The new technologies with which to power the engines of future motorcycle models include systems such as the well-known hydrogen cell. Although electric motors seem to have become the alternative most used by the industry at this time, hydrogen continues to be one of the most advantageous, and clean, options that can be used for this purpose.
In this context, the MIT Electric Vehicle Team (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is building a electric motorcycle powered by an electric motor assisted by a hydrogen cell.
The hydrogen fuel cell could become the ideal option combined with different technologies
The motorcycle was tested for the first time, on a track, last October. This prototype, designed as an open source platformseeks to be able to exchange and test a variety of different components, and also have other entities or brands test their own versions, using the existing platform, completely free of charge.
Aditya Mehrotrawho heads the project, is a graduate student working with the mechanical engineering professor Alex Slocum and A. Hazel May of the Emerging Technologies department. Team members say they were interested in researching vehicles powered by a hydrogen cellbecoming a clean alternative and also allowing vehicles to be refueled quickly like any other powered by an internal combustion engine.
The team, made up of about a dozen students, has been working on building the prototype from January 2023. In October they presented the prototype at the Americas Hydrogen Summit, and in May 2024 they will travel to Holland to present it at the World Hydrogen Summit. In addition to these two events, the team has also been present at the recently held CES 2024.
Mehrotra comments: “We hope to use this project as an opportunity to start conversations about ‘small hydrogen’ systems that could increase demand, which could lead to the development of more infrastructure.”
Throughout 2023 they were riding this electric motorcycle with hydrogen cell thanks to the support of a couple of industry sponsors, who donated both the fuel cell and other major components of the system.
Initial tests were performed on a dynamometer, a type of instrumented treadmill that Mehrotra describes as “basically a simulated road”. Initially, the concept used battery power during its development, until the hydrogen cell, provided by the South Korean company, could be delivered and installed. Doosan.
Elizabeth Brennana senior in mechanical engineering, says she joined the team in January 2023. She is in charge of team safety and has been learning about safe handling methods, including the special tanks and connectors needed.
As part of the project, team members are developing a textbook of sorts, describing what they did and how they carried out each step in the design and manufacturing process of this hydrogen fuel cell electric concept. There is still no motorcycle of this type as a commercial product.although some prototypes have been built.
That kind of guide to the process “it just doesn’t exist”says Brennan. He adds that “Much of the technological development for hydrogen is done in simulation or is still in the prototype stages, because developing it is expensive and it is difficult to test these types of systems.”
One of the team’s goals for the project is to make everything available as an open source design, and “We want to offer this motorcycle as a platform for researchers and for education, where researchers can test their own ideas.”
Unlike a design built as a commercial product, Mehrotra says, “Our concept is completely designed for research, so you can swap components in and out, and get real hardware data on how good your designs are.” That can help people work on implementing their new design ideas and help drive the industry forward.
The few prototypes previously developed by some companies were inefficient and expensive, he says. “As far as we know, we are the first motorcycle (of hydrogen cell) completely open source, rigorously documented, tested and released as the world’s platform. “Nobody else has built a motorcycle and tested it to the level that we have, and documented it to the point that someone could take it and scale it in the future, or use it in research.”
Add that “At the moment, this vehicle is affordable for research, but it is not yet affordable for commercial production because the hydrogen cell “It is a very large and expensive component.”. Doosan Fuel Cell, which provided the hydrogen cell for the prototype, produces relatively small and lightweight fuel cells, primarily for use in drones. The company also produces hydrogen storage and supply systems.
The project will continue to evolve, he says Annika Marschnera second-year mechanical engineering student and member of the team. “It’s an ongoing thing and as we develop it and make changes, we make it a better and stronger motorcycle, hopefully it will continue to grow over the years,” comments.
Although the EV team has so far focused on battery-powered vehicles, Marschner it states: “Right now we are looking at hydrogen because it seems like something that has been less explored than other technologies to achieve sustainable transportation. So, we thought it was exciting to offer our time and effort.”
Making everything work has been a long process. The equipment is using a rack of one 1999 Ducati 900SSwith many custom-made parts to support the electric motor, tank, hydrogen cell and the drivetrain.
Marschner comments: “We’ve definitely had to think a lot about making everything fit into the chassis of the bike because the space there is very limited. So it was necessary to try to figure out how to set things up intelligently so that there are no hiccups.”
She sees a bright future for hydrogen as a clean fuel that will replace fossil fuels over time. She states: “I think one of the biggest challenges in advancing hydrogen energy is getting these demonstration projects to actually develop and proving that these things can work and that they can work well. So we are very excited to take it further.”