Compared to electric cars, hydrogen-powered cars are yet to make their mark in the zero-emission front. Electric vehicles may be uncommon on our roads, but hydrogen-powered cars are even rarer to spot. However, auto manufacturer Hyundai is about to change that trend.
How Do Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles Work?
The concept of hydrogen providing the power to run vehicles has been around for a while. Simply stated, it entails synthesising hydrogen (the fuel) on-the-go as you drive.
Here is a breakdown of how things happen.
Hydrogen loses its electrons and combines with oxygen. This chemical reaction generates electric power, which, in turn, keeps the vehicle going. Of course, after several miles, you will be low on hydrogen. At which point, you will need to get a refill from a hydrogen station.
Water is the only by-product of this reaction, released via a tailpipe. In terms of environmental friendliness, hydrogen fuel provides an almost perfect and clean option.
To date, only a handful of automotive manufacturing companies have produced and sold hydrogen-powered vehicles, and this includes Hyundai.
In the past, we have seen fuel-cell-powered cars such as Hyundai ix35 FCEV (2005), Honda FCX Clarity (2007), Mercedes-Benz F-Cell (2010), Hyundai Tucson FCEV (2014), Toyota Mirai (2015), Honda Clarity Fuel Cell (2016).
Hyundai’s Position in the Race of Hydrogen-Powered Car Sales
Recent news shows that the global automaker is investing big time to make hydrogen-powered cars the new wave.
It comes as no surprise that Hyundai now holds the top spot in this arena according to the latest reports. Hyundai has been in the business of mass production of hydrogen-fueled cars since 2013.
The Hyundai Nexo
Not long ago, Hyundai unveiled a hydrogen-powered crossover car, the Hyundai Nexo. The car had an excellent reception in the market. It is an electric vehicle, but hold that thought! Not like the Tesla 3.
The Hyundai Nexo runs on the power it synthesises. It packs a hydrogen fuel cell in the place where you’d expect to find an internal combustion engine. The Nexo offers an enjoyable driving experience.
The car, however, is far from perfect. From the same reasons that it is exceptional arise its cons.
Efficiency and Performance of the Nexo
In a test, the Hyundai Nexo set a record as the hydrogen-powered vehicle to travel the longest distance on a single tank. The car covered a distance of 484 miles (almost 780 km) in France.
Bertrand Piccard, a global ambassador for zero-emission vehicles and president of the environmental organisation Solar Impulse, was chosen to test the car. The Swiss aviator, psychiatrist and zero-emission travel champion stated that with clean technologies, there is no longer a need for revolutionary experimental prototypes breaking records. With standard zero-emission vehicles, everyone can now do his share of protecting the environment.
Over the drive, it was calculated that the car purified an air volume equivalent to what 23 human adults breathe in a day. It also saved the environment 111.2 kg of carbon dioxide that an internal combustion engine car would have emitted for the same distance.
The other passengers in the car during that drive included Prince Albert II of Monaco and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg.
Earlier last year, Hyundai hit the headlines for its excellent performance in the IIHS crash tests. The hydrogen-powered vehicle had several 'Good' as well as 'Acceptable' ratings in the safety zone. As a result, it earned a Top Safety Pick + award.
The demand for these cars is on an upward trend and doesn’t seem like it will decline anytime soon. As a result, Hyundai will have to increase production to fulfil market needs.
Increased demand will also translate to a reduction in the cost of fuel-cell-powered cars. A statement by Hyundai’s Vice President Sae-Hoon Kim, also the head of Hyundai's fuel cell centre, forecasted that with approximately 200,000 units per year, they would be able to produce the hydrogen cars on a cost that matches battery-electric vehicles.
In a period of five or so years, the market will witness cost parity as per Kim.
Hyundai Beats Toyota to Finish Top in Sales of Hydrogen-Powered Units
Early in December, Business Korea revealed that Hyundai outsold Toyota in hydrogen-powered vehicles. What made the feat more remarkable was that it was the first time Hyundai has sold more hydrogen-powered units than its rival Toyota.
Until October last year, domestically, the automaker had sold 3,207 units. The new figure shows an increase from 2018’s sales in the same period. This domestic sales figure was also more than the combined units of hydrogen-powered cars sold in Europe (397), Japan (596) and America (1,798).
For the first time, Hyundai was the world’s top seller, and Korea was the leading country producer, of hydrogen-powered vehicles last year.
Hyundai ventured in hydrogen-powered cars before Toyota but has always taken a spot behind the latter when it comes to sales. Back then, the Korean government’s support for this technology was minimal.
Since the government is now massively supporting this technology, sales is projected to go even higher.
The upshot is, Hyundai sold over 3,800 fuel-cell-powered cars in 2019. The recently launched Nexo leads in the sales as per Hyundai’s numbers. Although Toyota had a 15% increase in the units sold during that quarter, the 2,200 cars delivered fell short of what Hyundai sold.
This year, the Korean automaker is targeting the delivery of 10,100 units. The reception of the hydrogen-powered vehicles locally has been and will be a significant boost to their sales. Hyundai aims to achieve the production of 40,000 fuel-cell units by 2022.
Why are Fuel-Powered Cars Not Common?
Despite the success Hyundai is getting in the hydrogen-power arena, fuel-cell-powered vehicles have yet to be accepted as a mainstream mode of transport in most markets.
Other manufacturers, such as General Motors, have since stopped investing in fuel-cell-powered cars favouring electric models. The technology does have its downsides, which affect both the auto manufacturers and end-consumers.
First, the existing infrastructure cannot cater to the fuel transportation required. Hydrogen is a common element in our atmosphere, albeit its transformation to a usable fuel form involves the use of natural gas. In a way, this makes hydrogen fuel a power option that's not entirely clean.
There are also few refilling stations making it difficult to sway consumers towards fuel-cell-powered cars. The fact is that there are fewer hydrogen refilling stations than there are charging stations.
The Korean government is currently laying plans to ensure that Hyundai hits its target of producing 6.2 million units of hydrogen-powered cars by 2040. But for now, let's see how Hyundai fares this year after making it to the top.