Several companies in the past have showcased their plans to use hydrogen fuel cell technology to power a bicycle. Recently, Chinese company Pearl Hydrogen became the latest company to showcase the idea, at a recent technology convention in Shanghaimart. The 20″ wheel prototype weighs 32kg and is powered by a PEM fuel cell and brushless electric motor. The top speed is 25km/hour and the 600L twin cylinder fuel cells have a maximum range of 100km. Some trial orders have already been placed for 20,000 Yuan (about US$2,650). The company is optimistic that their hydrogen bike will be successful enough to begin mass producing bikes for the mainstream Chinese market, for a more affordable 4,000 Yuan (US$530). There are no current plans to ship the fuel cell bicycles overseas.
- Pearl Hydrogen: Fuel Cell Powered Bicycle
- Shanghai Daily: Hydrogen fuel bike debuts
- Ecotality Life: A Brand New Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bike
- Ecogeek: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bicycle
Of course there are still technical challenges to overcome, like where people will refill the fuel cells. At present there is no hydrogen refueling infrastructure in China, so customers will have to purchase refills from local suppliers. However, there is talk of expanding the fuel network in China to accommodate future hydrogen powered cars. The electric bicycle industry still has a long way to go in terms of battery technology and efficiency, so there are likely to be many electrical and mechanical flaws to discover and overcome as they produce more bikes. Bicycles take a beating, so the systems will have to be rugged enough to endure the daily commute.
Valeswood Hydrogen Bike
There are several other companies working towards developing small-scale fuel cell systems for bicycles. Earlier this year Valeswood ETD Ltd., a UK based environmental technology company announced plans to sell a US$1,400 hydrogen bicycle using their patented Hyrocell technology. The 40L fuel tank pales in comparison to the Pearl bike’s capacity, but the versatile design of the HC-100 and HC-200 fuel cells allows for connection to larger external fuel cells.
- Valeswood Hydrocell
- Treehugger: On Yer Hydrogen Bike
Masterflex Cargo Bike
In May 2007 German company Masterflex announce their new Cargo Bike concept, a sleek fuel cell tricycle design. Powered by 250 watt mini fuel cells, the tricycles have a patented “˜Lopes’ system that equalizes air pressure to avoid leaks and possible explosions. They aim to market the trike to shipping and cargo companies, airports and postal outlets, and for many other industrial applications.
There was a lot of buzz about Manhattan Scientifics’ Hydrocycle, first unveiled at an Italian motor show in 2000. It was officially labeled an “˜invention’ in 2001 by Time Magazine. It also had a range of 100km and a top speed of 30km/hour. At the time company CEO Jack Harrod was very excited about preliminary test results and stated that the bike was “wonderfully quiet and gives off no emissions other than a small amount of water vapor. It is a real experience to ride through a forest and only hear the sound of the tires on the dirt road.”
ENV Fuel Cell Motorbike
The ENV is the world’s first hydrogen powered motorbike, designed by UK company Intelligent Energy. Like the fuel cell bicycles the ENV is quiet, but it has a greater range of 100km, and it can travel at speeds up to 50km/hour! They are ENV is lightweight, streamlined and aerodynamic, and designed for fun urban or off-road transportation. However, the usual challenges of hydrogen fuel production and distribution remain, and the bikes are still too expensive for mass consumption.
- Intelligent Energy: The ENV bike
- BBC: Test riding first hydrogen bike
- WebBikeWorld: Fuel Cell Hydrogen Powered Motorcycle
- National Geographic: Fuel Cell Motorbike to Hit U.S. Streets
- PR Newswire: Fuel Cell Motorbike Makes North American Debut
It will be some time before bicycle enthusiasts will be able to order a fuel cell bike. As a bicycle mechanic I remain a skeptic, especially considering how much work is still needed to improve the range and durability of current retail electric bicycle systems. But like any new technology, I hope we continue to refine and improve upon these concepts until they become feasible modes of transportation.
RELATED: Check out these cool Fuel Cell Bicycle Lights!