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Column: Hydrogen two-wheelers

2010-06-25 09:32

Dave Fall

A couple of weeks ago I waxed lyrical about the high-powered Honda Silver Wing scooter propelled by a four-stroke petrol motor. A letter received from the UK a day or two ago on a similar matter has taken me rather by surprise…

“Forget petrol, forget diesel (a favourite fuel of mine), the only way forward to end our self-reliance on fossil fuels has to be hydrogen,” a colleague in London has just told me.

His logic and excitement is easy to explain: he’s just got his mitts on a prototype Suzuki Burgman 125cc powered up by hydrogen - and he can’t get enough of it, it seems. Apparently Suzuki showed a similar machine at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show about two years ago and is now concentrating all its efforts (and not a little money) on putting a fuel-cell Burgman into worldwide production by 2015.

Yes I know there are a few futuristic electrically-powered scooters on the market already but their downfall is so obvious: they are expensive, slow, heavy and will barely get you to work and back two days running without needing a “jolt.”

The prototype Burgman, meanwhile, at least looks like a scooter, has a claimed range of 320 km on a tank of hydrogen while offering the rider reasonable levels of performance. You do, of course, have to make use of a dedicated “filling” station (there’s only one in London right now), but the filling of the tank with hydrogen remains entirely safe — albeit a little lengthy, I’m assured — a nozzle gets connected to the bike along with an earthing strap to prevent a static-generated spark and hey presto off you go once again.

For those with an enquiring mind and without getting too technical, the hydrogen is stored as a gas that works under pressure in a composite tank beneath the rider’s feet. The hydrogen is fed into the fuel cell via a catalyst that takes control of the right amount of oxygen available from the air. The whole bang-shoot (I told you I’d keep the explanation simple!) generates electricity — thus the propulsion, with the only harmless by-product being water that escapes via a conventional-looking exhaust pipe from the rear of the machine.

I’m assured by my correspondent all you have to do to ride off into the sunset is turn the “ignition key” in the normal manner and all you will hear is a slight whirr as the hydrogen mixture/fuel cell struts its stuff. Wring its neck via the standard twistgrip and you have forward propulsion like never before!

The downside — and of course there has to be at least one — is cost. A conservative estimate right now would see maybe a 25% premium asked over a standard Burgman’s ticket price … Servicing meanwhile, would be virtually non-existent for the life of the machine. Start saving up, folks!

Would you consider paying a premium for a hydrogen motorcycle? Add your voice to the discussion


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