The MIT Electric Vehicle team tests out their hydrogen powered motorcycle at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, CT on October 22, 2023. Photo by Adam Glanzman

MIT Electric Vehicle Team Launches New Hydrogen Fuel Cell Motorcycle Into The World

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When the MIT Electric Vehicle Team set about designing a hydrogen fuel cell motorcycle, keeping it secret was not on their minds. The team developed an open source DIY how-to guide while working on the new machine, in case anybody else wants to give it a try — and somebody else does, as a matter of fact.

Here Comes The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Motorcycle From MIT

The MIT Electric Vehicle Team has been around since 2005 and they have seen a lot of electric vehicles come and go.

The current team, consisting of about 12 members, began working on the fuel cell motorcycle last January and they did not let the grass grow under their feet. They quickly hooked up with the Korean fuel cell firm Doosan Mobility Innovation, which donated one of their DM15 fuel cell modules to the cause.

DMI bills the DM15 fuel cell as “a cutting-edge technology that provides clean, efficient, and reliable power to mobile applications,” which should be no surprise. Fuel cells generate electricity through a reaction between hydrogen and ambient oxygen. Nothing but water comes out the other side.

“DM15 fuel cell module is already in use in several applications, including drones, material handling, and backup power,” DMI noted in a press release last March, adding that fuel cells offer “several benefits over traditional power sources, including zero emissions, high efficiency, and low noise.”

“The DM15 module, in particular, is capable of providing up to 1.5 kW of power output, making it suitable for a wide range of applications, including drones, robotics, and small vehicles,” they added.

Here Come More Fuel Cell Motorcycles…

DMI is already anticipating that its contribution to the MIT project will help push fuel cell motorcycles out of the prototype phase and onto the assembly line. “This will be the first time the fuel cell module is integrated into a motorcycle, and the project will provide a real-world testing ground for the DM15 fuel cell module, enabling DMI to gather valuable data and feedback to improve the module’s performance and durability,” they  note.

If you want to take a look inside the fuel cell, keep wanting. DMI’s fuel cell technology is not part of the open-source plan, but the team is making its design process and calculations available online, with the aim of attracting more innovators from industry and academia to the fuel cell motorcycle space.

The team’s safety lead, MIT senior Elizabeth Brennan, stressed the goal of technology sharing. “A lot of the technology development for hydrogen is either done in simulation or is still in the prototype stages, because developing it is expensive, and it’s difficult to test these kinds of systems,” she said in a press statement. “We want to provide this bike as a platform for researchers and for education, where researchers can test ideas in both space- and funding-constrained environments.”

If all goes according to plan, the open source information could have a widespread impact.

“So far as we know, we are the first fully open-source, rigorously documented, tested and released-as-a-platform, [fuel cell] motorcycle in the world,” said graduate student and project leader Aditya Mehrotra.

“No one else has made a motorcycle and tested it to the level that we have, and documented to the point that someone might actually be able to take this and scale it in the future, or use it in research,” he added.

…And More

The MIT team might have some company sooner rather than later. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha are also collaborating on a fuel cell motorcycle research project.

The four companies won the official seal of approval for their project from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry last May as the “Hydrogen Small mobility & Engine” research association, or HySE for short.

If you’re wondering why spend the time, energy, and money to develop a fuel cell motorcycle when battery-powered two-wheelers are already a thing, the answer is pretty straightforward. Japan’s energy policy leans heavily on hydrogen for decarbonization.

Although hydrogen has powerful friends in high places, the HySE team is realistic about the challenges of scaling down hydrogen fuel cells for motorcycles.

The use of hydrogen poses technical challenges, including fast flame speed and a large region of ignition, which often result in unstable combustion, and the limited fuel tank capacity in case of use in small mobility vehicles,” Honda noted in a press release last May.

Nevertheless, it’s game on. “The members of HySE are committed to conducting fundamental research, capitalizing on their wealth of expertise and technologies in developing gasoline-powered engines, and aim to work together with the joint mission of establishing a design standard for small mobility’s hydrogen-powered engine, and of advancing the fundamental research endeavors in this area,” Honda enthused.

How About Some Green Hydrogen For Your Motorcycle?

Of course, whenever the topic of hydrogen comes up, the hydrogen supply chain comes to mind. Hydrogen is all around us in the form of water among other things, but until recent years it was much easier to extract hydrogen from natural gas and gasified coal, so that’s what people did.

The dream of sourcing green hydrogen from water is becoming a reality, though, helped along by an ongoing drop in the cost of electrolysis systems and the renewable energy with which to run them.

It remains to be seen whether or not the HySE team will focus its attention on green hydrogen. They have recruited Kawasaki Heavy Industries as an associate member, and the company is one of the lead organizers of another hydrogen group called Hystra, short for the “CO2-free Hydrogen Energy Supply-chain Technology Research Association.” That’s something of a misnomer, considering that brown coal gasification is currently the main focus of attention.

On the other hand, Kawasaki Heavy Industry’s contribution to the effort is an advanced cyrogenic system for liquefying hydrogen gas, making it more economical to transport. The system is source-agnostic, and the company is already looking to apply it to green hydrogen.

It remains to be seen whether or not brown coal gives way to green hydrogen over the coming years, but Kawasaki does indicate that the main goal was to establish a hydrogen import pipeline from Australia to Japan, with coal serving a sort of placeholder until a sufficient supply of green hydrogen is available.

That could happen sooner rather than later. Australia’s powerful coal industry is not going down without a fight, but green hydrogen activity in the country has already begun to ramp up.

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Photo (cropped): “Aditya Mehrotra performs a ‘shakedown’ test — running the hydrogen-powered electric motorcycle at high speeds to ensure that the mechanical and electrical systems hold up,” by Adam Glanzman.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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