Honda’s swappable electric motorcycle battery will soon be part of a new battery-swapping network in India, but Big Red says it has much bigger plans for the future, far beyond the world of motorcycles.

The Honda Mobile Power Pack (MPP e)

The current-generation swappable electric motorcycle battery is the Honda Mobile Power Pack e (MPP e), the result of a multi-year internal project.

Along with its own internal R&D, Honda teamed up in recent years with Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha to focus on a swappable battery for the Asian market. Now, it’s also working with Euro manufacturers KTM and Piaggio Group as part of a global consortium, all aimed at developing batteries that can be quickly swapped out when depleted. Theoretically, this could allow electric motorcycles to adopt the same “refuelling” strategy as a gasoline-powered bike: Pull into a service station, quickly replace the battery with a topped-up unit, and ride away.

It seems the MPP e is not the direct result of the consortium’s work, but it is no doubt influenced by the input of all partners.

Honda has already tested smaller step-throughs with this technology, including scooters built for postal workers in Japan. There’s also been a testing program in the Philippines and in Indonesia, and an e-rickshaw R&D program in India  So far, we haven’t seen any of these come to North America, but no doubt we will eventually see that happen, as Honda refines the technology.

That refinement process is going to take a big step forward in the first half of 2022, with Honda planning a battery sharing service for the Indian market. With millions of potential customers, Honda will soon see how well its system works, and what changes are needed.

Honda’s spec sheet for the current-generation MPP e battery. Photo: Honda

Beyond bikes

It might have started out with a focus on powering electric motorcycles, but the project has moved beyond that; now, Honda is looking at other ways to include the MPP design as part of the public power grid.

Honda recently updated its PR website with some details on these new plans, and reading through the info, there is a refreshing honesty about the future of electric transportation. Honda says its goal is to move to carbon neutrality by 2050, but says that current renewable energy infrastructure is not up to the task of powering the world’s transportation:

One of the challenges in using renewable energy as a power source is that the amount of electricity generated cannot be tailored to the actual demand because the amount of electricity generated fluctuates depending on natural conditions such as weather, climate, and time of day. When the amount of power generation is too small compared to the power demand, it could cause power outages. In reverse, the amount of power generation is too large, it could cause power shutoffs to prevent excess load put on the grid, which may result in disposal of excess electricity.

In other words: Solar energy is no good when the sun’s not shining, wind energy is no good when the wind isn’t blowing, and so on. Even hydroelectric dams come with significant drawbacks: Ask the Labrador caribou herds, or the salmon in the St. John River.

Charge your battery when the sun is brightest for storage during peak demand times. Photo: Honda

So, Honda says one part of solving the problem is to create a system that stores up energy during peak production times, to be used later. Honda proposes to use its MPP batteries as part of that solution, for powering up more than just vehicles:

With the expanded use of MPP, it will become easier to use renewable energy which is sensitive to natural conditions. For instance, when an excess amount of electricity is generated during daytime hours through solar power generation, MPP will serve as a buffer by storing such excess electricity. Then, during late afternoon hours when electricity supply runs short of the demand, the electricity stored in the MPP during the daytime can be used to achieve peak-load shifting (or “peak shaving” that lowers and smooths out peak loads) to reduce the charging load on the power grid.

Moreover, further down the road, Honda is considering the possibility of supplying electricity stored in MPP to the power grid in case of a power shortage by connecting Honda Mobile Power Pack Exchanger e: to the power grid. Honda Mobile Power Pack Exchanger e: is a battery swapping station, currently under development, which can charge multiple MPPs simultaneously.

It’s an interesting idea, especially when you consider the DC vs. AC war between Thomas Edison and Westinghouse, which resulted in the electric grid we see today (for more on that, see here). Alternating current has several advantages over direct current when it comes to powering plugged-in household devices. However, we are increasingly relying on battery-powered devices from consumer electronics like iPads or smartphones, and this trend is unlikely to change. Honda’s MPP batteries would potentially find an important place in our changing electric usage.

There’s a big plan here, far beyond the world of motorcycles. Photo: Honda

Roadblocks?

There are two major roadblocks Honda would have to overcome. First, for the MPP to become a key motorcycle industry component, and then become a major component of the electrical grid, other companies would have to agree to use it. We already see the start of that process, with the multi-manufacturer global electric motorcycle battery consortium. Honda’s already moving past that, though, working with other manufactures to develop products using the MPP as a power source outside the motorcycle world:

Moreover, various companies are currently considering the development of products which will use MPP as a power source. In order to accelerate such a development and expand the use of MPP, Honda has been working toward the establishment of industry standards for portable and swappable batteries.

The other major issue is the long-term future of these batteries. At some point, they’ll have too be discarded. Honda says it’s working on a plan for that, too:

Honda is working on plans for secondary use (repurposing) of MPP when it becomes unsuitable for the use of mobility products due to a reduced battery capacity as a result of degradation, including uses as a storage battery for household use and as a power source for other products.

So, maybe your battery powers your motorcycle, and then your breadmaker or blender? Wild stuff, but it would actually be a far greener solution than the current “throw it in a landfill” approach.

Will direct current advocate Thomas Edison eventually win, with Honda’s plans to power households with the MPP e? Photo: Honda

Conclusion

The electric motorcycle scene is growing slowly but surely. Although the  year-to-year growth in the electric motorcycle scene seems excruciatingly slow, if you zoom out, we definitely have come a long way in the past decade, when “premium” electric motorcycles still had mountain bike components.

Powered two-wheelers’ role in the transportation system is changing, as the world changes around us. However, this news from Honda, a plan to expand its electric motorcycle battery usage beyond the streets, is encouraging. If the world at large adopts these units as household power sources, it will inevitably reduce costs. Currently, the price tag is probably the biggest problem faced by most electric motorcycles. Thankfully, Honda (and presumably, the rest of the global battery consortium) are working on a plan that should keep battery bikes affordable in the future, cleaning up the environment as they do so. That’s the kind of win-win motorcyclists need from this tech.

 

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