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Published on February 2nd, 2009 | by Ariel Schwartz


College Students Build Hydrogen Fuel Cell Motorcycle

February 2nd, 2009 by  

[social_buttons] Lots of college students complete a thesis or final project, but few can claim to have finished something as impressive as the hydrogen fuel cell motorcycle built by Swarthmore College seniors Alex Bell and Andres Pacheco. The enterprising duo built the motorcycle in an attempt to evaluate the viability of a hydrogen economy by studying real-world data— specifically, by testing the efficacy of hydrogen fuel cells, internal combustion, and battery propulsion.

Bell and Pacheco began working on an electric car during their freshman year, but the idea eventually faded away. The pair have been working on a hydrogen fuel cell motorcycle since last summer. Funding for the project was provided by the Swarthmore Engineering Department and the Halpern Family Fund for Student Design.

Bell and Pacheco estimate that the motorcycle has an average efficiency of 50 percent. After averaging in losses in propulsion, total vehicle efficiency is expected to be 46 percent.

“We got it to work the day before winter break, and now we’re just working on data acquisition problems [with the motorcycle’s LCD screen],” Pacheco said. “We also had a problem with the motorcycle’s controller because we couldn’t take it to max power. But it works— we’re just trying to get bits and pieces together so we can have trial runs and analyze data,” Pacheco said.

Despite having invested so much time in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, Bell and Pacheco are unsure of the short-term prospects for a hydrogen economy.

“It looks like HFC propulsion and infrastructure will be extremely costly and probably won’t be the preferred option, at least in the near future. However, because of the zero-emissions aspect of HFCs, it is likely they will at least be more widely used in the long-term future,” Pacheco said.

Pacheco and Bell are currently applying to graduate school engineering programs, but readers are welcome to contact the pair with employment offers.



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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.

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