Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bikes vs Battery Electric Bikes, Part 2 (Final)

Hydrogen abounds in the universe 1 photo
As we started discussing in the first half of this coverstory, it’s not going to take too long until we get to see more and more electric motorcycles on the streets, many of them replacing the traditional gas ones, either completely or at least taking over the daily ride duties. With battery-powered and hydrogen fuel cell-powered motorcycles being so far the only two practical solutions, weighing between the two may reveal pros and cons.
However, the new generation of motorcycles is still in what we might name “infancy” at least at a global level. There is still much to be improved, and way more to be discovered in this interesting field. Funny thing, as we must remain open-minded when it comes to what the future may bring, the prospect of being completely wrong in such anticipative write-ups is very funny.

No matter how much we all might be enjoying the machines we currently ride, one simply cannot dismiss the possibility of seeing something hugely revolutionary in the future, a major game-changer if you want. But what exactly could this new technology be only time can tell. Until Star Trek or Star Wars technology becomes widely available, let’s go back to the battery versus hydrogen “battle.”

Batteries are dead-simple technology

Truth is, running a battery-powered vehicle is just as simple as it gets. Load a fresh pack and hit the road. Or if the batteries of your bike are not removable, just hook the bike to a charger and wait until it’s ready. Current from the battery travels directly to the motor and produces thrust with minimal loss, and this makes everything easy as pie.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles rely on a more complex reaction which involves removing an electron from the hydrogen atom in the presence of a catalyst. The remainder (now) positively-charged ion is attracted to the negative terminal of the fuel cell, which also feeds oxygen from the atmosphere to the fuel cell. Hydrogen and oxygen combine and form water (H2O), which is the only direct byproduct of the HFC (short for hydrogen fuel cell).

The electrons that have been removed from the hydrogen atom form a current which flows to an onboard battery or to the motor. Unlike combustion engines, no fuel is being actually burnt inside the HFC and we might compare it with a battery that never ceases to provide current… at least as long as the flow of hydrogen is maintained. As stated previously, the main advantage of the hydrogen fuel cell is that it will continue to operate “indefinitely” when supplied with the right fuel, while refueling will only take minutes.

The downside of the HFC technology is that it hasn’t caught yet, with hydrogen refueling stations being rarer than monks riding a Kawasaki Ninja, and many people still refusing to believe that we are witnessing the twilight of classic bikes. Still, hydrogens storage, transfer and measurement methods are being developed as we speak and maybe this technology will become more accessible in the not-so-distant future.

Safety issues

Again, transport safety may play a very important role in the future. In case flying cars and motorcycles, anti-gravitational engines and teleportation remain as far away from becoming everyday household technologies as they are today (and they will), the roads are going to only become busier.

Some say that self-driving cars and smarter, computer-laded vehicles are already en route to making roads much safer. Such a claim has some truth in it for sure, but a noticeable improvement could be detected when the vast majority of roads and vehicles will also be smart. Until then, it’s still SMIDSY-era and a crazy asphalt jungle to be tackled.

However, when it comes to electric or hydrogen batteries, things are a bit more sensitive. Truth is that battery-powered bikes look much safer at first glance. There are no gases which can leak or explode, no pressurized canisters and no chemical magic at work inside a mystery box under the seat, only a huge battery pack and a connector, possibly and onboard charger and a cable. Riders can use common wall outlets, higher-power chargers or recharging stations to “refuel” in a very safe and easily-understandable way.

On the other hand, hydrogen is a much more complex affair. First of all, the gas must be compressed to high pressures and this involves using a special canister. In turn, this canister needs to be very well protected against external shocks and actions that may affect it in case of a crash. Having it punctured by a metal piece, or even worse, cracked and leaking gas while a bike is sliding on the road generating fireworks from metal scraping against the asphalt is the last thing you want.

This equals to riding a crate of dynamite with a very short fuse that is already burning. Hydrogen is a highly-flammable gas and it will ignite and burn violently. And adding A LOT of hydrogen to the picture only makes things look exceedingly dismal.

The high flammability of the gas is one of the reasons why not many fellows are openheartedly adopting the HFC engines, not even when it comes to cars. Still Toyota is offering their hydrogen-related patents for free public use, much like Tesla does for its energy management proprietary systems. The trust coming with the Toyota badge could easily extend to cover similar HFC designs used in motorcycles, but to which extend would this “seal of approval” cause adopters of electric motorcycles to choose battery or hydrogen is rather impossible to estimate, at least at this point.

Making hydrogen fuel cells needs less rare materials

One of the good things about HFC is that producing these cells doesn’t involve using too many rare materials. Well, we might get a run for the money with the platinum catalyst elements, but this is arguably a major issue, especially when compared to the lithium demands of the battery industry and considering the fact that humans are still not that good at recycling the batteries they use on a daily basis.

Manufacturing fuel cells is easier and has a smaller impact on the environment than making battery packs, so this might be a plus for the HFC technology, especially when coupled with the superior efficiency of the hydrogen compared to that of gas. Howstuffworks says that hydrogen may in fact be three times more efficient than gas, and this adds solid points, too.

Even though extracting hydrogen from water is not the most cost-effective method now, most likely because electricity is a key element in the process, things could definitely get better in the future. After all, we are only learning how to become more efficient at producing electricity from green sources, such as sunlight, wind, sea power and all.

Surely, one could argue on how wise it is to use the green energy to produce hydrogen first and use HFC to generate electricity for bikes or cars. Well, maybe reading the entire piece, including the first part, would provide an answer for this. We are not judging these new technologies in terms of right or wrong, most likely because it is impossible to do so now. They are mere alternatives to the existing transport, so taking them into consideration is only natural and we’d better prepare to think differently even though we are not forced to. Not just yet…

As to more pros and cons for battery-powered bikes and hydrogen fuel-based ones, feel free to add your electrifying remarks.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram

Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories