Safer quad bike runs on hydrogen

By Paul Charman

Unitec has joined forces with engineers from the private sector to pioneer a world-beating form of personal farm transport, writes Paul Charman

Associate Professor Jonathan Leaver with the inventor of the Tahr Quad suspension concept, Nick Marks.Photos / Chris Gorman
Associate Professor Jonathan Leaver with the inventor of the Tahr Quad suspension concept, Nick Marks.Photos / Chris Gorman

The hydrogen-powered UniQuad will be designed to slash quad bike accidents and boost New Zealand's energy self-sufficiency.

Details of the revolutionary quad bike prototype - including self-levelling suspension, traction control, possibly obstacle avoidance and additional electronic wizardry - were outlined to interested parties at Unitec Institute of Technology this week.

Unitec and its partners in the project have committed to building the prototype over the next 12 months.

The novel quad will be designed to be powered by both the latest hydrogen fuel cell technology and lithium ion batteries.

Though being built in Auckland, the design will eventually be part of the equipment used on a model farm being developed near Taupo to advocate use of hydrogen.

A company called Hydrogen New Zealand, which is a partner in the UniQuad project, will use the property to demonstrate the deployment of solar power, hydro and wind to generate electricity for extracting hydrogen from water.

The director of Hydrogen New Zealand, Jon Spencer, was inspired to also focus on quad bike safety after reading articles in Driven.

Hydrogen will be put to work at the Taupo property to power the farmhouse plus various machines, the UniQuad featuring prominently among these.

Associate Professor Jonathan Leaver of the Department of Civil Engineering at Unitec's Institute of Technology says it is hoped, several years down the track, to commercialise technologies incorporated in the hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle.

"As we see it, there's potential to commercialise aspects of the technology initially to quad bike owners keen to retro-fit safety features into existing machines and then to license these and other technologies to manufacturers building new machines," said Dr Leaver.

The brains trust assembled to build the prototype comprises students and staff from Unitec, MIT and mechanical and electronics specialists from private companies. As well as Hydrogen New Zealand, the list includes Lower Hutt-based technology company Callaghan Innovation and the Kapiti Coast electric drive vehicle specialist company Astara, which has built several electric motorcycles.

The carbon-fibre quad bike prototype will initially be built around a Polaris frame, using four in-wheel electric motors, adding electronics systems to regulate stability, traction control and other safety systems.

The self-levelling technology will use either the award-winning Tahr Quad suspension concept - developed by industrial designer Nick Marks - or a suspension system already patented and incorporated into quad prototypes in Europe. The latter system is built by Carver Technology, of Amsterdam.

"With about 850 injuries annually, including on average five fatalities, quad bike safety has become a grave health and safety issue in this country," Leaver says.

"The grim statistics motivated us to join Hydrogen New Zealand, a company established to promote integration of hydrogen technologies, to help to solve the problem. Mindful of the tragedy and huge cost these crashes cause, we wanted to pioneer a safer and more efficient workhorse for the farmer and all outdoor workers.

"But we did not want to build something which would use outdated technology. Looking ahead, electric vehicles are the future, and we believe that hydrogen will also play a significant part in their development.

"We expect the UniQuad will revolutionise user safety. Savings on fuel and emissions will be a huge advantage to individual users and the economy as a whole."

A model shows the Tahr Quad self-levelling suspension, which will improve safety when sidling around hills by keeping the laden vehicle's centre of gravity between the axles.
A model shows the Tahr Quad self-levelling suspension, which will improve safety when sidling around hills by keeping the laden vehicle's centre of gravity between the axles.


Unitec and Hydrogen New Zealand have each pledged up to $50,000 to get the prototype project off the ground but they are looking for additional funders to get involved, in particular ACC.

"We don't have any bike manufacturers in partnership with us at this stage but we obviously won't be commercialising all the technology in one hit. It's likely significant parts of the project will have commercial potential, such as retro-fitting self-levelling technology to existing quad bikes. We will be able to tailor bikes to particular clients' needs.

"For example, they could have an electric drive bike with a lithium ion battery. Or we could incorporate a hydrogen fuel tank and a fuel cell for a much longer range with the same weight."

Ian Jerrett from Astara has been involved in building large and small electric motorcycles and other vehicles for about five years.

"We have had a lot of experience with drive trains and lithium ion power systems.

"Though I am not familiar with hydrogen systems, I see huge potential for these to address the limiting factor, referred to as range anxiety, associated with electric vehicles."

Jerrett says two powerful motorcycles, based on Triumph rolling chassis, have already demonstrated the power, robustness, feel and flexibility of electronic bike technology. One of these was designed to race on the Isle of Man.

He says development of electric vehicles has been incredibly rapid in just a few years and the motoring world is also on the verge of a revolution in useful application of hydrogen technology.

"Marrying the two together has exciting potential."

- NZ Herald

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