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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bikes vs Battery Electric Bikes, Part 1
If anything, one thing seems to be certain: the planet can’t sustain the way we are using its resources for too long, and with the growth rate of both vehicle numbers and pollution, we will be forced to act in a more decisive manner rather soon. Maybe sooner than we might feel comfortable. And in this “we” I believe we should also include the petrol, coal, gas or automotive billionaires, whether they like this or not.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bikes vs Battery Electric Bikes, Part 1

“We have to change” has probably been around since the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, when some fellows started to realize we’re not heading in the best direction. Some of their voices were heard, but never heeded, until now, when the clock is about to strike midnight.

Feeble steps are being made as we speak, even though they could have been made decades ago. Even so, maybe it’s not too late to start thinking about how we can curb the planetary destruction frenzy, and act. With the whole human civilization relying on ENERGY, it only takes a first-grader to tell you that the cleaner the ways of producing energy, the cleaner the planet will be.

Local industry and transport are by far the biggest pollutants and even if motorcycles haven’t yet been indicated as a major source of greenhouse gas producers, we’ve already seen action being taken against bikes, like it’s the case of the French capital Paris. The electric motorcycle industry is growing, if at a rather modest rate, and so far it can’t provide viable alternatives to the good-old gas-powered segment.

High-prices and the limited mobility are the main enemies the electric motorcycle industry is fighting these days. Putting things bluntly, one can get a very cool pre-owned motorcycle in Europe for say €6,000 (replace Euros with US dollars stateside), and travel the world. This is unfortunately a no-no when it comes to electric bikes, which are noticeably more expensive, and whose battery packs also tend to degrade in time, demanding new expenses.

While round-the-world bikers are still a minority, we just have to add that people are usually enjoying 200-300 km (125-185 miles) ranges from the tanks of their bikes. Refueling and having the bikes ready for another similar stint takes minutes and this spells convenience and efficiency… and this is a thing us riders like.

And there is the roar of each machine which makes the heart sing, whether it’s an off-road t-stroke thumper, a big-bore v-twin or a high-revving at play, and the characteristic vibes each bike sends out to its rider. By all means and emotional reaction, this is one of the strongest bonds between a biker and his ride, and one of the things which contribute massively to the “technological inertia” of not being that willing to swap from gas to electrons.The future is definitely green
I have met people who are still stubborn enough as to refuse to acknowledge the fact that electric motorcycles, along with whichever types of personal transportation the future may bring, ARE the future. Regardless of their unwillingness (and sometimes narrow-mindedness), the electric bikes WILL take over, as civilization develops more in this direction.

Maybe the miniature nuclear reactors imagined by Isaac Asimov will also become reality one day and solve the weight, power and dimension sizes for power plants inside vehicles, but until then, there is still a lot to be done. So far, we are contemplating battery-powered electric bikes and hydrogen fuel ones. The latter technology is indeed more common in the automotive industry, but it is slowly making inroads in the bike world, too.

As to which is better and greener may indeed be a question for those who are over-concerned about the matter, but it is definitely worth shedding some light on it for all those who understand what the not-so-distant future has in store for us.Green is reduced to how energy is produced in the first instance
Before analyzing the two types of electric bikes, we definitely must say that all electricity must come from somewhere. That “somewhere” seems to hold the key to the problem, as the methods used for generating electric energy in the first place are determining the overall green character of any form of transportation, be it battery- or hydrogen fuel cell-based.Energy transfer efficiency
On one hand, it looks like the battery electric motorcycles get better grades when it comes to the efficiency of the entire energy transfer process. From the place where electricity is generated to the motor which makes the rear wheel spin, there is no other shorter route than the grid.

Analyzing this variable, it matters little how the electricity is obtained. The most important aspect is that once generated, electricity travels though the grid and reaches the bike’s rechargeable battery pack. From there, it flows directly into the motor and generates force. Even though there are certain losses in this process, they are minimal when compared to the Hydrogen fuel cell bikes.

With hydrogen bikes, hydrogen must be obtained in the first place, and this is itself a process which consumes energy. Steam reforming or electrolysis, they both require electricity in the first place, and thus inducing losses in the very process. Then we have energy required to store, transport, store again and finally fill H canisters, again requiring energy and reducing the efficiency of the whole equation.

Even more, as steam reforming seems to be hydrogen “manufacturing process” of choice, we should add that besides consuming electricity, it also generates carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gases, which make things even less green. So far it seems like batteries win, but there is so much more to this “shakedown”.Range and convenience
Again, we have to speak about the range battery-operated motorcycles can brag on. Unlike Tesla cars, which can carry a significant battery pack, motorcycles must operate within certain weight and size limits, and this complicates things a lot. Bikes are supposed to be fast and agile, because nobody wants to ride a slow behemoth which won’t bank into a sharp curve because… it would drag the batteries at a 20-degree leaning angle. After all, you can very well drive a car if leaning was not important…

Hydrogen fuel cell machines can easily and quickly receive a refuel in minutes and be ready to roll. Well, at least presuming that an H refueling station network is available… and it is not, at least not now. However, comparing the times needed to get back on the road, battery bikes stand a chance only if we take into consideration a solution like the Gogoro battery swapping system. Otherwise, a hydrogen-powered bike would probably refuel once more, many miles ahead by the time the battery motorcycle has a full recharging cycle. And this might happen even with the short-time recharging pattern developed by Terry Hershner for his prototype.

We must admit that equipping a motorcycle with an extra hydrogen tank provides a noticeable range extension than what extra battery packs could deliver, while keeping the bike in the decently sporty zone. This round seems to go to the hydrogen fuel cell.

Next week I will bring more aspects which must be taken into consideration when examining the pros and cons of battery-powered electric bikes and hydrogen fuel cell motorcycles. Topics such as rider and road safety, further analysis of environmental impact, the operation principles of hydrogen fuel cells and more, as well as an attempt to glance into the future will be featured in the second half of this guide.

Please bear in mind that we are dealing with an incipient stage of a new era in personal transportation, and some things are taken for granted when extrapolating to the near future. However, given the accelerated development rate of new and sometimes spectacular technologies, the future might hide quite a lot of surprises, from new battery technologies to better ways to harness the energy the Universe provides with such motherly abundance.

Like always, any new ideas, theories and opinions are most welcome, so don’t hesitate to use the Post a Comment button after the jump.

 
 
 
 
 

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