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Fuel cell bikes to cut the crap?

10:27 2nd May 2002 by Bikemagic
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It’s been a couple of years since we first heard about alternative energy specialists Manhattan Scientifics forays into developing pollution-free fuel cell powered vehicles. Now Bikebiz have reported that this week, together with Italian motorcycle manufacturer Aprilia, Manhattan Scientifics unveiled a new fuel cell powered scooter to join the Aprilia fuel cell bicycle they displayed last year. The development takes fuel cell technology a step further towards providing pollution and noise free transport that could make the world of difference to our dirt-clogged experience as cyclists on the roads.

The cunning fuel cell technology uses compressed hydrogen and adds oxygen from the air to transform them into steam and electrical energy with a polymer membrane cell. The result is remarkably quietly produced energy and the only by-product is pure water. Compared to existing electric batteries, the system is lightweight, has a longer range and can be re-filled in a matter of a few seconds, rather than the hours it takes to recharge a battery.

Last year’s fuel cell bicycle prototype, the ENJOY FC, designed to be either pedalled or powered, won a Time Magazine’s ‘Inventions of the Year’ award in 2001. It has a top speed of 20 mph and a range of 43 miles. The whole bike weighs in at 24 kilos, so not bad for an electric bike at all, but the fuel assisted option should come in handy for those uphills.

The new scooter, the MOJITO FC, uses a 3000 watt fuel cell, and as you’d expect of a scooter is packs more punch than the bicycle. It’s claimed that production models should be capable of covering 120 miles with a single fuelling at a top speed of at least 35 miles an hour and takes a minute to refuel, which should be good enough for urban use.

But don’t get too excited just yet at the prospect of the innovation cutting down on choking exhaust fumes and noise at traffic lights in the immediate future: The ENJOY FC is still only a prototype, and while last year Time magazine estimated that it would be in the shops “in 2003 for approximately $2300”, we can’t find anything on the Aprilia or Manhattan websites to confirm that. However, CEO of Manhattan, Marvin Maslow has said:
“Industry experts believe it might be a decade before we see true mass production and mass purchased fuel cell cars on our roads. But this need not be true for other smaller forms of fuel-cell-driven personal transportation.”

So clearly the company don’t intend on hanging around either. We’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile for all you technical boffins out there here’s what Aprilia have to say about the technology for the ENJOY FC.


Aprilia ENJOY FC

This type of fuel cell is also known as the proton exchange membrane. The synthetic material used is between 50 and 175 microns thick (for reference purposes, a normal sheet of paper is 25 microns thick).

In the fuel cell, the appropriately-dampened membrane appears as a thick sheet of plastic.

The characteristic that makes it useful for the application in question is quite unusual for an electrolyte, and that is the membrane, in the presence of water, as mentioned, rigidly holds the negative ions in its structure, which are thus not free to move, while the positive ions are mobile and free to carry positive charges across the membrane.

In the fuel cell application, the positive ions of the hydrogen (thus, simple protons), due to their one-way movement, from anode to cathode, activate the system, in that the negative ions, that is, the electrons, unable to pass through the membrane, are channelled through an external circuit (an electrical cable) and used for the purpose envisaged by the application, while the protons, combined with the oxygen in the air, produce steam, which is then dispersed into the atmosphere.

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