Leaked Honda Patent Drawings Show Hydrogen Fuel Cell Motorcycle Possibly In Development
20. October 2017 Aaron Cortez
Zero emissions technology is the new revolution in vehicle engineering, with every manufacturer gearing up for the inevitable shift to clean energy in the decades ahead. But while most vehicles go electric, these leaked patent drawings show that Honda may even be working on a hydrogen fuel cell powered bike – with pure water as its exhaust!
First reported by UK motorcycling site BikeSocial, Honda patent application drawings published on October 5th show that Honda may be developing a hydrogen fuel cell-powered motorcycle as part of it’s wide range future alternative fueled vehicles.
In these interesting concept drawings, Honda eschews the conventional gas powered vehicle completely and even skips over emerging battery-powered technology in favor of a futuristic NASA-style hydrogen fuel cell. Essentially, this is an electric motor charged by a chemical reaction using hydrogen and oxygen, which creates two byproducts: energy, and pure water!
But as interesting as it is, will we ever see this type of engine in a motorcycle – and is it commercially viable at all as an alternative to both fossil fuels and electric power?
What is a Hydrogen Fuel Cell?
Technically, a hydrogen fuel cell is, in fact, an electric vehicle. However, instead of using an electric motor that is powered by a battery which stores energy (like most EVs), a fuel cell uses an electric motor powered by a chemical reaction that takes place between the fusion of hydrogen stored in a tank, and oxygen from the air. The result? An electric charge which powers the motor, and a byproduct of pure water.
Interestingly, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has some of the properties of both conventional ICE-powered vehicles and EVs. Because it uses hydrogen as fuel, which is stored in a refillable tank, it can alleviate some of the range concerns that still plague battery-powered EVs, and also would take only minutes to refuel, instead of hours to recharge. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, like EVs, are also clean-running and create zero hydrocarbon emissions, and also tend to get very high gas mileage per gallon equivalency figures. In theory, they are the best of both worlds.
The (Possible) Bike
So, because hydrogen fuel cells are essentially electric motors that still need fuel tanks, the entire assembly takes up a fair bit of space – but in these drawings, it seems that Honda has cleverly laid everything out for use in a motorcycle. The drawings suggest a compact bike (something like the Honda Grom) with the fuel cell itself where the engine and fuel tank would be, with the refillable hydrogen tank under the seat. Other than that, the layout looks like any other motorcycle, and externally, it would conceivably look and sound just like any other electric bike.
Will It Become a Reality?
If any motorcycle manufacturer were to make a hydrogen fuel cell powered bike a reality, it would likely be Honda. Honda is known to be innovative in engine technologies, especially in a global regulatory climate that is pushing manufacturers increasingly toward a zero-emissions future. Honda also has experience fielding hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles in production – the Honda Clarity was an innovative FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) released in 2008 that has seen limited release in the US and Japan, and is still available in 2017 (though only in select markets, where hydrogen refilling stations are present.)
And therein lies the problem with hydrogen-powered vehicles – access to hydrogen itself. Though FCEVs would conceivably solve the two biggest problems with existing EVs – namely, charge time, and range – finding a hydrogen refilling station is a difficult task to say the least. Though it would certainly be nice to get an EV back on the road after a 5-minute tank refill instead of a several-hour charge, plug-in EVs can be charged almost anywhere on the existing electric grid, making access to power nearly universal (albeit very slow.) Hydrogen, on the other hand, is a gas that must be highly pressurized and handled carefully, making a hydrogen infrastructure suitable for use on public roads massively challenging to create.
But that doesn’t mean FCEVs don’t have a place in our future. Interestingly, one of the biggest champions of hydrogen fuel cells has been our own government, with the Department of Energy having funded research resulting in over 650 patents and citing 75 commercially viable innovations that we could see in the next several years. The DOE claims its funding has enabled a 60% reduction in fuel cell costs and a 400% increase in durability of fuel cells in just the last decade.
And because one of the keys to keeping hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road is consistent access to hydrogen, commercial vehicle fleets that operate out of a home base are a perfect market for this technology. With this in mind, Toyota actually recently unveiled its own plan to develop a fleet of heavy-duty zero-emission semi-trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Toyotas concept trucks create 670 horsepower and 1,325 pound-feet of torque from a pair of massive Mirai fuel cells, creating a gross weight capacity of a whopping 80,000 pounds. One of these electric beasts is currently operating on shipping routes in southern California, based out of the Port of Los Angeles in Long Beach, as part of a feasibility study – and an indicator that Toyota may be investing more heavily into a hydrogen as part of a zero-emission future.
So will we ever see hydrogen fuel cell motorcycles become a reality? Honda has a habit of teasing us with fascinating leaked patents that never become anything more than drawings, so we’re not betting on it – but as both markets and governments shove vehicle manufacturers more and more toward a zero-emissions future, the hydrogen fuel cell isn’t going anywhere soon.