With battery electric vehicles (BEVs) charging into the global market, it’s clear to see that the future is indeed electric. That being said, there are quite a lot of people who have recognized the potential of hydrogen energy – both when it comes to using it as a fuel cell to power electric vehicles, as well as a fuel source for internal-combustion engines.
We’ve talked about quite a few hydrogen-focused initiatives from the likes of Yamaha and Fraunhofer IWU. This time around, it’s the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s showcased its hydrogen-powered initiatives. MIT’s Electric Vehicle Team has long had experience when it comes to building and racing innovative electric vehicles. This time around, the team is turning its eye to the two-wheeled world, and is venturing into hydrogen-powered electric motorcycles in 2024.
MIT's Electric Vehicle Team is conducting rigorous testing on a hydrogen electric motorcycle prototype.
Back in October 2023, MIT’s EV team conducted a successful demonstration of its hydrogen-powered prototype. To make things even better, the team isn’t keeping the prototype all to itself. The new hydrogen-electric machine was designed as an open-source prototype, with all the plans available online. This means that development can continue and branch out as other components can be installed and further experimentation can be conducted on the prototype.
The entire project is spearheaded by Aditya Mehrotra, a graduate student working with Alex Slocum, a mechanical engineering professor. Mehrotra has been focusing on energy systems, and is also a motorcycle enthusiast, and so he came up with the idea of a hydrogen-powered electric motorcycle. The team explained that while batteries have advanced leaps and bounds in recent years, they still have their limitations. One of the biggest limitations is their charging time, with even the fastest chargers today taking several minutes to juice up a battery. Meanwhile, refueling with hydrogen could, theoretically, be as quick as filling up a gas tank.
The hydrogen-powered electric bike works similarly to a battery electric motorcycle with a range extender.
So how does it all work? In a video uploaded to MIT’s official YouTube channel Mehrotra explains that the hydrogen bike works similarly to a battery electric motorcycle with a range extender. There’s a motor that drives the wheel, and a motor controller that converts DC power into AC power for the motor. This controller gets power from a battery and supplies it to the motor to turn the wheel. Pretty simple, right? The hydrogen system here works in parallel with the battery, acting like a charger. As such, as the motorcycle drives along, it depletes the battery which in turn, is continuously recharged by the hydrogen fuel cell.
Mehrotra explains that as long as the average power output of the battery is lower than the average output of the hydrogen fuel cell, the battery never drains charge. When the fuel cell is depleted, it’s as simple as replacing it with a new one, something that takes a few seconds or a couple of minutes at most.
MIT’s Electric Vehicle Team has taken some huge strides in the past, as the project was presented at Hydrogen Americas Summit and is also planned to be showcased at the World Hydrogen Summit. The prototype also made an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the biggest expos in Las Vegas, Nevada, meant to showcase innovations in the world of electronics – EVs included.
Naturally, the next step would be to push the limit of what hydrogen technology is capable of. Indeed, Toyota has a hydrogen-powered electric car called the Mirai, although it has struggled to gain mainstream popularity because of the lack of infrastructure surrounding hydrogen. As such, it’s part of MIT’s EV team’s goal to increase demand for hydrogen so more infrastructure and technology surrounding hydrogen can be developed. The team hopes that in the future, fossil fuels can be completely replaced by hydrogen, all while providing the same level of efficiency and convenience as gasoline.