for National Geographic News
A sleek, almost silent, nonpolluting fuel cell-powered motorcycle is set to begin gliding down U.S. streets by the end of 2006.
The bike is dubbed the ENV (pronounced "envy"), short for Emissions Neutral Vehicle. The London-based company Intelligent Energy decided to develop the bike itself after years of cool reception to its fuel cell technology from manufacturers.
"We wanted to show how good the technology is right now and basically build what we thought would be a technical example, albeit an example that's wonderful and stimulates interest," said Andy Eggleston, ENV project director.
Since its unveiling earlier this year, the ENV has generated enormous interestproof that the public is ready to embrace fuel cell technology, Eggleston said.
The motorcycle has a top speed of 50 miles an hour (80 kilometers an hour) and can run for 100 miles (160 kilometers) or up to four hours on a tank of compressed hydrogen. A fill-up costs about four dollars (U.S.).
ENV makes no more noise than a home computer and emits only heat and water.
Users have compared riding the nearly silent motorbike to skiing, sailing, surfing, and glider flying.
"If you go for a ride in the countryside, as you ride through it, you can smell the countryside, hear the birds singing, and you are not disturbing nature," Eggleston said. "Birds will not fly out of the way because they are terrified of the noise."
Intelligent Energy plans to sell the motorbike for between U.S. $6,000 and $8,000. The company believes the ENV will appeal to both urban commuters and recreational riders.
At the heart of the hydrogen-fueled motorbike is a compact, proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell. The cell converts the chemical energy of hydrogen and an oxidant (in this case, oxygen) to generate electricity.
Air ducts in the ENV's handlebars supply the fuel cell with oxygen, while hydrogen stored in a pressurized bottle serves as the gas tank. The fuel cell itself is composed of layers of metal plates fitted with membranes and electrodes.
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