While battery-powered cars are seen as good for the environment, they still face issues over range anxiety and the emissions-heavy process inherent in mining lithium. So, the Electric Vehicle Team at MIT turned to hydrogen-powered vehicles as a cleaner alternative, one in which vehicles could be refilled like gas-powered cars.
The Electric Vehicle Team is building a hydrogen-powered electric motorcycle. Using a fuel cell system, the team says the open-source platform will serve as a testbed for new hydrogen-based transportation. The team hopes the project and those building off its foundation will accelerate demand for hydrogen vehicles and push infrastructure investment.
The team is made up of about a dozen students who have been working on building the prototype since January 2023. They are modifying a 25-year-old motorcycle with several custom parts to support the electric motor, hydrogen tank, fuel cell and drive train. While the team had to use battery power during development, South Korean company Doosan donated a fuel cell. The motorcycle took shape last year as other industry sponsors donated components for the system.
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The team decided to make the project open-source so they could swap out and test various components and let other groups and individuals build their own versions. As part of the project, MIT is developing a guide describing what they did and how they did it, including the safe handling methods required for the bike's hydrogen fuel, like the special tanks and connectors.
The few prototypes previously developed were inefficient and expensive, and much of the work was simulated. Building off MIT's work, researchers and educators should be able to test new ideas, even in space- and funding-constrained environments. Right now, hydrogen is affordable for research, but it's not reasonable enough for commercial production, primarily because the fuel cell remains a big, expensive component.
Initial tests were held on a dynamometer, and last October, the team successfully tested the motorcycle on a test-track for the first time.
When they started the project, some asked, “why is your team building a hydrogen-powered motorcycle?” They replied, “why not?’ They wanted to see if they could do it. Not only did they do it, but they reignited conversations around small hydrogen systems that could increase demand and push the development for more infrastructure.