The Future of Motorcycle and Renewable Energy
By Yemi Olakitan
Motorcycles are an attractive alternative to other modes of personal transportation, as they consume fewer resources, take up less space, and emit less CO2 than standard automobiles.
In Africa, motorcycles are a very popular means of transportation because it is cheaper and can navigate through bad roads, streets, inner city paths, rural communities and other kinds of routes. The popularity of motorcycles is not about to wane in Africa and elsewhere in the world because of its affordability and easy navigation. The question is what is the future of motorcycle and renewable energy?
There are many challenges and opportunities facing the motorcycle industry, such as improving rider safety, meeting emission regulations, and adopting electric mobility.
According to reports, some African startups are developing and deploying electric motorcycles for the masses, aiming to reduce the environmental impact and the cost of fuel for the riders Electric motorcycles are expected to play a significant role in the future of sustainable mobility in Africa and indeed the rest of the world.
The move toward carbon neutrality has posed a unique challenge for motorcycling.
Representatives from the European Parliament, Ducati, and Shell Oil Company say the motorcycle industry is set to explore options outside of battery-electric propulsion, such as hydrogen and e-fuels.
As the industry prepares for a sustainable future, manufacturers hope to balance eco-friendly development with a continued period of strong sales that have been growing steadily since 2020.
Motorcycles often mirror the four-wheel counterparts around them. By design, a motorcycle is rudimentary and requires less of everything than a car does, yet the technology from cars eventually makes its way to motorcycles.
This is partially a result of the current or previous automotive ownership bestowed upon motorcycle manufacturers (Honda gets special recognition for flipping the script and producing motorcycles before cars), with companies like Suzuki and even Ducati being controlled by automotive overarches.
While the automotive industry makes the shift of a lifetime to battery-electric cars, hydrogen fuel cells, and new hybrids, government mandates to limit emissions and carbon footprint and establish an EV charging infrastructure represent a moving target globally. For motorcycles, the regulatory landscape is even muddier.
Representatives from the European Parliament, the European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers, and the omnipresent oil company engineers gathered in a video conference room just a few weeks ago to hash out what the future could look like. The conversation didn’t represent any hard change. But when the CEO of Ducati Corse Claudio Domenicali speculates on what the future will be, you listen.
Battery-electric motorcycles have existed for some time and are likely to become the most popular alternative to traditional internal-combustion bikes, but that doesn’t mean hydrogen fuel-cell technology or synthetic fuels should be forgotten.
While electric bikes are well suited for urban mobility, KTMs are rugged, go-everywhere, and do-everything style adventure motorcycles, meaning the range and weight constraints of an all-electric bike won’t always work for the KTM customer.
In these cases, a form of synthetic e-fuel is much more favourable. Understanding how the bike at hand will be used is much more important than setting an arbitrary propulsion standard, in the eyes of KTM.
By most accounts, these manufacturers are confirming that motorcycles and the accompanying industry operate outside the guidelines of automotive conformity, and they operate without much regulation. Within the European Union, motorcycles don’t have a specific CO2 reduction target as cars do, and European Parliament member Andreas Glück said no legislation is being created at this time.
While Euro Five emissions regulations stand (which regulate the carbon-monoxide and hydrocarbon output of modern motorcycles), the EPA and CARB regulations in the US are even more relaxed.
This doesn’t mean motorcycle manufacturers are taking a back seat in the decarbonization effort. They’re planning for what’s likely to be an inevitable push toward new technology. To do so, however, the support of energy providers is required. Joining the panel discussion in hopes of answering this question was Wolfgang Warnecke, Shell’s advisor for carbon management in Germany.
Based on research and development from Shell, Warnecke said the types of alternative fuels capable of pushing sustainable motorcycle development can be broken into four categories: biofuels, natural gas, hydrogen, and e-fuel.
The market appears to be moving toward electricity as well in the US, with legacy manufacturers like Harley Davidson and mobility start-ups like Tarform focused on producing urban EV tools of mobility. Even so, the jump from ICE to EV continues to divide new buyers and long-time riders alike.
Still, bikes of all types are becoming increasingly popular, according to data provided by Statistical Surveys Inc. and Cycle Trader. Year-to-date sales from 2019-2020 were up 20%, then up another 1.3% from 2020-2021.
Within this data set, an increasing number of young people (under 44) were buying motorcycles. Across the European continent, an estimated 14 million motorcycles are on the road, representing an industry revenue index of €21.4 billion ($20.9 billion) of GDP across the EU.
In Asia, Motorcycle use is very popular, especially in Southeast Asia. According to WorldAtlas, of the top 15 countries in the world according to motorbike use, over half are in Asia. The top five are Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China, with 87%, 86%, 85%, 83%, and 60% of households owning at least one motorbike, respectively.
Some of the reasons for the high popularity of motorcycles in Asia are their affordability, convenience, and suitability for the culture and geography of many Asian countries. Motorcycles are also a common mode of transportation in crowded cities, where they can navigate traffic more easily than cars.
However, motorcycles in Asia also pose some challenges, such as safety, pollution, and congestion. Therefore, some governments in Asia are trying to reduce the number of motorcycles on the roads to promote cleaner and safer alternatives.
In the United States, Some motorcycles can run on synthetic fuels, which are liquid hydrocarbons whose carbon content comes from the air. Synthetic fuels are carbon-neutral and can use the existing infrastructure delivery.
Some motorcycles can use hydrogen as a fuel, either through fuel cells or internal combustion engines. Hydrogen can be produced from water using renewable electricity and has a high energy density.
Some motorcycles are battery-powered electric, which can use electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Electric motorcycles have high efficiency and low maintenance, but they also need adequate charging stations and battery capacity.
In 2022, biofuels accounted for about 6% of total U.S. transportation sector energy consumption, and ethanol’s share was about 4%. Biofuels are derived from biomass, which can be renewable and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2016, a study found that lower energy consumption motorcycles are unlikely to be available and with less than 10% market share, the shift to electric motorcycles may be too small to have much of an influence on air quality in Indonesia.
This suggests that the potential for electric motorcycles in the USA may depend on the market size, availability, and environmental impact of different types of motorcycles.