Portrait of Josef Zeitler

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Portrait of Josef Zeitler

Portrait of Josef Zeitler
The multi-visionary

He has already registered five patents. Dozen more left in my head. For the time being, however, Josef Zeitler wants to revolutionize the world. Two-wheelers powered by hydrogen, made in Speinshart, Upper Franconia.

Rolf Henniges


Super tough. A village in Upper Franconia. 200 souls, no traffic lights, a gas station, a monastery, a pub. Half a liter of beer for 1.40 euros. At the end of the 90s, the place hit the headlines. Up on the Barbaraberg, a hill with a view of the Franconian-Palatinate wilderness, around 50 crazy people spin on their mopeds. The break of sadness is called the 24-hour moped race. One of many visions that came true for 42-year-old Josef Zeitler, master mechanic, vocational school teacher and tinkerer.
Zeitler, happily married and father of three, is only called Sepp by everyone and is notorious for his ideas. He describes himself as “a little crazy”. No wonder. In view of the fact that the Speinhard horizon ends at the cloister courtyard for many residents. For Sepp Zeitler, however, nothing seems impossible. The constant desire for improvement and curiosity are his almost inexhaustible source of strength. But curiosity demands victims.
Just four years old, he grips the V-belt of his grandfather’s lathe. The machine tears away all the fingers on his right hand. The surgery surrenders. Although severely handicapped, he learned to lace his shoes alone a year later. “Back then, when many people laughed at my avoidable helplessness, I sensed for the first time that a lot is just a question of will,” says Sepp Zeitler enthusiastically. His impenetrable beard billows boldly, his eyes glitter expectantly. Almost childlike.
The question of will often arises. He was confronted with two-wheelers at an early age through his father’s business, a car workshop with moped sales. Zeitler makes his first attempts at driving when he is nine. Learns to accelerate and brake with just one thumb. When he was twelve, he was milling through the Upper Franconian tundra on a 50 DKW. Various Kreidler models follow. At 18, he took the driving test. And exposes himself to ridicule. Neither TuV employees nor driving school instructors can imagine that he can control a bike with a defective hand. He has to take a bizarre driver’s license pre-test.
It is not enough for the officers that he knows how to brake and accelerate with just one thumb. The motorcycle, a Honda CB 200, is jacked onto the main stand, one man pushes it down at the back, another apathetically kicks the front wheel. “You wanted to check whether I had enough strength to hold it,” Zeitler muses with a dry smile on his lips. He gets the driver’s license. With edition. The lever for the front brake must be mounted on the left end of the handlebar. Next to the clutch handle.
Business with Kreidler was booming in the 1980s. The Zeitlers maintain close contacts with the plant in Kornwestheim, carry almost all tuning parts and become the largest dealer in the region. “Kreidler was like a big family,” Sepp Zeitler recalls. “The dealers were involved in the product planning, suggestions for improvement had short ways, one was treated courteously.” But Kreidler went bankrupt. “Today everything is different,” says Zeitler, looking back on the past few years. Years of thinking he would be happy as a Honda dealer.
In 1991 he became a house owner. His vision: a house that produces its own energy. With the kind support of wind, sun, atmospheric voltage and hydrogen. So why not help develop an adequate means of transport right away? A small, manoeuvrable two-wheeler that can be refilled over and over again in the domestic hydrogen filling station. Drunk with the idea, the tinkerer gets going. Realizes part of his dreams in-house, develops three new patents for them and in 1997 thoughtlessly took a bet. His neighbor, who owns a Honda Gold Wing 1200, challenges him to a 100-meter sprint race. Zeitler holds against it. Want to get rid of him with a 50 cubic two-wheeler. Hydrogen operated, of course.
“By combining hydrogen with the two-stroke principle, it is theoretically possible to win the bet.” Theoretically. Clear. Zeitler tinkered and presented the first hydrogen-powered moped to the world as part of the 24-hour race he organized in 1999 (MOTORRAD 23/1999). It looks like a moving bomb, and it is more than just reluctant to accelerate. “No nozzle was able to dose the hydrogen low enough,” says Zeitler.
Today he is further. Instead of the bombastic-looking gas bottles, a metal hydride-based storage tank is now mounted under a Peugot scooter. Its name seems to be the program: Speedfight 50. Under the red cladding it looks like on a large construction site: cables, lines, pressure gauges. Tangled together like a Norwegian sweater. “The first prototype,” smiles Zeitler, “that drives properly.” The road to success was marked by countless piston jams and flashes. Sometimes ten meters long. Josef Zeitler is still a long way from having the perfect drive. More than two kilometers at a time and a top speed of 30 km / h are not possible. A carbon piston is said to be the turning point. “If the nozzles can then be perfectly matched to the gaseous hydrogen, I could win the bet.” Sepp Zeitler winks and smiles smugly. “Ultimately, life is nothing more than a lot of fun.”
Numerous patents lie dormant in his skull. A revolutionary motorcycle engine with a pre-compressor piston, a shoe that generates electrical energy when walking … In order to be able to market ideas optimally, he founded the initiative “Kleiner Mann e.V.” For like-minded people. Zeitler, however, is unique. At the moment he is crossing the Alps with a group of mopeds on the »Hannibal Challenge« he devised. A stage race from Speinshart to St. Peter’s Square in Rome and back. Not only the Pope will be happy.

Hydrogen technology

Several car manufacturers are currently experimenting with hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels. On the one hand, it is available in almost unlimited quantities; on the other hand, when it is burned in the engine, only water vapor and nitrogen oxides are produced. There are no carbon monoxides, hydrocarbons and the particularly harmful carbon dioxide. Disadvantages: The production of hydrogen by electrolysis requires a lot of energy. In the long term, only regenerative primary energies such as hydropower, wind or solar energy come into question. Refueling and storage is also more complicated than with gasoline or diesel. It is stored either as a compressed gas in pressure vessels, as a cryogenic liquid or as a chemical bond in metal hydrides. The latter method is very safe, but has the disadvantages of high weight and low energy density, which results in a short range. The result: according to the current state of technology, hydrogen tanks are heavier or larger than fuel tanks with a comparable range. Hydrogen has its highest energy density in liquid form, but liquefaction is very energy-intensive. The high price for production and storage still speaks against serial use in drive technology.

Hydrogen powered:
Peugeot Speedfight 50

The 30 kilogram metal hydride tank (1) stores the hydrogen. The filling takes place via pressure hose and quick coupling (2). The gaseous hydrogen is fed into the tank via a pressure reducer (3), where it binds metal powder as hydride. In-house developed electronics regulate the injection control. An injection valve (4) blows gaseous hydrogen directly into the combustion chamber, a second valve also directs it into one of the transfer channels. A rubber membrane is located in the intermediate flange (5) that shields the crank mechanism from the transfer channels. The lubrication of the crankshaft should guarantee 100 milliliters of oil. Due to the inlet diaphragm common in two-stroke engines today, the engine only draws in fresh air.

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