Why You Want a Hydrogen-Powered Fuel Cell E-Bike

Photo courtesy SiGNa.

Range. It's all about range. The bike pictured above, the Pedego Classic Comfort Cruiser e-bike, has a range of approximately 15 - 30 miles, depending on rider weight and hills. My Sanyo eneloop pedal-assist electric bike gets just around 15 miles (and I start experiencing range anxiety the minute I show just a single "dot" of power left on the control panel, though that means a few miles worth of battery power remaining). To combat e-bikes' poor range, Pedego teamed up with SiGNa Chemistry to create a "hybrid" electric bike which gets more than twice the Cruiser's regular range, but with no electric recharging required.As you can see from the picture, the Pedego Cruiser has a standard lithium electric battery mounted above the back rack. On top of that fits the SiGNa "extender," which is a small fuel cell. That black box, as SiGNa Chem CEO Michael Lefenfeld explained, houses the fuel cell, while the cannister attached at the back contains powdered sodium silicide, which reacts with the water in air (flowed through the system at the side vents) to create the hydrogen to power the fuel cell. The only ending byproduct, Lefenfeld noted, is water vapor, which escapes back out through the side vents. The extender providing longevity to the lithium battery gives the bike more than twice the normal range.

This is a great boon for serious bike commuters, and e-bike aficionados wanting to go on longer jaunts - extra cannisters each worth 80 miles can easily be carried along.

Though development of full-sized hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles has been hampered by lack of hydrogen infrastructure, and to some degree, hydrogen's need to be stored under pressue, SiGNa Chem said the pressure required for the powdered sodium silicide cannister is just half that of a regular pop can.

Some e-bike users (like me) favor lower-speed, pedal-assist bikes because we believe that human pedal power is what makes it a bike, while throttle-based power turns the bike into more of a moped or scooter. That leads to a lot more inequity in the bike lanes, but will probably be irresistible to the many speed freaks among us. The Pedego reaches top speeds of 20 miles per hour, and allows users to go longer distances without breaking a sweat.

Pedego communications manager Roxanne Holland said this is particularly attractive for bike commuters that need to arrive to their jobs non-sweaty and looking polished for the workplace. She said the range-extending Pedego would be perfect for people who want to get to work with a non-polluting device and with every hair in place - they can then pedal their way home for a good after-work workout. SiGNa's extender is designed to fit on all Pedego e-bikes, and Lefenfeld said it should work with any e-bike using the standard lithium battery pack.

Neither Pedego nor SignaChem is ready to speculate on how much a Pedego Cruiser with the extender will cost. Lefenfeld said Signa is working hard to make the sodium silicide cannisters (once spent, the cannisters contain sodium silicate) refillable, reusable and affordably priced. He says sodium silicide is bountiful and in no danger of peaking.

The souped-up Pedego (it was on display at Interbike) generates zero CO2 emissions (if the regular lithium battery has been charged with renewable electricity). Users will be able to hot swap new cannisters into the fuel cell on long trips. Each cannister weighs 1.5 pounds, and together with the fuel cell adds about six pounds to the bike's weight.

Pedego's Holland said while it is too soon to say what the Cruiser with extender will cost when it debuts next spring/summer, she did say it will be more than their bikes' current high end, which is 2,500 dollars.

Read more about e-bikes at TreeHugger:
E-Bikes to the Rescue - a Six Month Review
Is My Electric Bike Lame?
Electric Bike Review: We Ride the Pacific Electric E-Bike Terra 7-Speed

Tags: Bikes | Biking | Ride Your Bike

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