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The motorcycle of the future is already here

Dolf Willigers takes a closer look at the hydrogen fuelled, electric powered Suzuki Burgman.

End of the internal combustion engine?
Get used to it: between now and 2050, the motorcycle engine as we know it today will be credited in the line of sedan, horse coach and steam locomotive. Perhaps not entirely disappeared from the streets, but not intended for everyday use, and may not even be new for sale. The cause of this is the European policy with regard to the environment. In 2050, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced with 80%. For road traffic, this means a reduction of 95% carbon dioxide and 60% of “greenhouse gases”. Experts expect the engine to be able to realize an efficiency improvement of 30%. That is 65% short of the carbon dioxide target. Even if the experts are pessimistic and efficiency improvement is greater it seems very unlikely that we’re going to get that reduction of 95%. An engine delivers simply much heat, it should even that do to run well, and that is loss of efficiency. Does this mean the end of the motorcycle? That depends on how you define the motorcycle. If it ‘s for you a device on two wheels that is propelled by an internal combustion engine,  it might well be the case. If you define the motorcycle as a device on two wheels that is moved by anything for motor, it does not.

Suzuki Burgman on hydrogen
Two years ago in our Mag-a-zine I wrote about the electric Zero and about the Diesel powered Track of the Dutch engineer Erik Vegt. The latter was also busy experimenting with GTL, gas-to-liquid, one of the alternative fuels of the European Commission (see box). In both machines, tough I liked riding on them, I did not see “the” future. Well, the Track unfortunately has disappeared from the market and the Zero still exists, but the developments of the battery-powered electric vehicles are not so fast that – in my opinion – the Zero in the short term will be a great player. I also wrote that the engine of the future had yet to be invented, and here I might have been well mistaken: the possible engine of the future then rode all around, even more: it already had an European type approval. I ‘m talking about the hydrogen fuelled, electric powered Suzuki Burgman. Many readers will now puking have this article thrown in the corner, but for those who have survived the shock, I ‘m going to continue. Because no matter how you might feel about this device: it is a motorcycle that, although a large part of the experience of the existing engines fog. But for the commuting rider, who will also encounter all sorts of environmental rules, ditto zones and high fuel prices, or for any motorcyclist, who finds that a motorcycle really does not necessarily have to stink, shake and make noise (which probably exists somewhere), this can be a very useful alternative. In short: emotion versus ratio.

Public sources
The Suzuki was presented at the Sustainable 2wheels event in Brussels last autumn. Between all speed pedelecs, e-bikes and ultra-light motorcycles the small Burgman did not stand out, but the big H2 logo made me curious. Within the passenger car- and bus world some companies are already experimenting for a long time with hydrogen and especially size and strength of the hydrogen fuel tank is an item, so such a small scooter on hydrogen I found quite surprising. Because I wasn’t prepared for this I made an appointment with the rider to email him my questions, and then had a lot of questions for him anyway. In hindsight that was as well because it turned out that Suzuki wasn’t ready yet to cooperate with publicity, so reply to my mail questions I did not get. Now the interesting part of the scooter does not come from Suzuki, but from the British company Intelligent Energy, and it just so happens that I more or less had to be near that company a few weeks later, so an appointment with Intelligent Energy was quickly scheduled. What you read in this article is based on those two contacts and  some information that can be found in public sources.

Intelligent Energy
Let’s start with Intelligent Energy (IE). The company was founded in 1988 as a spin-off from Loughborough University (UK) and has from the beginning been  focusing on hydrogen as an energy carrier. The first hydrogen -fuelled motorcycle was developed in 2005, this was actually a “motorcycle” that was based on an ATB. This is still on display in the lobby of IE, and already looks really like a light off the road motorcycle. Afterwards, the company has both stationary and mobile concepts developed based on hydrogen technology. In 2007, in collaboration with Suzuki, the Crosscage was developed and shown at the Tokyo Motor Show: a real motorcycle, based on hydrogen technology. In 2008 this was followed by a plane (in partnership with Boeing and Airbus) and a car (in collaboration with PSA). In 2010, the first London taxi and the Suzuki Burgman on hydrogen were introduced. From the Burgman are, to my knowledge, two examples built: one rides every day as a service vehicle at a chemical plant, and one serves as a promotional vehicle for Intelligent Energy. In 2011, a European type approval is obtained for the taxi and the scooter.

