March 18, 2005 A British company has released details of what it claims is the world's first purpose-built, fuel-cell motorbike. The Emissions Neutral Vehicle is dubbed ENV, pronounced "en vee" and is the creation of British energy solutions company Intelligent Energy. Powered by a 6kW 48 volt motor and with energy supplied from Intelligent Energy's 1kW hydrogen fuel cell, the ENV is currently capable of 50mph (80kmh) and is still under development - by the time the bike reaches market (no time frame yet), it can be expected it will reach most speed limits and exceed its current range of 100 miles (160 kilometres). The ENV weighs just 80 kilograms, has disc brakes and a belt drive and will face some very tough competition in the fuel cell two-wheel market as it evolves over the next few years.
To enhance performance during peak power demand (ie when accelerating), the fuel cell is hybridised with a battery pack to provide a 6kW peak load to the motor.
The company claims the bike is one of the first designed from scratch as a fuel cell motorcycle rather than being adapted from an existing design. The company's press release claims "In the worldwide rush by the biggest names in the automotive and bike industry to bring hydrogen-powered vehicles to market, the hastily-assembled handful of prototypes and public launches to date have mostly (with the exception of Honda's recent fuel-cell scooter) paraded existing models, superficially adapted to fuel cell use."
While we think the ENV is very promising and indeed, an inspirational design, the company appears to have overlooked some very significant fuel cell two wheelers such as Yamaha's Clean and Silent two-wheelers of the future shown at the 2003 Tokyo Show, Aprilia's fuel cell variant of its sensational ENJOY that an authority no less than Time Magazine named Invention of the year in 2001 and Vectrix's second generation fuel cell / electric hybrid maxi-scooter.
Yamaha's Dolsa Wind
Yamaha's 'Dolsa Wind' looks like a bicycle without pedals - its motive force comes from a 300w electrical motor but the most remarkable aspect of the Dolsa Wind is that it is designed to enhance the soundless electrical riding experience with musical accompaniment. Yamaha says it is based on the concept of "Riding Music", a ride that summons up the combined images of the unique feeling of riding on the wind and the enriching experience of playing a musical instrument.
Aprilia Fuel Cell Enjoy and Atlantic Zero Emission prototypes
Aprilia's electric-assisted Enjoy is one of the finest two wheelers we've ever tested. You can read our impressions here - originally designed as an electric assist bicycle, the company showed a fuel-cell version in 2001 and Time magazine was so impressed it awarded the machine Invention of the Year. Aprilia continues to work at the forefront of fuel-cell and innovative transport technologies (in addition to producing wickedly fast racing motorcycles) and last year showed a fuel cell prototype dubbed the Atlantic Zero Emission - powered by a high performance 6kW electric engine and equipped with a hydrogen system,without heavy additional ancillary equipment such as air compressors, humidifiers and coolers. Shown at Hannover 2004, the Atlantic Zero Emission is capable of covering over 150 km of urban territory before refuelling.
The second generation of the world's first patented fuel cell / electric hybrid maxi-scooter was unveiled at the San Antonio Fuel Cell Seminar in Texas last November (2004) and is targeted for launch in select European and US cities within the next three years. The VX-FCe integrates a 500 watt fuel cell system into Vectrix's existing high performance battery-powered electric maxi-scooter. The fuel cell system continuously charges the batteries which in turn provide power to drive the motor. The fuel cell more than doubles the range of the scooter and frees it from the constraints of charging from a fixed power outlet.
The VX-FCe boasts a top speed of 62 mph (100 km/h), rapid acceleration 0-50 mph (80 km/h) in 6.8 seconds and a range of up to 150 miles (240 km). The patented throttle activated regenerative braking system further extends the range of the VX-FCe by directing energy back into the battery pack that would otherwise be lost in braking.
Accordingly, Vectrix's hybrid is probably the best performing prototype on the market at this point, though in all fairness, prototype claims can be very adventurous and both Yamaha and Honda, have yet to put figures forward for their machinery and they have far more experience with mass production for the world's motorcycle markets and will, in their eyes, be defending their territory when these products finally reach market.
The ENV (Emissions Neutral Vehicle)
The ENV (Emissions Neutral Vehicle) bike was designed to Intelligent Energy's brief by a British team, led by leading UK design house Seymourpowell. Last year Seymourpowell was cited as Britain's sixth most important cultural movers and shakers in a BBC poll and one of the world's most celebrated product design consultancies with a client list including Ford, Nokia, Jaguar, BMW, Minolta, Yamaha, Hewlett-Packard and Casio.
ENV is lightweight, has no gears and although the makers define it as a motorbike, although it feels to riders more like a very quick and responsive mountain bike. It is also virtually silent and has no emissions. The bike's primary frame and swinging arm are made from hollow-cast aircraft grade aluminium.
Intelligent Energy's vision of the future
The ENV bike is fully-functioning and has been based around Intelligent Energy's CORE fuel cell. The CORE, which is completely detachable from the bike, is a compact and efficient fuel cell, capable of powering anything from a motorboat to a small domestic property.
"In the none-too distant future", commented Intelligent Energy CEO Harry Bradbury, "people will be able to use a bike like ENV to leave work in an urban environment, drive to the countryside, detach the CORE and attach it to another vehicle, such as a motorboat, before going on to power a log cabin with the very same fuel cell, which could then be re-charged from a mini hydrogen creator, the size of a shoebox."
