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The World of Fuels – Alternative Fuels for the Two Wheels

For decades have we been running petrol-powered motorcycles and scooters between our legs now? We love the vibes, the growl, and the aura of internal combustion engines (ICE). In recent years though, the growing environmental concerns have caused the world to rethink all over again about what drives their wheels. The electric power train is in trend but is it really the only way forward? Let’s have a rundown of what all can potentially power your two wheels in the time to come.

CNG: Aftermarket CNG kits for four-wheelers have been there for a while in the Indian four-wheeler market but there hasn’t been a major buzz about the same in the two-wheelers. The economic and green alternative fuel which doesn’t demand a huge modification to the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine-in this case Spark Ignition type) design would be great to be employed in for two-wheelers too, right?

That was not 100% true. Early efforts showed one big problem always being the mounting of the high pressurized cylinder itself on the whole frame, to begin with. Bajaj was seen being ambitious with one of its Pulsar back in the late 2000s during Delhi Auto Expo where it was a (said) factory fitted small CNG cylinder substituted in place of the usual side case. As one can imagine. It did seem to be eating up the leg placement for the pillion rider which might have been another reason why the project never really took off.

In 2017, Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) joined forces with Lovato’s Indian representative, Eco Fuel to launch aftermarket kits for scooters. The most hyped around was and still is the Honda Activa in its green CNG form. This program was specifically hosted for Mumbai. The kit is also available for a host of other scooters. Though CNG is one of the greenest fuels there is, the supply of the fuel is not as widespread as petrol. Players like Adani Gas, Indraprastha Gas, Gujarat Gas, etc are providing such fuels only in specific areas of the countries respectively. That to more in the metros. The second hindrance is the long queues outside CNG stations which discourage people wanting to go tree-hugging at any point in life. Here is a list of those two-wheelers that you can buy and convert to CNG today though it is suggested to speak to the licensed aftermarket kit conversion specialists before going ahead.

Company Model cc
Hero Maestro Edge 110.9
Hero Maestro Edge 124.6
Hero Pleasure+ 110.9
Honda Activa 125 124
Honda Dio 109.51
Suzuki Access 125 124
TVS Jupiter 109.7
TVS Scooty Zest 110 109.7
Vespa VXL 125 124.45
Vespa SXL 125 124.45
Vespa Notte 124.45
Vespa Urban Club 124.45
Vespa ZX 125 124.45
Vespa LX 125 124.45
Vespa Elegante 125 124.45

Electric: We all know how the electric revolution is underway. Today in India there are so many companies today which boast to manufacture and sell you an electric vehicle that the number has already crossed the total number of ICE manufacturers. From commuter to race-bred motorcycles, companies are actually trying to aim in each and every segment. Of course, we also know how the tech of batteries themselves have caused range anxiety and performance limitation issues in reality. Clubbing to that, the need for widespread and faster-charging ports especially in a country as India where there is already a power deficit for millions of homes is still making electrification a bit awry from being a practical option against their smoking competitors. Still, the persistence from companies such as Yo bikes, Ultra Violette, Ather, Revolt on a domestic level has even caused bigger players like Hero, Kawasaki, Bajaj, and Triumph to sweat who otherwise didn’t really care about the topic at large.

The international market has been much more profound, mature, and visionary which might be evident from the brands such as Lightening, Energica, and Damon Motorcycles who have been working leaps and bounds, trying to achieve accolades like the fastest electric bike, petrol competing range, high-speed performance and more.

Of all that is still going on right now, the electric vehicles being a straightaway substitute for the current petrol motorcycles for everyday use is still a hiccup. The other problems such as the availability of power charging, long charging times, and a larger investment to own an electric motorcycle to start with still need to work out properly. Also noteworthy is the electricity which in the first place needs to be clean, to begin with else how will one justify going green if the electricity to power your two-wheeler is a product of the smoke from the biggest chimney in your city? Shifting blames then, ain’t it?

In countries such as ours where there is an energy deficit, such bikes as an idea are facing a different dimension of execution difficulty. Though it is good to see how electric motorcycles are employing Li-ion and Li-polymer batteries. Having around 4500 chemistries to choose from, gives the Lithium brothers a good chance to stay in here for a while. Saying all this, it is something that we should accept right now that we are limited by the technology of our time. Maybe Graphene is the answer?

Hydrogen Fuel Cell: Some might argue that hydrogen fuel cell tech is more of a hybrid tech and not a straight consumption. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle is not really anything more but a hydro-electric generation system affixed in tandem to an electric vehicle. Though it might sound a lot when two systems are incorporated in one compact place and that potentially is one reason why this hasn’t been an idea for the masses yet but with the range that the current batteries offer, the hybrid should be the way forward it seems.

