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Motorcycle allure

6:48 PM  May 18th, 2011
by Cameron Fullam

Whether it’s the screaming whine of a sport bike or the loud rumble of a chopper, the noise of a motorcycle is part of its allure.

So I needed no apology from the team of University of Dayton engineering students who opted not to include an exhaust pipe or damper with the internal combustion engine they added to an all-electric motorcycle.

“It’s really loud,” they said.

Well, that’s what makes it fun.

Undergraduate teams from four U.S. colleges — UD, Brigham Young University, Colorado State University and University of California-Davis — showed off their hybrid engine designs at UD Arena today for the Dayton-based Innovative Scientific Solutions, in conjunction with Innovative Scientific Solutions and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Their task had been to convert the all-electric power system of a Zero motorcycle into a hybrid system. Two teams added an internal combustion engine, and two added hydrogen fuel cells.

The designs were crude — a one-gallon gas can duct-taped to the seat; two large, jetpack-like canisters filled with hydrogen bolted to the rear fender — but the science was anything but.

The UD squad added a generator and model airplane motor to their bike, using a constant 5,600 rpms of internal combustion to recharge their battery on the go. Miles per single charge improved 40 percent.

The UC-Davis team used a screen to filter out electrons from hydrogen molecules. When the electrons found their way around the filter, they created energy that could be transferred to the battery. And when the electrons rejoined the hydrogen molecules, they combined with oxygen to create water: the motorcycle’s only exhaust.

All of the designs were much more efficient and environmentally friendly than the standard sportbike or chopper. And the hydrogen hybrids were practically silent — the gentle clicking of the chain the only sound of movement.

Odd as it was to witness a silent motorcycle, these bikes still had what counts: powerful off-the-line torque; the maneuverability of two wheels and a light frame; speed at the flick of the wrist. And the students got to modify their bikes to improve efficiency and power.

You know, that sounds like a lot of fun, too.

One Response to Motorcycle allure

  1. Richard says:

    Hi Cameron,

    We just opened a fuel economy forum on motorcyclist.com and I’m very interested in your innovation here.

    Would you be willing to start a forum thread and talk more about the technology? I’ve fooled around with high frequency hydrogen generation for burnable fuel and electric bikes, but I don’t quite understand how you’re converting hydrogen directly to electricity here…normally hydrogen fuel cells supply burnable fuel, right?

    Anyway, let me know at my email address above.



    P.S. Most people don’t realize how fast electric bikes can accelerate. (i.e. “NOW!”)

    I think there’d be a lot more interest if you could show a demonstration of an a electric bike taking a Harley off the line, etc.

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