‘We need to find the next step’: Yamaha’s European President talks future fuels

Yamaha's European President Eric de Seynes discusses alternative fuels
Yamaha's European President Eric de Seynes discusses alternative fuels

With the continuing drive to ‘net zero’, and a proposed 2035 ban on the sale of new petrol-powered motorcycles, interest in the fuels of the future has never been greater.

But with very few ‘green’ bikes yet available and, of the ‘Big Four’ Japanese brands, only Kawasaki offering electric and hybrid motorcycles, it’s largely still unclear what types of planet-friendly bikes we might expect from the world’s biggest manufacturers and when they might be ready to roll.

To find out where Yamaha fit into the equation, we arranged a chat with their European President, Eric de Seynes – who will become chairman of the firm’s supervisory board from 2024 – discussing the future of traditional combustion plus more sustainable alternative solutions.

Eric de Seynes speaks with MCN

Back in May, Yamaha announced a partnership with Suzuki, Honda, and Kawasaki for the development of future hydrogen combustion engines, with additional support coming from Toyota and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

Then, in early December, it was further announced that Yamaha will showcase a prototype V8 hydrogen outboard engine at the 2024 Miami International Boat Show, from February 15-18.

“Hydrogen is obviously a next-generation technology, but it requires a lot of energy [to produce],” de Seynes told MCN. “So, until the world is producing more energy, cleaner energy, green energy, hydrogen is a dream.

Marine hydrogen engine

“We know how to make a scooter run with hydrogen, how it works and can manage it. But to make it real for our customers is another story. And we are not alone.”

These challenges also include storage, with gaseous hydrogen currently requiring three times the space of a conventional fuel tank – a luxury just not available on many types of motorcycle if you want the bike to have a realistic range.

Likewise, if you want to use it as a liquid, it has a natural boiling point of -252.9°C meaning it needs to be cryogenically stored, causing weight and packaging issues.

Eric de Seynes discusses the future of motorcycling

De Seynes continued: “This is also why we are participating with this [hydrogen] consortium because it’s advanced technology and it’s better that we share.

“It makes sense to have a consortium and work together until the market is ready. But in the short term the internal combustion engine is the best technology you can get. That’s a fact.”

The Yamaha boss also believes that the environmental efficiency of conventional combustion engines could be boosted by switching to synthetic fuel – retaining the same engines but cutting the pollution levels created during the petrol production stage.

Synthetic fuels could offer a lifeline to petrol bikes

“The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association did a study to evaluate the benefit of synthetic fuel, and [found] if you use synthetic instead of the mineral fuel – because you don’t have the search to find the resource, the extraction, transformation, and transportation to the place where you consume the fuel – it represents 50% of the fuel’s CO2 footprint before it’s even used.

“So, we can reduce by 50% the CO2 footprint of the [current] technology, the same engines, if we produce synthetic gasoline with green energy close to where it will be consumed.”

He continued: “I think we [will] continue to improve combustion engine efficiency. This is the direction of Euro5 and Euro5+, and Euro6… make it cleaner and cleaner.

Petrol pumps in the UK

“In parallel we are developing new technologies. It could be hydrogen; it could be electricity. If there is a breakthrough that can be achieved, especially with batteries, then suddenly it will be OK to bet on it for the next 50 years.

“We need to find the next step. We’ve improved but it’s not enough yet to consider it could be the unique technology. This is why I hope governments will understand and consider the 2030/2035 ban because everybody will be in a corner, and it will be difficult. Today, it’s not realistic.”

Silent solution

Despite seeing more mileage in combustion engines, Eric de Seynes does believe there is a strong case for inner city electric motorcycles.

The Yamaha electric range is all about city riding

He explains: “Where I’m convinced we must move with electricity is mobility vehicles – in the city. For two reasons: first you limit CO2 emissions where people live, in terms of health. And the main benefit is silence.

“Noise is a true pollution we have to control better. So, at least we solve silence and CO2 emissions where people live, which makes sense.

“Also, [electric] technology is more or less OK. If you ride 50-80kms a day, it’s manageable. And this is why, I think, all manufacturers will finally accelerate,” he concluded.