On May 17, 2023, Japan’s Big Four motorcycle manufacturers announced a bold new plan to cooperatively develop hydrogen-powered motorcycle engines. Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha executives all gathered at a Tokyo press conference to announce the formation of HySE, which stands for “Hydrogen Small Mobility and Engine Technology.” 

In addition to the four biggest Japanese moto manufacturers, both Kawasaki Heavy Industries Limited and Toyota Motor Corporation will also join HySE as special members. Having both of those companies on board is important, since both KHI and Toyota have independently advanced their own hydrogen-powered research in their respective fields. While HySE will concern itself with motorcycle engines, it also plans to develop other hydrogen-powered engines for small mobility needs, as well. 

What will the newly formed HySE organization primarily focus on? The companies jointly announced a plan to pursue three main research and development areas, with responsibilities for each divided among the four OEMs as follows: 

  • Research on hydrogen-powered engines (Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawasaki Motors) 
  • Study on hydrogen refuelling system (Yamaha) 
  • Study on fuel supply system (Kawasaki Motors) 

According to the current plans that HySE has laid out, Honda will lead the effort to research model-based development of hydrogen-powered engines. Suzuki will conduct an element study on functionality, performance, and reliability of hydrogen-powered engines. Meanwhile, Yamaha and Kawasaki Motors will both conduct hands-on research using real hydrogen-powered engines to assess their functionality, performance, and reliability in the real world. 

Additionally, Yamaha will study requirements necessary to develop a hydrogen refueling system, as well as hydrogen tanks for small mobility, for motorcycles and other vehicles. Finally, Kawasaki Motors will expend some effort in studying auxiliary equipment required for the fuel supply systems and tanks needed for hydrogen distribution, as well as what equipment should be installed in between the fuel tanks and injectors on hydrogen-powered vehicles. 

These are daunting and important undertakings, to be sure—which is why it seems good that the four companies (plus KHI and Toyota Motors) are cooperating in their development efforts. While electric vehicle developments are good in some areas, there are others where it will be extremely difficult (at best) to decarbonize. Although most people, companies, and governments now acknowledge a need to reduce carbon emissions for the good of every living creature on the planet, how we actually get there will require multiple good ideas, research, and development working in concert. 

As we’ve discussed in the past, clean hydrogen (sometimes also referred to as green hydrogen) is theoretically possible. Unfortunately, in the past, it’s also been prohibitively expensive to produce. Most companies want to make money, so they seek out the least expensive ways to achieve whatever goals they have—meaning that the possibility of clean hydrogen has frequently remained on paper. 

According to the US National Resources Defense Council, implementation of the massive hydrogen tax credit included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 could be a game-changer in terms of clean hydrogen development incentivization for companies.

However, whether that’s the case largely depends on the guidelines that the US Department of Energy and US Internal Revenue Service establish and enforce on hydrogen-producing companies to account for their emissions. Emissions don’t only come from tailpipes—they come from all phases of production and shuffling a few numbers around on a spreadsheet doesn’t magically make them go away.  

We look forward to seeing the fruits of HySE’s research going forward, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated with all the latest developments as they happen. 

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