Suzuki had built a working hydrogen fuel cell vehicle which was an iteration of the very own Burgman that we have here in India. Yes, the very same Indian 125cc scooter has been everywhere with a different subject of interest. In 2017, the London police were working on imbibing the same for patrolling fleets. With a 337 km of claimed range, it certainly does seem pretty promising.

It is good to see that Hero did at least conceptually think in this direction. At the 2014s Auto Expo, Hero did present the world with a neon lined prototype named Hero iON. Though still in prototype form, the idea was to use a new type of Lithium-Air battery and propel the electric wheel rim motors which are fed power by these lithium-air batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell range multiplier. Supercapacitors also were brought into the equation which would assure non-jerky energy flow for accelerating and braking. With specs such as 160 km/h top speed, 0-100 km/h in 5 seconds, and a range of around 300 km, this would have on paper been the thing we need. Though this might all add up to a whole lot in terms of cost even for the end product. Nevertheless, still a valiant effort by the Indian player it seems.

It won’t be wrong to say that rather than jumping to electric bikes first, it will be better to work on hydrogen fuel cell stack tech as it is just a numbers game. If the hydrogen extraction process from water synthesis can economize and hydrogen supply stations become much more widespread, we would be able to still stay on the greener side of the environment with a fuel tank which would be filled in less than 5 mins again. It’s time to give up the myth that hydrogen storage is dangerous (courtesy to Toyota who tested a high-pressure hydrogen cylinder with a bullet test). Do check out Shell’s effort in the same line to extract on-site hydrogen. Aligning all these factors together Hydrogen Fuel Cell stack tech can be a promising way to go. The joke is on you Elon!

Check out this small effort being made to work out the possibility of hydrogen as a fuel for two-wheelers:  https://innovate.mygov.in/innovation/hydrogen-fuel-cell-for-motorized-vehicle/#:~:text=Hydrogen%20fuel%20cell%20for%20motorized%20vehicle%20is%20a%20hybrid%20bike,motor%20to%20power%20the%20bike.

LPG:  How would you like a cooking fuel which runs your stove, which prepares delicious food can now also power your motorcycle? At around ₹50/- per kg it is still cheaper than petrol any day. Someone threw the calculator and just went into the garage to make what we know today as the world’s first LPG run the motorcycle. That is Greenfly for you! This interesting piece of tech was conceived and designed by Dave Akhurst in 2008.

The bike produces 30 horsepower and fetches around 30 km/l. Though it might not at all sound economical maybe going green will not be that easy, I guess. Since the Greenfly was built around Yamaha XT500, it uses the same engine and chassis. Dave went on customizing the whole bike with a single-sided front fork and the star-shaped hub. Speaking of this, maybe someone today with modern tech and a smaller engine makes it much more relatable to the green motorcycle sales chart.

Methanol: Not a lot of the people would know but the very petrol that you pour in your fuel tanks is not pure petrol but a blend of two-three different liquids. One of these is methanol, a liquid which burns cleaner than petrol is less flammable making it much safer for transportation and storage, and burns cooler. With newer methanol processing plants, a lot of things have changed for the better. A key benefit of renewable methanol is its potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Methanol has the highest hydrogen (H) to carbon (C) ratio of any liquid fuel. Relative to conventional fuels on a well-to-tank (WTT) basis, it is said that renewable methanol gives carbon reduction benefits anything between 65% to 95 %. These greenhouse gas aids are among the highest for alternative fuels that can displace petrol and diesel even. For the tank-to-wheels (TTW) portion of the full fuel cycle, methanol as a transportation fuel can offer two types of advantages over conventional fuels: lower exhaust emissions during combustion and better efficiency vehicle technologies. It is no wonder why this along with the higher performance value has made methanol the first choice for many motorsports globally to fuel their engines.

When used to fuel ICE, methanol has shown to emit 15 to 20 % lesser carbon than petrol. Also, noteworthy is the fact that methanol is readily biodegradable in both aerobic and anaerobic environments. When burned as fuel, methanol cuts emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that form ground-level ozone or “smog.” methanol is much less reactive than petrol in the atmosphere, with the only toxic component of the emissions being formaldehyde, as compared to dozens of carcinogenic components of petrol emissions, which also contains formaldehyde. Maybe just filtering the formaldehyde can make this one of the best alternatives to current petrol.

Bio-Ethanol: It wasn’t long back in 2018, that TVS contributed to going green with the launch of the Apache RTR 200 Fi 4V E100 which with twin spray twin-port EFI injection promised to make the world a bit greener. TVS claims that this version of the Apache can be run completely on ethanol and can produce 50% less Benzene, Butadiene along with reduced nitrogen and carbon monoxide emissions. The biggest thing is that the main powertrain did not really have huge modifications to use ethanol as a fuel which makes it a step away from mass execution. Though the official website does showcase the page of this green machine this one is predominantly only available in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka. This is India’s first ethanol-powered motorcycle by a licensed production manufacturer.

