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Alter e-bike uses a hydrogen fuel cell to expand range


November 14, 2013

The compact hydrogen cartridges make it easy to expand the Alter's range

The compact hydrogen cartridges make it easy to expand the Alter's range

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While e-bike designers like Concept Cycle have been consumed with finding new ways to hide the battery, a group of French partners has developed a way of augmenting it. The Alter Bike is an electric motor-driven pedelec bike that's powered by a combination of lithium-ion battery and hydrogen fuel cell. The e-bike is soon to join the other vehicles and electronics available on the growing fuel cell market.

The hydrogen fuel cell is arguably better suited to the e-bike than it is to the car, at least at the moment. It's not practical to carry around a spare tank of hydrogen in a car, and hydrogen fueling stations remain few and far between. On a bike, however, it's entirely possible to carry extra fuel cartridges, increasing the range with each one.

Unlike a traditional battery-powered e-bike, which offers a finite range, the Alter's range is only limited by how many hydrogen refills you can carry and/or purchase along your ride. Its designers envision riders planning out ride distances and carrying a specific number of cartridges based on those distances. Judging by the photos and video below, it will be easy enough to carry multiple cartridges in a backpack and/or bike bag.

The Alter Bike is a collaborative project between three French partners. Cycleurope is a bicycle designer, manufacturer and distributor that owns nearly a dozen bike brands, including Bianchi and Gitane, the latter of which will be Alter Bike's brand. Pragma Industries specializes in hydrogen fuel cell technology, and Ventec designs battery management systems.

These partners have worked together to adapt existing technologies and develop new solutions for the specific application of a fuel cell bike. Their efforts have included creating a new breed of hydrogen fuel cells, storing hydrogen in recyclable canisters and designing electrical architecture specifically for the fuel cell bike.

The partners revealed the Alter Bike in France earlier this year but don't seem to have detailed specifics such as battery size, weight or range on a single cartridge. We'll have to wait until closer to launch, which is planned for next year for fleet customers and 2016 for consumers.

Source: Ventec

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

No stats about range tell me that the likely range of one canister will be woefully short - I hope I am wrong because this looks, on paper at least, like a great idea.


O.K. I don't know much about hydrogen cell technology, but this looks like it could be a really interesting innovation, especially in terms of range. Unfortunately, as you point out, we'll only know when the undisclosed "detailed specifics such as battery size, weight or range on a single cartridge" are finally published. Too bad they couldn't be more transparent with their data. I was, in fact, hoping to get some further info from the video but, well, that didn't happen. What a poor presentation ! A guy riding a bike around Biarritz (it looks like) and then a few shots of logos and a surfer for some "local color". Hopeless ! Please, somebody help these guys make a video !! Couldn't even hear the bike with that horrible dubbed-in "music". I had to wonder if the machine was actually running on the fuel or just being pedalled along on leg power... hence the "no sound" approach ?!


a price would be nice. just reading and then liking it i can not actually say its a great idea without knowing how expensive the bike is

Dean Herbert

The problem with all of the hybrids is that the space and weight allocated to the fuel powered device occupies so much space that the vehicle is a poor on battery only vehicle. The space would be better used for more battery. Or, the the alternative, just make it a pure fuel cell bike and get rid of the battery carrying a lot of fuel. At ZEV Electric, we tried all sorts of hybrid combinations. The only thing that works if you insist on a hybrid is a small serial generator with the vehicle really packed with battery. That only works on big trikes or cars. For a bike, for the space shown for the bicycle, you can get 100 miles on battery alone. That is more range than anyone can stand to drive a bicycle in one sitting.

Darus Zehrbach

I wouldn't mind betting it will costs as much as a good second-hand car, plus 20 tankfulls of petrol, in which case I will have to give it a miss.


I agree with Darus, above. I ride an electric scooter, and with the new lithium phosphate batteries, what more do you need? There's a whole lot of room if you're willing to forgo cargo space, on these bikes. Rather, I would like to see more development in the brushless motor field, These things DO wear out, and where I live (Canada), you have to use every trick in the book to get any power because of our highly restrictive and biased legislation against electric bikes..


I hope they market the fuel cell assembly as an after-market device, because this would be a boon to the electric wheelchair/mobility scooter user.

Robert Fallin

Hmmm, all very interesting - but not exactly an informative article, since the makers/developers haven't seen fit to provide any stats...

However, I'd suggest that if they've any concerns along the lines of @Darus Zehrbach's comments, maybe they are (or should be) looking at Lithium-air (http://gizmag.us1.list-manage.com/track/click?u=57c04fd0f2defe64b0f583dc7&id=b28abe19f7&e=2be02f94ac) or, even, Lithium-sulphur/sulfur (http://www.gizmag.com/next-generation-battey-lithium-sulphur/11926/) batteries..? Obviously, these are still in developmental stages and would bump up prices somewhat, but you never know...


Don't we still need petroleum in order to extract the hydrogen for the fuel cells? I hope I'm wrong...


Sounds very good! Was wondering if the Israeli 1000 mile "water car" that uses aluminium billets to store electrical energy could be adapted here?

Bruce Miller

I'm with duh3000. The video didn't have a single second of that guy riding without pedaling. Perhaps the hill scene was to show the electric-assist aspect of the bike?

Jeff Michelson
OK cool idea. Is the battery needed to even out the power supply? If so wouldn't some supercapacitors work better in that capacity? Also, why are all these bikes always the standard frame or mountain bikes? What about recumbents? They have more room as they are a bit longer and if you plan to go a longer distance they are far more comfortable. Also has no one thought of velomobiles? They would really take advantage of electric boost.

Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use. ~ Charles M. Schulz


Seems like a great gizmo. The future is now.


Hydrogen is explosive. I'm afraid that this bike like a bomb under the seat.

Регина Манюкова

Ohh, Puhlease... MHTX had a cell the size of a large water bottle that would run a KHS MTB with 500w rear drive for 3 days at @ 35kph back @ 2002... doh... were this technology woulda, coulda, shoulda,... been life altering for the benefit of man kind was and is... lawn care and landscaping... silent none polluting power for such small appliances... soooooooo... what's wrong with this idea and the ludicrous sorry ass excuse for an alleged innovation in this particular article... 12 yr. olds... give this technology to the 12 year old children of america... and with no malice or fore thought involved city blocks will be blown the hell up all over the place... of coarse once they get that figure out strictly by accident ? Mind you...


With all due respect, where can you buy hydrogen cartridges, how much does it cost, how much energy used, what is the efficiency from producing the hydrogen, the cartridge, the bicycle, the motor, etc., and so forth. Idiotic environmental saviors lost their minds! THOSE WHO WANT TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT, ONLY WANT TO CHANGE IT FROM WHAT IT IS, AT ANY PRICE (AND DAMAGE) TO KEEP IT AS THEY LIKED IT HOW IT WAS BEFORE, REGARDLESS, HOW NATURE IS CHANGING IT!!! The only way to save the environment is for all humans to walk barefoot and naked! Unfortunately that is against the law and one gets arrested, doing it!


I am assuming the hydrogen cannisters are not currently on the market. But one of the partners in this venture obviously sees captive customers on the horizon. Since fuel cells can run on any number of fuels, so why not propane? Those cylinder are everywhere. And methanol is an option as well. Both technologies are commercially available.

Bruce H. Anderson
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