The fuel cell is where this reverse electrolysis occurs. To get technical, the fuel cell is filled with hydrogen fuel which is broken down into positive ions, and negative electrons. The positive ions are filtered through an electrolyte, which leaves only the electrons. The electrons are then converted to electricity. Once they complete the cycle, the electrons rejoin with the filtered ions and oxygen, and the water emission is produced. The fuel cell is currently a portable, briefcase-like container, and developers hope that when more and more vehicles adopt this technology, a standard fuel cell can be used interchangeably among them.
Due to no combustion and no moving parts in the engines, ENV’s are silent. This presents both a pro and a con for these new vehicles. Running as silently as an actual bicycle, these bikes will greatly decrease noise on the road. However, for obvious reasons this silence could increase accidents. Currently, developers are actually working on making the engines noisier. Unfortunately, even with a fake engine sound (that could be increased and decreased at will), the silent engine could still deter potential buyers. Many motorcyclists are quite keen on the feeling of speed and power, and the engine noise is certainly a factor in that.
Fuel for an ENV would currently cost about 3 American dollars for a full fuel cell. This would take the rider for approximately 100 miles, or 4 hours. Hydrogen can come from either water (through electrolysis, as already mentioned) or from the decomposition of a hydrocarbon that has a high hydrogen:carbon ratio. A popular hydrocarbon is methane. Although fossil fuels (the basis of our current fueling system) are renewable, they are not renewable on a convenient timescale. Electrolysis can be ‘fueled’ by sources such as wind energy and solar energy, thus making it much more convenient than fossil fuels.
The ENV is relatively low-end compared to other motorcycles. Its speed tops off at approximately 50mph, and it has been compared to a very good mountain bike in terms of handling. One should also note that the $3 for a full tank of gas does not make this bike particularly better than normal ones. Most can ride for much faster, longer, and with a full tank price of 7 to 9 dollars. However, the key thing that a buyer should be aware of is the potential that this technology has. Using hydrogen as a fuel is beneficial in so many ways, including it’s neutral emissions and renew-ability. Hopefully, in time we will have a ENV that runs just as efficiently and fast as a standard fossil fuel powered motorcycle.