Over the last weeks and months, we’ve seen several new, exciting electric motorcycles hit the market. Never before have we seen a hydrogen fuel-cell-powered motorcycle, though. That is, until now.
According to a patent document published on Free Patents Online, Honda has patented a motorcycle — and its essential designs elements — with a hydrogen fuel cell onboard. Designs specific to this hydrogen motorcycle include specially designed air intakes that help cool the fuel cell while also keeping water and dust from entering the fuel stack — the place where the electric energy is created.
Hydrogen is kept under the seat, rather than in front of the driver like most gasoline-powered motorcycles. This is routed down to the fuel cell where it’s turned into electricity. That electricity is routed to the rear wheels (presumably through an electric motor) and out to the rear wheel through a drive shaft — not a chain or belt.
Although it had seemed as if hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were almost immediately overshadowed by battery electric vehicles (BEV), they still have some staying power thanks to the interest shown them primarily by Japanese brands Honda and Toyota. General Motors, which has partnered with Honda on fuel-cell technology, also sees potential in hydrogen. However, GM is leaning into battery electric vehicles for consumer products. It has positioned its fuel-cell tech toward more military applications.
While some brands have shrugged off hydrogen or ignored it from the outset, there are many reasons why a fuel-cell-powered vehicles could offer benefits over a traditional BEV.
First off, hydrogen vehicles can be refueled in roughly the same amount of time as a fossil-fuel powered vehicle. As I am sure you’re aware, BEVs currently require hours to fully recharge. Secondly, fuel cells don’t require heavy and expensive batteries for their electric power. And let’s not forget BEV batteries require the mining and refinement of precious earth metals, which are finite. Hydrogen, by comparison, is very abundant.
The hangup, though, is creating pure hydrogen, which in itself is hugely energy intensive. However, studies have found that turning even natural gas into hydrogen for energy, in the long run, is more environmentally friendly (fewer carbon emission) than simply burning natural gas. So, there are strides being made in creating hydrogen.
Then there’s the infrastructure hurdle of transporting hydrogen to fueling stations. Hydrogen, to remain stable, needs to be compressed into a liquid. So, companies can’t just pour it into a big tanker truck. I mean, they can, it just needs to be under constant pressure at all times. This ups the complexity and cost of hydrogen infrastructure.
It’s easy to say, then, that hydrogen is not perfect. Really, in terms of eco-friendly propulsion technology alternatives to fossil fuels, however, there’s no silver bullet. BEVs and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles each have their own drawbacks.
As the resources required to produce battery electric vehicles become more scarce and technological improvements make pure hydrogen easier and less intensive to produce, the widespread feasibility and popularity of fuel cell vehicles will surely rise. It might take a while, though. And when that day comes, it seems Honda will be ready with a compelling motorcycle.