Hyundai has delivered the first assembly-line produced hydrogen fuel cell cars to Copenhagen, Demark. During the opening ceremony of Denmark’s first hydrogen refuelling station, 15 of the vehicles were handed over by Hyundai Motor Europe’s President, Mr Byung Kwon Rhim. The ix35 fuel cell produces water vapour, rather than tailpipe emissions, making it much less damaging to the environment. The vehicles will be used in the city’s municipal fleet.
Some might argue that this milestone in the history of hydrogen fuel cells is long overdue. The technology has existed in principle since 1839, but never became mainstream due to the popularity of the internal combustion engine.
Now, with carbon emissions high on the agenda, Hyundai has gone beyond the prototype stage. The company began developing hydrogen fuel cells in 1998, and claims to be two years ahead of rival manufacturers, having simplified and modularised its production. The first fuel cell version of a Hyundai ix35 left the company’s South Korean factory in February. Hyundai aims to have 1,000 of the diesel-alternative vehicles on the road by the end of 2015.
The company’s Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell is capable of producing 100kW. Carbon dioxide emissions for hydrogen (derived from renewable energy sources) would be zero grams per kilometre compared to 139g/km for diesel, according to Hyundai’s estimates. However, PEM fuel cells are presently expensive: the ix35 costs in the region of £130,000, ten times the price of the standard diesel version.
Nevertheless, the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association claims improvements in technology and economies of scale mean “the costs of fuel cell systems for vehicles are expected to decrease by 90% by 2020”. That still leaves the issue of infrastructure, though: 208 hydrogen fuelling stations are currently in operation worldwide, according to the website H2stations.org. However, the number will likely increase once hydrogen fuel cell cars become more commercially viable.
The ix35 Fuel Cell can reach a maximum speed of 100 mph, and is able to travel a total of 369 miles on a single fueling, which takes just a few minutes. Asked about the ROI for Hyundai’s R&D work on the car, Ian Tonkin, Product & Corporate PR Manager, Hyundai, says, “The mass production of ix35 Fuel Cell is, at this stage, the very first step towards commercialisation of hydrogen fuel cell tech; with development of the car a constant. The volumes need to increase first (and subsequently the unit cost will drop due to economies of scale) before we can put any concrete figure against ROI for the car.”