The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Propulsion Becomes Bicycles

The bicycle is experiencing a new springtime as an alternative to the means of transport based on internal combustion engines. Pollution is a problem, not to mention the nonsense that assumes, for some mobility scenarios, having to move 2,000 Kg car to carry 80 Kg passenger. But bicycles are not always optimal vehicles, especially when the terrain is complicated or is suffering from pathologies incompatible with an intense physical effort.

Electric bikes are not new, and are presented as a suitable proposal to reduce the effort required to pedal. What is new is the use of fuel cells (fuel cells) to generate electricity from hydrogen, instead of conventional batteries. Two companies involved in the industry of the ‘fuel cells’ have recently shown two hydrogen-powered bicycles: Alpha and H2 Linde.

Alpha and H2 Linde

Fuel cells are proposing as energy storage in motorcycles and bicycles for years. Burgman already had a model in 2011, and in China there were prototypes of hydrogen-powered 2007 bikes. In the case of cars, there are commercial vehicles that use fuel cells, although not necessarily from hydrogen. Methanol is also used as a source of energy, for example.

Alpha, Pragma Industries, a French company specializing in the manufacture and design of fuel cell.

What distinguishes Alpha bicycles of the French company Pragma Industries and the German company Linde Group Linde H2, is arriving at a time much more receptive to the adoption of this type of energy sources. At the moment are prototypes, although functional and safe, with a similar philosophy. Alpha is built by a company specialized in the design and manufacture of ‘fuel cells’ and Linde H2 by a company specialized in the distribution and deployment of hydrogen charging points.

On the technical details, the alpha there is excessive information Apart from the capacity of 600 Wh. Of the Linde Yes, maximum speed 25 Km/h, more than 23 Kg of weight, box aluminum, covers 26 “or shift Shimano Deore M610, with a capacity of 1,000 Wh for H2 tank. In both cases, the innovation comes from the hand of power rather than the mechanical part.

Alpha bicycle fuel cell.

Fuel cells employed are of type PEMFC (Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell or proton exchange membrane). Its operation is similar in both cases: a warehouse stores the hydrogen (H2) that it feeds a fuel cell. Fuel cell receives the hydrogen (H2) that comes into contact with an anode, where a palladium or platinum catalyst It is that it comes in the form of protons (H +) and electrons. The protons pass through the electrolyte to the cathode, while the electrons pass towards the cathode through an alternative circuit becoming electric power that will move the motor. At the cathode, in contact with the air, the oxygen recombines with the protons and electrons fara form molecules of water (H2O) and generate heat.

Operation of a hydrogen fuel cell (graphic: Wikimedia)

What advantages and disadvantages do?

The use of fuel cell presents some advantages compared to traditional batteries recharge. The most immediate It is the time that it takes to change or refill the tank of hydrogen, that is less than five minutes instead of hours it takes to load a conventional battery. In addition, we do not depend on a plug to recharge, and we can even carry a tank of H2 in a backpack to change it at any time if need be.

The autonomy It is around 100 Km for the Alpha, as well as the Linde H2, although according to the specifications, the Alpha has a capacity of 600 Wh while the H2 Linde reaches 1,000 Wh. In both cases it is above other electric bikes and on par with the most advanced models of the moment. Without going any further, BiciMAD (the Madrid public bicycle service) bicycle reach 70 Km. Series models, for example, the BH Revo series, has bicycles up to 105 km of autonomy.

It’s clean energy, while gaseous pollutants emitted. Only water and heat. That Yes, so it is necessary that the hydrogen It has been generated by electrolysis from clean energy such as wind, solar or hydro. Hydrogen is a very abundant in nature, but it is not pure, so you have to get it from industrial processes.

As disadvantages, the most immediate is the difficulty to find hydrogen charging points or hydrogen stations. This situation is expected to change in the future, although there are no time limits defined for this purpose. The price of the refuelings of hydrogen is also unclear. On the other hand, the conversion of hydrogen into electricity process generates heat and water, which have to be expelled from the system. In the Linde H2 fans are used to dissipate the heat, for example.

When will they be available?

The prototype H2 Linde of Linde Group at the moment has no marketing plans and be manufactured a limited number of units. But bicycle Pragma Alpha Industries will start to produce in 2016 because of 100 units the first year and 1,000 in 2017, with a price of around € 2,300, similar to other designs of electric bike on the market.

As we said before, it is necessary to ensure that There will be points to recharge hydrogen tank or to buy you refills, but it is a type of energy that have potential as an alternative to conventional batteries. It is not a miracle, and let’s not forget that the hydrogen must be generated from electrolysis processes industrial, but it is clean, efficient, and eliminates several hours of battery charging times.