Yesterday, Hyundai gave global media a sneak peek at their behind-the-scenes plotting. While they have invested heavily in battery-powered fully electric vehicles, hydrogen power is very much a part of their post-combustion roadmap.
We’ve all heard about this element being the most abundant in the universe, with the potential to solve all our energy problems if we could overcome the technical hurdles involved with cost-efficiently extracting it into its pure and useable form.
Much like EVs were 20 years ago, Hyundai, much like Toyota, believes that recent breakthroughs and continued research into hydrogen fuel cells and its associated infrastructure can, at the very least, be offered alongside battery electric vehicles as zero emissions vehicle types in the near future with similar costs.
Alongside the current Nexo that’s due to be heavily updated in 2023, which formed from the low-volume ix35 Fuel Cell from a decade prior to 2013, Hyundai intends to launch a pair of all-new standalone FCEV models by 2025.
Apart from passenger vehicles, hydrogen seems to be the most viable mobility and transportation solution at a commercial and industrial level. Beyond that, the South Korean automotive group sees a much brighter future for hydrogen over the long term, convinced that hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will evolve and improve to a point where it is superior by most - if not every - metrics.
Hyundai, along with sister brand Kia, will seek to “popularise hydrogen” by 2040, starting with a number of initiatives to start positioning FCEVs as an alternative to BEVs, projecting that mass production efforts will bring costs down to parity with EVs as early as 2030.
To showcase the technology, the company also showed a glimpse at the Vision FK prototype, a camouflaged all-wheel-drive four-door sports saloon with echoes of the Kia Stinger that packs a zero-emissions powertrain capable of outputting 680hp.
Built in collaboration with Rimac Automobili, the Croatian electric hypercar maker in which Hyundai owns 12%, the Vision FK is technically a plug-in hybrid. However, instead of marrying electric motors and batteries with a combustion engine, the other half of its powertrain equation is a hydrogen fuel cell.
Hyundai say that the car is capable of accelerating to 100km/h from a standstill in under 4 seconds and boasts a range of 600km before needing to be topped up with hydrogen and/or charged up from the mains. It’s a novel approach that combines branching post-combustion technological paths to compensate for each other’s weaknesses.
Currently used as a “rolling lab” to explore performance and packaging solutions for their FCEV tech alongside the Rimac Nevera-derived batteries and e-motors, the Vision FK also previews Hyundai’s planned entry into motorsport with hydrogen powertrains.
At the other end of the spectrum, the automaker also showed off their 3rd-generation self-contained hydrogen fuel cell stack, derived from the aforementioned Nexo, which will be available in either 100kW (134hp) or 200kW (268hp) outputs. With these units being up to 30% percent more compact than their predecessors and capable of 500,000km of use, Hyundai says that they are now ready to be deployed in a variety of vehicle types.
Even more significantly, the 100kW FCEV stack was also designed to be modularly attached as part of a larger power system of up to 10 units producing a combined 1 megawatt of power in high draw applications in commercial vehicles such as lorry-trains, trams, even large ships, or as reliable energy storage and supply for IT purposes or isolated communities.
Hyundai has also confirmed that, following the successful trial period of its fleet of FCEV-powered trucks in Switzerland, mass production of the world’s first hydrogen-powered HGV - the Xcient - will proceed for a market launch in 2023. Within 5 years, by 2028, each of their commercial vehicles will be offered with an FCEV powertrain.
Looking even further into the future, their Trailer Drone Concept combines modular independently-steering FCEV units and autonomous driving technology to deliver a self-operating long-distance container transportation system with a range of more than 1,000km.
Clearly, Hyundai sees hydrogen fuel cells as a much more far-reaching technology than merely as a replacement for diesel and petrol. Given enough technological advancement, hydrogen power can permeate our lives as a clean and reliable energy source for a multitude of different sectors and industries - and Hyundai is making big moves to make sure they’re sat firmly in the centre of all this.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.