Researchers in Germany believe they may have come up with the answer to the great question: How To Make Motorcycles Green Again. Their answer is a grey goop they call “Powerpaste.”
Wait, why do we need Powerpaste?
First, what’s the issue, exactly?
Motorcycles used to be considered environmentally friendly vehicles, and now they aren’t. Not all bikes, mind you; two-strokes and big-bore machines were hard on gas and had more emissions. But smaller four-strokes were generally considered both economical and good for the planet (at least by their riders), thanks to low fuel consumption.
Things have changed. The world is moving towards electric vehicles, and people are trying to reduce their carbon footprint by junking their old gasoline-powered vehicles and ordering shiny new electric cars. Politicians are following the trend by announcing future bans on gas-powered vehicles.
Trouble is, there aren’t many options available for electric motorcycles, and the ones that are available typically suffer from heavy batteries that lack extended riding range, and require long recharge times. The problem is energy density; in cars, throwing in a big battery, and maybe even an auxiliary gasoline engine, is no problem. On a motorcycle, it gets more tricky.
One sometimes-proposed option is to power a motorcycle with a hydrogen fuel cell; indeed, police in the UK tested out Suzuki Burgmans set up with this arrangement. The experiment can’t have gone well, as we never heard much ballyhoo about the results. Also, the idea of riding around on a pressurized cylinder filled with hydrogen gas is uncomfortable to many, especially anyone who’s seen a picture of the Hindenburg disaster. Given the general vulnerability of motorcycles, any old crash could turn into a Guy Martin-style situation.
What is Powerpaste
So, how does Powerpaste claim to solve these problems?
Basically, Powerpaste is a material that stores hydrogen efficiently and safely, and allows for quick refueling. Powerpaste is actually a goop made from combining magnesium and hydrogen into a paste, as the name implies.
This paste is then packed into cartridges, which function as energy storage units, ultimately filling the same function as a gas tank or battery. To extract that energy, the Powerpaste is pushed out of the cartridge and mixed with water. This results in a chemical reaction that creates pure hydrogen, which can then be used to power a fuel cell and create electricity.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials in Dresden, Germany, are the brains behind Powerpaste. After putting magnesium and hydrogen through chemical trickery to make the paste, the researchers say it’s a stable, safe material. It’s supposedly 10 times as energy-dense as modern lithium batteries. It also contains far more energy than a pressurized tank holding hydrogen that’s sized similar to the Powerpaste cartridge. With all this in mind, it does indeed look like Powerpaste could work as an alternative fuel to motorcycles.
However, for it to be cost-effective, it would have to be adopted by cars and trucks. Powerpaste might not be terribly attractive to an electric car driver with an advanced recharging system, as the infrastructure to support those vehicles goes. For transport trucks, requiring vast amounts of stored energy for long hauls, Powerpaste might be very attractive indeed.
There are other questions: Is Powerpaste practical to produce, from an energy standpoint? What happens to the cartridge and any remaining contents after it’s used? How exactly would refill stations work? How much would Powerpaste cost?
Nevertheless, this is an alternative fuel that looks like it could actually work for motorcycles, if logistics could be figured out and costs were reasonable.
For more details, head over to Fraunhofer’s website.