Adapted, with permission from MaxMoto News; March 23, 2004
Aprilia have been working on fuel cell technology for several years, and in April in Hanover they, together with Swiss electric and fuel cell component manufacturer MES-DEA, showcased their latest fuel cell scooter, the Aprilia Atlantic Zero Emission.
The advanced model is equipped with a 6kW (about 8hp) PEM fuel cell which is fitted, together with the hydrogen storage and electrical engine, in the normal engine compartment of the scooter. A top speed of around 85km/h can be achieved and the riding range is up to 140km.
What are fuel cells?
We can all remember our school electrolysis experiments. Or can we?? You know, the one where you run a current though a cathode and anode in a beaker of water, generating oxygen from one and hydrogen from the other. Or in other words, apply an electrical current to H2O and get out O2 and H2.
Well, fuel cells are simply devices that reverse this process, so you put in hydrogen from a fuel tank, oxygen from the air and get out electrical power and water.
Why are fuel cells so important?
The only by-product of the fuel cell operation itself is water; no pollution at all.
Hydrogen can be produced anywhere where there's a supply of electricity and water by using electrolysis. If that electricity comes from a renewable source such as the sun or wind, then you have a totally pollution free method of power production.
Fuel cells will be found in all sorts of places from video camera batteries to power stations. We'll have solar tiles on our roof, an electrolyser in our attic and we'll use the resulting hydrogen to heat and light the house as well as filling up our motorcycle or scooter.
Politically, fuel cells eliminate economic dependence on unstable oil producing countries (would we have gone to war in Iraq now if we already had them?)
Fuel cells are more efficient (40%) than other internal combustion engines (15%)... and they're silent.
So, why aren't they everywhere yet?
Fuelling fuel cells is still a major problem as the infrastructure for production, transportation, distribution and storage of hydrogen is not yet in place.
There's nothing inherently expensive about fuel cells, but currently the components are essentially hand-made making them far too expensive for mass appeal. Without mass production the technology can't take off. Government funding/legislation and niche markets should help to prime the transition.
Aprilia are looking to these niche markets for the Atlantic Zero Emission. City congestion charging systems are likely to proliferate after the success in London, where zero emission vehicles are exempt not only of the charge, but also national road tax, as well attracting free on road parking. OK, ALL motorcycles and scooters are exempt in the London experiment, but that has more to do with the front number plate reading camera charging technology. Don't expect other schemes to show such benevolence to internal combustion engine 2-wheel transport.
The military also like them because of their low heat signature and silent operation. Perhaps the SAS could soon be going into battle on Aprilia Atlantics.