While other manufacturers have been tinkering with battery electric vehicles (BEV), Hyundai has had forays into fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) powered by hydrogen for over a couple of decades now. It established a fuel cell technology research team in 1998. And in 2001, it introduced the Santa Fe FCEV. Subsequently, Tucson and NEXO models were added to the range of hydrogen fueled vehicles. In 2005, it produced its first fuel cell bus. Today, Hyundai Motor Group is convinced of the viability of this technology and is banking on hydrogen energy to fuel the future.
At the Hydrogen Wave global online forum yesterday, Hyundai presented its plans to popularise hydrogen as a clean and sustainable energy source by 2040. It will do this through the introduction of new technologies and mobility solutions in transportation and industrial sectors (in addition to passenger vehicles, the Group also builds commercial and industrial vehicles).
In its presentation, the Group had outlined its future hydrogen strategy for fuel cell systems and fuel cell-based solutions for mobility and other areas. By 2028, it has plans to introduce new commercial vehicle models with fuel cell or battery electric powertrains. With this daring and unprecedented strategy, Hyundai hopes to reshape the commercial vehicles industry with truly sustainable mobility.
“Hyundai Motor Group’s vision is to apply hydrogen energy in all areas of life and industry such as our homes, work-places and factories. The goal is to make hydrogen readily used for everyone, everything, and everywhere,” said Chairman of the Group, Euisun Chung.
The Group’s objective of applying fuel cell technology to its commercial vehicle lineup by 2028 will make it the first global automaker to realise such ambitions for commercial transportation, and will further help facilitate the transition to true sustainable mobility.
“We want to offer practical solutions for the sustainable development of humanity and with these breakthroughs, we aim to help foster a worldwide Hydrogen Society by 2040,” said Chung.
To create a ‘Hydrogen Wave’, Hyundai is sharing its plans to proactively respond to climate change through hydrogen solutions. The Wave starts with the commercial vehicles sector, which is a major contributor of CO2 and requires longer drive ranges compared to passenger vehicles. As such, Hyundai aims to launch all-new buses and heavy-duty trucks powered by fuel cell and battery, for the global market by 2028 and be the first global manufacturer to do so.
In addition, Hyundai will fully re-energize global commercial vehicle markets including Europe – which at present consists of 400,000 new units a year – through its advanced next-generation fuel cell technologies. The Group will develop a 5- to 7-meter fuel cell PBV (Purpose Built Vehicle) to target the global light commercial vehicle market projected for 7 million unit sales per year by 2030. This will be in part undertaken by an expansion in its business capabilities and applying autonomous driving and robotics to the commercial vehicle sector.
Hyundai has already started mass-producing a greatly improved version of the current XCIENT Fuel Cell, the world’s first mass produced fuel cell heavy-duty truck. Further, it is developing a tractor based on the XCIENT Fuel Cell that will be released in 2023. Another model it is working on is the Trailer Drone concept. This is a hydrogen-powered container transportation system capable of fully autonomous operation, with a double e-Bogie configuration.
The Trailer Drone concept can be fitted with a number of intelligently packaged hydrogen tanks tailored to the journey profile and provides more than 1,000 km of range from a single charge. This range is comparable to existing container transportation systems. Furthermore, the autonomous capabilities of the Trailer Drone isn’t repurposed technology from passenger car applications. The unique requirements of container transport applications and the way container terminals operate means that the engineering teams needed to completely redefine how a container manoeuvers. As a result, the engineering team developed the ‘Fuel Cell e-Bogie’.
The term ‘bogie’ originates from the rail industry. Rail bogies are wheel subframes that sit under every train car. The Fuel Cell e-Bogie sits under the container just like a rail bogie and is a fully enclosed system with fuel cell propulsion and fully independent four-wheel steering. The Trailer Drone concept requires 2 fuel cell e-Bogies, allowing for unprecedented maneuverability through sideways movement. The Trailer Drone can move autonomously through portside operations and tight urban environments. Efficiency is further boosted by the ‘Cluster Mode’ which enables multiple Trailer Drones to travel together in an almost train-like configuration.
The Fuel Cell e-Bogie is not exclusive to the Trailer Drone and can cater to a wide value chain such as ground logistics, construction, firefighting and disaster relief missions. It offers a multi-purpose platform, capable of a variety of tasks in autonomous form, with no emissions.
Besides the application in commercial vehicles, fuel cell systems can be potentially applied in various segments, including high performance vehicles, urban air mobility, mobile power stations, robots, aircraft and large ships. Hyundai also sees potential of fuel cells as a source of energy for buildings.
Its high performance FCEV concept, the Vision FK, has a claimed power output of over 500 kW, enabling it to accelerate from 0 – 100 km/h in less than 4 seconds. By combining a fuel cell energy converter with a high-power, RWD, plug-in powertrain, the Vision FK should be capable of a range of over 600 km.
To achieve these results, Hyundai is planning to introduce a new generation fuel cell system in 2023 that will have significantly improved output and durability, and can be produced in volume at a lower cost. Through its ongoing R&D gains, engineering teams for the Hyundai Motor Group have been able to reduce fuel cell costs drastically over the last 20 years. It is continuously working on technological innovations, and close collaboration with public and private organisations, to gain economies of scale. And by ensuring price competitiveness, Hyundai’s goal is to achieve a fuel cell vehicle price point that is comparable to a battery electric vehicle by 2030.
Currently in development is its third generation fuel cell stack which will succeed the current NEXO’s stack. During the Hydrogen Wave event, Hyundai showcased 2 power versions of the third-generation fuel cell stack i.e. 100 kW and 200 kW. The 100 kW stack is 30% smaller than the current generation, allowing for more flexible applications. Meanwhile, the 200 kW version is designed for commercial vehicle applications and is similar in size to the current NEXO system, but with double the power output. Reduced sizes and increased power output will offer flexibility and modularity in various applications. For example, stacking multiple 100 kW units will provide sufficient power for buses, trams, ships or buildings.
For its second-generation fuel cell stack, launched in 2018, Hyundai achieved 5,000 hours and 160,000 km of usage, which is similar to the warranty of an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. But for the third-generation, Hyundai is aiming to improve durability by 50% – 100%. High durability stacks for commercial vehicles will aim to achieve 500,000 km of driving range. Furthermore, the goal is also to reduce the price dramatically – with projections being upwards of more than 50%. This will be the key factor to achieving cost parity of FCEVs with BEVs by 2030.
But what is the significance of hydrogen? Well for one, it is a readily available resource that can be found all around us. Though readily available, there are however the challenges of extraction and storage, which Hyundai has spent a few decades learning to utilise and maximise. And rather than put all its resources into developing BEV which also has limitations, the Hyundai Motor Group is actively developing an alternative energy source that can improve carbon neutrality and slow down climate change.
“The degree and frequency of environmental disasters is rising fast and we now face a code red warning for humanity,” added Chairman Chung during the global online forum. “The Group seeks to offer powerful and pragmatic solutions for combating climate change via the tremendous potential of hydrogen energy.”
According to the Hydrogen Council, a global CEO-led initiative of leading energy, transport, industry and investment companies, hydrogen energy will account for 18% of global energy demand by 2050, with a market size of US$2.5 trillion. The popularisation of hydrogen energy will also help cut CO2 emissions by more than 6 billion tons a year, while creating over 30 million new jobs.
But for such a large scale paradigm shift in transportation or power generation to happen, there needs to be a sustained and committed effort by multiple parties across the globe.