Swarthmore Engineering

Swarthmore College Fuel Cell Vehicle Research

Home Technical Announcements

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Research

by Alex Bell and Andres Pacheco

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Motorcycle

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Motorcycle

Andres (left), Alex (right), and Motorcycle in front of Parish Hall

This page describes the progress of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Research Project being conducted in the Swarthmore College Engineering Department by Alex Bell and Andres Pacheco.


Take a look at our second test run:

Take a look at our first test run:

These videos were shot during our first test run before we left for winter break. We are still working on solving the power limiting software problem in the motor controller, for more information see the pdf at the top of the page. Because of this problem the motorcycle was not running at full power, but it was still satisfying to see two years of hard work rolling down the road.



The main goal of the project was to design and build a functional hydrogen fuel cell motorcycle. The vehicle will be used as a point of comparison to other technologies in terms of efficiency, range, speed, etc and help evaluate the viability of a hydrogen economy by providing real world data.

Q and A

Is 1.2kw(1.6hp) enough to propel a motorcycle?
          In short no. The performance with which the average motorcycle rider demands from their bikes is much more than be supplied by a 1.6hp source especially in a 400 pound vehicle. When we designed the vehicle we knew that the performance would be less than that of an electric bicycle or restricted moped. However the data on efficiency that we collect as well as experience in the design of the vehicle can all be scaled up to larger more practical designs. We wish we could have built a hydrogen power sport bike, but the cost and present commercial options are just not available yet. The design can also be viewed as accomplishing more with less, consider that the walk behind lawn mowers for sale at home depot have over 6HP. That is almost 4 times the power that we are using in the motorcycle. The reason the performance of the motorcycle with such little power is possible highlights one of the strengths of electric vehicles which is high efficiency and constant torque over a wide rpm range. 

What is the total cost of the vehicle?
        The total cost of the vehicle was around 10,000 dollars with the vast majority of the price being the fuel cell unit.

What will happen to the motorcycle when you are finished?
       The motorcycle will be dissembled in march of 2009. The fuel cell unit will go into a class demonstration unit which will be used for heat transfer and energy conversion experiments. The motor and controller will be used in future electric vehicles. 

Is the motorcycle street legal?
       No. We have not added the necessary safety and lighting gear or bothered with insurance and government licensing. As such it is ridden solely on private property. 

When will I be able to purchase a fuel cell vehicle?
      We don’t know. However, we can say that there are many positive features of fuel cell vehicles which will increase their popularity in the future. The two biggest positives are zero emissions and greater vehicle efficiency than internal combustion engines. However there are still many serious technical but mostly economic answers which may permanently prevent the implementation of fuel cell vehicles. The two biggest problems are the creation of a hydrogen refueling and production infrastructure which is cheaper and cleaner than other propulsion alternatives.

Who We Are

Alex Bell is a senior at Swarthmore College majoring in Engineering. His interests are in vehicle efficiency and more specifically power electronics.

Andres Pacheco is from Caracas, Venezuela and is a senior at Swarthmore College majoring in Engineering and Economics. His interests are in alternative energies and vehicle efficiency.