London based Intelligent Energy recently introduced the first fuel cell powered motorcycle. Named the ENV (pronounced “envy) or Emissions Neutral Vehicle, the motorcycle can run up to four hours or one hundred miles and up to speeds of fifty miles per hour on a tank of compressed hydrogen. It is estimated that each tank of hydrogen will cost approximately $4 US dollars. The ENV will be sold for a price between $6000 to $8000 in California by the end of 2006. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has publicly announced his intent to build a “hydrogen highway” with at least forty hydrogen fueling sites already planned. The US government has pledged over $1.5 billion to aid development of the hydrogen fuel cell.
While the ENV has generally enjoyed positive press, its critics argue that its silent operation (it makes as much noise as a home computer) will leave the motorcycle enthusiast wanting for the “zoom” factor. Further critics argue that cars and pedestrians would be unable to hear the ENV coming – making for a potential dangerous situation. Intelligent Energy has overcome this concern by placing a fake engine noise device in the ENV which can be turned on and off by a switch.
The bike runs on a PEM or proton exchange membrane cell which takes oxygen and the chemical energy of hydrogen and converts it to electricity. The electric current powers the battery motor of the bike. Remarkably the only thing emitted from the bike is a water vapor that can actually be drunk.
The core fuel cell can be removed from the bike and used to power any other objects as long as a supply of hydrogen is readily available. While hydrogen is an element that can be found in great amounts, the high cost of the catalyst needed to create usable energy (i.e. platinum) has made it rather difficult to have successful commercial use of fuel cells. Acknowledging this problem, Intelligent Energy is working to develop a reformer device which will remove hydrogen from biodiesel fuels (vegetable oils or fat of animals) and ethanol (grain or corn). These units would be cost approximately $1500 and would allow production of enough hydrogen to fill the tanks of the ENV.
Harry Bradbury, CEO of Intelligent Energy stated with enthusiasm upon the release of the ENV, “In the none- too-distant future, people will be able to use a bike like ENV to leave work in an urban environment, drive to the countryside, detach the Core and attach it to another vehicle, such as a motorboat, before going on to power a log cabin with the very same fuel cell, which could then be re-charged from a mini hydrogen creator, the size of a shoebox.”
Honda and other companies are currently working on hydrogen powered scooters for the American market. As gas prices rise it has become imperative that companies search for these new energy sources.