Wait, What? Two New Hydrogen Motorcycle Projects Keep The Hopium Coming

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In today’s news that makes you hmmm… A couple of recent news items from some well-known organizations caught my eye, not just because they are both working on hydrogen fuel cell motorcycle projects, but also because the names of both institutions have a certain cachet in the tech world that can lend respectability to their work no matter what it might be.

Before we go any further, I should explain that CleanTechnica no longer covers any news about hydrogen fuel cell cars, or at least not about hydrogen for small- or medium-sized vehicles, which is an editorial decision that reflects the fact that there are so many issues with hydrogen, from production to distribution to dispensing to its use as a “fuel” for transportation that when compared with battery-electric vehicles, it’s clearly a dud. And yes, we know the oft-touted statistic that hydrogen is “the most abundant element in the universe,” which makes it sound like it’s easy to just go grab a huge load of hydrogen anytime we want to, but is actually sort of a non sequitur which is not germane to the viability of hydrogen vehicles.

We used to occasionally cover hydrogen vehicle development in the past, but our long-time readers have probably noticed CleanTechnica’s stance on hydrogen vehicles and the so-called hydrogen economy has changed over the years. It has become clear that hydrogen as a clean tech solution for transportation isn’t a viable option for most use cases, however, addiction to hopium is definitely a factor in that industry, regardless of all of the many challenges that hydrogen proponents would need to solve first in order to implement the technology on any significant scale. Mike Barnard has done a number of deep dives into the feasibility of hydrogen for transportation, among other things, which illuminate a lot of the magical thinking in that sector, so if you’re interested, maybe start here or here or here. That being said, let’s take a gander at the two hydrogen motorcycle projects that have gotten some media play recently.

First, from MIT Technology Review we learn that MIT’s Electric Vehicle Team (which appears to be an extracurricular club, not a department within the school) has been working on a prototype hydrogen motorcycle, and whoever wrote the article decided to go with a clickbait headline. “The future of motorcycles could be hydrogen” is a rather big stretch, but hey, I’m sure it gets more eyeballs that way. The problem is that for the layman, reading the piece might lead them to believe that hydrogen motorcycles are a thing now, which they are most decidedly not. And some of the quotes in the piece are kind of wild considering how simple it would have been to do a little more research about the use of hydrogen in vehicles before making some of the claims.

According to Aditya Mehrotra, a grad student who is leading the project, “We’re hoping to use this project as a chance to start conversations around ‘small hydrogen’ systems that could increase demand, which could lead to the development of more infrastructure. We hope the project can help find new and creative applications for hydrogen.” Seriously? Conversations around small hydrogen systems? New and creative applications for hydrogen? Hmmm.

And then there’s this gem, from another team member, a sophomore in mechanical engineering: “Right now we’re looking at hydrogen because it seems like something that’s been less explored than other technologies for making sustainable transportation.” Face, meet palm.

I’m sure there are some learnings that could come from a project like this which could be applied to other industries, but I was a bit confused to hear statements like these from students at one of the top tech schools in the world. However, if you find this project intriguing, you can read the full piece here. [Update: Evidently this article on the project slipped through the CleanTechnica policy committee and was published in January.]

The other hydrogen motorcycle project, dubbed Hydrocycle, was announced in a press release from Fraunhofer IWU and titled as “The Motorcycle for the Hydrogen Age.” This project isn’t solely a Fraunhofer venture, but is actually the effort of a “German-Czech consortium of research institutions and manufacturing companies,” which also includes WätaS Wärmetauscher Sachsen GmbH, 1to1design, Czech Technical University, and ÚJV Řež. Each of those partners are working on different aspects of the project, as laid out here:

“In the Hydrocycle project, Czech partners are working on vehicle development, advancing work packages related to vehicle structure, ergonomics, and packaging (fitting the technology into the available space). German project partners are focusing on the powertrain. WätaS Wärmetauscher Sachsen GmbH is developing a new generation of fuel cell stacks as the basis for the powertrain; Fraunhofer IWU supports the development of new manufacturing technologies and the improvement of stack functionalities with the Reference Factory.H2. The Chemnitz research institute is also responsible for system dimensioning and packaging. And the IWU is in charge of ensuring a smooth interface between vehicle and fuel cell system development.”

That is all well and good, as research and development processes in projects like these can result in improvements or innovations that can be applied across different disciplines. However, this press release is not only titled “The Motorcycle for the Hydrogen Age,” but it also includes an AI-generated image with the caption, “This is what a future motorcycle with hydrogen fuel cell propulsion could look like. The planned, ready-to-drive demonstrator will be completed by the end of 2025.” And that, folks, is a sure way to get your hopium project published online by websites that are also looking for clickbait content (a quick web search unearthed at least 4 recent articles leading with that AI image) with little to no regard for whether the project will ever be more than a prototype or research vehicle.

Until next time, keep your skeptic hat on and your vaporware radar activated, because it’s a wild world out there on the web, even in the clean tech industry.

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