"Intelligent Energy, with an expanding suite of technology platforms, is capable of producing every element of this scenario and is currently working on just such a hydrogen-creator, which will be able to produce hydrogen from future fuels such as bio-ethanol (derived from soya or sugar cane), offering consumers a tantalising vision of complete electrical self-sustainability."
This vision is particularly compelling for remote communities and especially for the developing world, where large grids are simply not economically viable and where fuel cells offer both easy portability and power delivery at the point of consumption with no loss of efficiency.
Fuel cell technology and the Intelligent Energy CORE
The Intelligent Energy CORE is a PEM-type fuel cell - one of five different fuel cell types, all of which have different attributes in terms of size, robustness and ability to work at high temperatures.
The PEM (or Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell type is the most popular and appropriate type of fuel cell for automotive applications. Simply put, each fuel cell is a multi-layered sandwich of plates and MEAs (Membrane Electrode Assemblies), in which the MEA acts as a catalyst during an electro-chemical reaction, producing water and Measure bar electricity from hydrogen and oxygen.
The water by-product points to the usefulness of the technology in heat and power applications, such as the home. The water by-product can be evaporated, drained or drunk, as it was, for example, by the astronauts of the Apollo missions. NASA were the first real users of fuel cell technology in the 1950s and 60s - a century after its first invention by Welsh lawyer Sir William Grove.
The Intelligent Energy CORE fuel cell is extremely efficient, both in terms of volumetric power density and low parasitic loss. It uses metal rather than the more common graphite plates, making it easier to manufacture, more robust and, crucially, smaller as metal plates can be made more thinly than graphite plates. This makes the CORE particularly attractive to the automotive industry, where space is always at a premium.
The design of the CORE
"When it came to designing the casing for the CORE", commented Seymourpowell's Nick Talbot, "we treated it as a standalone project, giving this radical fuel cell its due as a beautiful, valuable and useful energy resource.
The CORE, which can be detached completely from the bike, is therefore designed to create interest as an enigmatic object. Although mostly encased in identical aluminium to the bike, of which it at first seems a completely integral part, the CORE is also part-covered on one plane in a microetched, textured and durable shell, in a pattern derived from brain coral.
The pattern alludes to the fact that this is solid state technology - but is also functional, in that the intricate patterns also disperse heat. We wanted this to be a finer and more beautiful object than, say, a diesel generator - and to make people look again at this new technology with a sense of wonder."
ENV is a complete pre-production prototype motorbike, just as the 50kW powered light aircraft, developed by Intelligent Energy for partner Boeing was similarly a complete prototype in 2004. Both vehicles demonstrate that Intelligent Energy's advanced fuel cells are completely ready for application to real vehicles in the here and now - as well as many exciting new vehicles in the future.
Two- and four-wheeled vehicles using 5kW and 10kW power are realistic next-step developments, for example, whilst Intelligent Energy's Measure bar new 75kW fuel cell is the most compact cell around currently and the only one capable of starting in freezing conditions with no assistance.
"The launch of ENV breaks new ground and opens up a whole new field of opportunities for low- and high-power fuel cell motorbikes,"commented Harry Bradbury. "ENV and its successors are good for the consumer and the environment. This is a fun vehicle with a realistic role to play in the leisure environment, as well as a role in emissions reduction from Boston to Bangkok. There has been much talk about low-carbon emission vehicles. Here is one at last."
About Intelligent Energy
Intelligent Energy is an energy solutions company, developing new energy technologies and creating and implementing power delivery services for its business partners, based on its PEM fuel cell technology.
The company has a proprietary suite of new energy technologies, focused on commercialising energy services in hydrogen generation, fuel storage and power generation using PEM fuel cells.
Based in London and Loughborough (with subsidiaries in America and South Africa), the company is led by a world-class team, including: Sir John Jennings (Non-Exec Chairman), a former Chairman of Shell Transport and Trading ; Dr Harry Bradbury (CEO), a former global Energy Leader with Deloitte and Touche Solutions ; and Dr Paul Adcock (Head of Research and Development), who is the former Director of the Fuel Cell Group at Loughborough University.
Intelligent Energy is in fact made up from the entire team of experts of Loughborough University who specialised in fuel cell technology, giving it one of the largest and most experienced teams in the field throughout Europe, with collective intellectual property rights and know-how built up over a 12- year period.
The company's many successes to date include a light aircraft, developed in partnership with Boeing, which is powered by a fuel cell. Boeing said that it had chosen the British fuel cell system because its performance, compared with weight and size, was better than that of its rivals. Intelligent Energy is now working on fuel cells which would provide ancillary power for commercial airliners.
The company's fuel cells are undergoing trials at more than a dozen sites, including schools and hospitals in South Africa, which plans to bring electricity to more than 4m homes that are currently without power.
ENV technical specification
Motor: 6kW, 48 VDC Brush motor
Motor Controller: Brusa Direct Current
Fuel Cell: 1kW Intelligent Energy air-cooled (2 x AC32-48)
Hydrogen Storage: High pressure composite cylinder (Luxfer L65) Hydrogen Energy 2.
4kWeh Storage Battery 4 x 12V Lead Acid (15Ahr) connected in series
0 - 20 mph in 4.3s (32kph)
0 - 30 mph in 7.3s (48 kph)
0 - 50 mph in 12.1s (80kph)
Top speed 50 mph (80kph) (note: ENV has been tested to 50mph - however, with further refinements and redevelopments, this top speed is expected to be exceeded)
Range : At least 100 miles (160km)
Weight: 99kg (including CORE Hydrogen Fuel Cell)
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more