Ethanol has been humongously successful in countries such as Brazil as an alternative to petrol. Being potential enough to be synthesized out of sugarcane, corn, rice, and wheat straw. It is also much easier to process this against other biofuels out there. Recognizing the same, the government of India has been looking seriously into pursuing production on a large scale. The idea also lies in reducing the oil import, 10% of which is being used by 2 wheelers specifically. Minister Nitin Gadkari has been an advocate for the same for a decade and surely had been in touch with the management of both Bajaj and TVS for the same.

Diesel: Die-hard enthusiasts would remember Royal Enfield Diesel Bullet/Taurus is one of the famed models back in the 70s and 80s. The high mileage output of a cruiser of around 85kmpl made this a really popular offering. Though the cons such as the 65kmph top speed and shoulder shattering vibrations made this a difficult choice for country length journeys. The model was predominantly exported to countries like the United Kingdom (UK).

Hero MotoCorp, the country’s biggest name in the two-wheeler market did try its hand with diesel by showcasing a prototype by the name of ‘RnT’. The bike housed a 150cc compressed ignition internal combustion engine which produced 13.5 BHP of power @ 4,000 RPM and 35 Nm torque @ 1,600 RPM. The engine was mated to a 6-speed constant mesh gearbox and the scooter got front and rear disc brakes. 0-60 km/h stint was a 5 seconds claim along with a top speed of 70 km/h. The scooter weighed 136 kg and had a 6-liter fuel tank capacity.

The oddball looks did generate mostly negated reviews. That could potentially have been one major reason why this scooted to a shelf in their design library. Still, a commendable effort, don’t you think?

Solar:  Though one might argue that the form of power actually is electricity but we were seriously taken by surprise after our research. We felt that the effort itself makes it worth listing. Of course, we all know how solar panels act as an entrapment site for solar rays and energy which triggers photovoltaic cells to produce electricity.

A student and his aspirations decided to hit the tarmac when Tony Coiro from Purdue University took a 1978 Suzuki motorcycle and substitute the fuel tank with four batteries and wires. The side of the bike had the solar panels aligned in a way that when they were open up for charging the batteries, they gave an effect of wings on the motorcycle itself.

The bike in terms of performance of course was silent as it ran on a conventional DC motor at the end of it. In spite of being a student effort and worked around a limited budget to make this locomote, the bike could do around 39 km on a full charge. Racing on something like this won’t have been an enthusiastic experience too as it could manage to hit only 72 km/h. What still though is interesting that this happened way back in 2010 and certainly the battery tech has leaped miles since then. Think it would do any good if modified and installed on the back of pizza delivery guys who carry huge plastic boxes?

Compressed Air: Back in 2011, a small motorcycle by the name O2 Pursuit (yes you chem nerds, O2 means oxygen!) was all over the automotive news. The concept was designed by Dean Benstead who was always fascinated by dirt bikes since his childhood days. The same is very much visible in the design language of the bike.

The bike has a steel tube chassis and uses a DiPietro air engine and powertrain bits from a Yamaha WR250F. The bike as per the first prototype was slated to touch a speed of about 100kmph. What is much more interesting is the fact that Dean visioned the same system of cylinder swapping (just like battery swapping) to make it a practical adaptation back then itself.

3 years on from there in 2014, a set of Indian professors presented a working model of a similar kind. Bharat Raj Singh, Director of School of Management Sciences, Lucknow, and Omkar Singh, Vice-Chancellor of MMMUT Gorakhpur teamed up to produce a motorcycle which entered the prestigious ‘Limca Book of records. What is really interesting is the fact that even before O2 pursuit, some students from Guru Nanak Dev Polytechnic College in Punjab had developed an air engine back in 2009 itself. The mission being 40kms in Rs. 5. Since the bike’s efficiency was compromised because of the heavy steel tanks which held the compressed air, they wanted to substitute those with carbon fiber tanks. They were held back by monetary constraints.

Though not all of the above motorcycles are available for purchase straight away because of some practical problems that the engineers must have noticed it certainly looks like a way to go ahead. What do you think?

Disclaimer: This article was prepared or accomplished by it's author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Motorbikes India or it's owners.

The views and opinions expressed on this web site are soley those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Steve Gerweck, the GERWECK.NET staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

About Gaganbir Singh

Gaganbir Singh is an avid automobile enthusiast with an experience in freelance auto journalism. Having chaired SAE (Society of Automobile Engineering) collegiate chapter during his graduation, he has had the chance to experience the genre hands-on. Interested in mechanics of how things work, he has spent considerable time working with some of the most esteemed names in the auto industry. Currently self-employed and exploring the palindrome by managing the best set of Sportbike Freestyle Riding extreme athletes of the country is his USP. Safety is a great deal of importance to him in the automotive spectrum.

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