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Big Idea: Hydrogen Fuel Cells & Transportation

With the What’s the Big Idea? Contest [www.sundance.tv] in full swing here at the Sundance Channel (have you submitted your big idea yet? Why not?), we thought it’d be a good opportunity to take a look at a few other “big ideas” that are just a few twists and turns (and maybe a contest win?) away from making a big impact toward a greener planet. First on the list: hydrogen fuel cell-powered transportation, exemplified by the env bike [www.fuelcellsworks.com].

Pronounced “envy,” the env bike is the world’s first purpose-built fuel cell vehicle (for a quick primer on fuel cell’s, and how they work, see Wikipedia’s entry [en.wikipedia.org]. Basically, fuel cells produce electricity while emitting only water vapor). It uses a fuel cell that’s about the size of a suitcase (it fits beneath the seat; see a picture of it below) to create a maximum of six kilowatts, which powers the bike up to 50 miles per hour and a range of about 100 miles (or four hours – whichever comes first). In addition to creating zero tailpipe emissions, the bike is also virtually silent. In many ways, it’s similar to the Tesla Roadster [www.sundance.tv]: sexy design promoting a new and potentially revolutionary fuel technology, but the env bike takes it a step further by using a fuel cell instead of batteries to make it go. It really works, too; check out this video [www.treehugger.com] that shows it in action.

Of course, there are a few reasons that fuel cells are still a “big idea” rather than a “green reality,” and the biggest of these reasons is the availability of the catalyst fuel; hydrogen, in this case (but that’s another post). If/when fuel cells become viable, the possibilities are virtually endless; in the case of the env bike, “the core” (their name for their fuel cell) has been designed to be portable and flexible. Imagine: you could take it from your house, where it’s powering your kitchen appliances, and plug it in to the bike, which you could then ride to the grocery store (and maybe stop to get a recharge of hydrogen). When you get home, it goes back to powering your house, and “round and “round goes the cycle, producing clean power all the way. Happily, the env bike may not just be a big idea much longer; they recently partnered up with the Suzuki Motor Corporation [www.intelligent-energy.com], to deliver “a series of advanced, compact and lightweight fuel cell systems, which are intended to become an integral part of Suzuki’s future motor products.” So cross your fingers that we’ll be seeing more of the env bike soon, and stay tuned for more big ideas.