The hydrogen fuel cell was invented in the mid nineteenth century by Sir William Grove, a Welsh lawyer. It doesn’t seem to have had any practical use until NASA used the technology in the fifties and sixties. Astronauts from the Apollo missions even drank the water that is a byproduct of the hydrogen fuel cell.
Today we hear a great deal about the hydrogen fuel cell as being the fuel source of the future. However, there are both infrastructure and technical problems. You can’t pull up to your local fuel station and fill her up with hydrogen. And, so far, making hydrogen takes more energy than the resulting hydrogen can produce.
However, many auto companies feel hydrogen fuel cells are the wave of the future and, as a start off, a few companies have produced fuel cell motorcycles. Honda plans to lease hydrogen fuel cell motorcycles starting in 2009. Peugeot has a prototype called the Quark which has a 9 liter hydrogen tank fuel cell and four battery powered motors that are hybridized. The Quark is also four wheel drive. The folks who brought us the Segway Human Transporter now have a prototype hydrogen fuel cell motorcycle that turns using gyroscopes just like the Segway does. It is called the Embrio and it has one big wheel and one tiny wheel which comes out when the Embrio starts and when it stops.
But all of these are prototypes, not ready for sale. Intelligent Energy, a British company that developed a hydrogen fuel cell light airplane for Boeing, has a motorcycle that it ready to sell. The company has moved from London to Los Angeles and expects to produce 10,000 motorcycles that will sell for about $6000. It is also working on a small hydrogen creator that could make hydrogen from future fuels such as ethanol.
The fuel cell can generate 6kW on its own but the bike is hybridized with a battery and can go to 6kW for peak needs, such as accelerating. The bike is made from hollow cast aircraft aluminum and weighs only 175 pounds. Its fuel cell can be removed and carried like a suitcase to power a boat or a small cabin.
The bike’s top speed is currently 50 miles per hours but Intelligent Energy expects refinements and developments to exceed this. The current range is 100 miles.
The fuel cell is a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) type fuel cell. Each fuel cell is a multi-layered sandwich of plates and MEAs (Membrane Electrode Assemblies) in which the MEA acts as a catalyst during an electro-chemical reaction, producing water and electricity from hydrogen and oxygen.
The following are performance data:
1. 0-20 in 4.3 seconds
2. 0-30 in 7.3 seconds
3. 0-50 in 12.1 seconds
It can be seen that this is not exactly the hottest bike in town. This plus its relatively slow speed and short range make some doubt its saleability. In addition, it is completely silent when running and most people miss the vroom vroom of the standard motorcycle. Intelligent Energy has tried to meet this problem by developing fake sounds that can be turned on or off.
The company feels there is a market for its fuel cell motorcycles, especially in California, which is developing a hydrogen fuel infrastructure.