City bike
The Suzuki Burgman has a range of 350 kilometres in city traffic (thus speeds up to 70 km/h ). About power and speed one is a bit mysterious, but it should be consistent with the 125cc version. Higher performance will undoubtedly be possible, but at the expense of the range. This vehicle is seen as a solution to urban congestion and pollution. Future users will be the commuter within the city or who wants to go downtown from the suburban or (government) services operating primarily within the urban agglomeration. Performance with this kind of use is less important than range. Suzuki expects the market launch in 2015. It  will not be a global launch, and where it should be is not yet known, but we should think of Tokyo or London. California, in my opinion, is another option as Toyota is very busy launching its new FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle) there. This also is set to go on sale in 2015. As I think the place for the market launch will also depend on the available infrastructure for hydrogen California stands a good chance. The continued rollout also will depend on the availability of hydrogen. Plans for a heavier model or a more “real” motorcycle -based model Suzuki would not have yet, but according to my spokesman this is a marketing choice, not a technical one.

If and when we get to see the Burgman therefore also depends on whether and when hydrogen in my country (the Netherlands) and the surrounding countries will be for sale. To get the answer to this question, I started digging a little more. By the European Commission, hydrogen is seen as one of the ways to achieve the climate target for 2050. For example, the Transport Committee has adopted a directive on November 26, 2013 in order to secure in Europe a minimum number of outlets for alternative fuels, including hydrogen. Each member state will soon be obliged provide a country determined minimum number of outlets. In this matter the EC does not in the first place, have the light vehicles like motorcycles in view but more to heavier cars, trucks and buses. The latter already drive around for a while. Inquiry at the Dutch Hydrogen Association taught me that concrete initiatives exist at this time to install four hydrogen refuelling points: Rotterdam  ready in Q2 2014), Arnhem, Amsterdam and Helmond. On November 29, 2013 the first refuelling point is taken into operation at the Automotive Campus in Helmond. According to the scholars consulted by the Hydrogen Association in the Netherlands we need at least 17 hydrogen refuelling points. This would be the absolute minimum as a start of a national network for cars. These 17 filling points should be there in 2015 when the first cars are expected to come on the market, but at least it is questionable whether the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers or suppliers to manufacturers. Example: Intelligent Energy is OEM to Suzuki) dare to provide cars for such a minimal deployment. According to the Hydrogen Association 40 to 100 stations would be better since then one would have something to offer to the OEMs. In comparison, there are currently 100 filling stations in the Netherlands for liquefied natural gas.

For many of us, a hydrogen-powered engine will never be an option. For them, the sound, the movement of the engine, the smell of gasoline, the technology is an integral part of motorcycling. Others will be of a more rational view : cost, convenience, environment play a greater role than the feeling not sitting on a “real” motorcycle. A hydrogen –powered motorcycle (or motor scooter) remains an engine with the same agility, more torque than a motorcycle with a combustion engine, the same range and eventually also the same performance. We have no crystal ball, so we do not know if the hydrogen- powered motorcycle will ever replace a combustion engine one , but it might just be. There other possibilities: ethanol and methanol  are alternatives. Stories about how crops to provide for those fuels compete with crops meant for food did a lot to put these fuels in a bad light, but here also development goes on. It is already possible to make ethanol directly from sunlight and carbon dioxide. For us (MAG NL) freedom of choice is the main thing, so long as riding with a combustion engine bike is still possible we will just critically monitor new developments, but we will not resist it. It becomes another matter if riding a motorcycle with combustion engine will be made impossible.

Written by Dolf Willigers