You Tell Us: Fuel-Cell Motorcycle May Help to Rev Up Hydrogen Economy

Image: Intelligent Energy

There are plenty of reasons people fall in love with their motorcycles, but at the top of the list is the sound they make, be it the unmistakable low rumble that gives a hint of their power or the inimitable whine of the engine as the rider turns the throttle. But auto- and motorcycle-maker Suzuki Motor Corp., of Hamamatsu, Japan, recently unveiled the Crosscage, a prototype fuel-cell motorcycle that will likely pack all the power of one of its classic crotch rockets but with hardly any noise and none of the harmful tailpipe emissions.

In fact, when the Crosscage, which has a lithium-ion battery pack to help extend its range between fuel-ups, was rolled out at the Tokyo Motor Show last October, spectators compared the sound the bike makes to a desktop computer. But the machine has much to recommend it besides stealth.

Because a fuel cell’s waste products are only water and a little heat, the Crosscage’s tailpipe emissions won’t contribute to global warming. And those who fear that the quiet motorcycle will be a weakling needn’t worry. The electric motor, mounted in the rear wheel, will provide full torque right at takeoff, so it’s not hard to imagine the Crosscage pulling off from the starting line and leaving similarly sized fossil fuel–powered bikes in the dust. Another attractive feature is simplicity. Because the motor requires no transmission, there will be no need to master the clutching and gear switching technique that befuddles most motorcycle novices. Just hop on, start it up, turn the throttle, and cruise the open road in silence.

So when will the stealth bike appear in dealer showrooms? Probably not anytime soon. First off, there still remains the chicken-and-egg problem of auto-makers not wishing to offer fuel-cell vehicles prior to the appearance of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure and fuel companies being reluctant to invest in hydrogen refueling stations without there being any cars available to use them.

What’s more, Suzuki and Intelligent Energy Holdings Plc., of Loughborough, United Kingdom—which provided the compact fuel cell featured on the bike and its own proof-of-concept fuel-cell motorcycle, called the Emissions Neutral Vehicle, or ENV—have acknowledged that the Crosscage will have to become much cheaper to build before production is ramped up to commercial volumes. The companies assert that because motorcycles are simpler than cars, they should be able to turn out production Crosscages for less than what it costs to produce fuel cell–powered sedans. But even if it has a much lower sticker price than Honda’s FCX fuel-cell car, which costs that auto-maker roughly a million U.S. dollars each (and leases for US $600 a month), chances are good that, at least in the early going, you’ll be able to get several Harleys for the price you’d pay for one Crosscage.

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