Despite the heavy lead in technology and propagation by electric vehicles, Hyundai isn’t giving up on hydrogen fuel cell powered cars just yet. Alan Ohnsman reports in Forbes:
Hyundai Motor has a highly anticipated electric hatchback heading to the U.S. in the coming weeks and showed off an edgy concept version of a battery-powered midsize SUV in Los Angeles this month. Yet even as it prepares to take on Tesla in EVs, the Korean industrial giant also has big plans to take hydrogen power mainstream—though it’s an option that may not be fully competitive until the end of the decade.
Hyundai this year said it has a new version of its hydrogen fuel cell power system for cars and trucks that will be twice as powerful, 30% smaller and cost half as much as its current version. Still, hydrogen technology is about where battery vehicles were in the early 2010s, says José Muñoz, chief operating officer for the Seoul-based automaker and head of its operations in the Americas.
“At that time people were still asking, ‘Is this going to happen? This is not true. We don’t have infrastructure. People won’t like it.’ Now there’s (charging) infrastructure; the technology has evolved; the ranges are better; the features are great. And more importantly, people who buy one now say they’ll buy another,” Muñoz tells Forbes. “Hydrogen is going through a similar phase—the phase of introducing a new technology. But we need better (fueling) infrastructure because it’s still very limited. However, in terms of the reaction by the consumer, when they drive a vehicle that is powered by hydrogen, there is a fantastic reaction.”
Elon Musk has long dismissed hydrogen as a viable zero-emission fuel, deriding its inefficiency relative to batteries and labeling the technology “fool cells.” Though much like his rejection of laser lidar for autonomous vehicles—or dicey claims about how quickly Tesla could perfect self-driving technology—Hyundai and major auto and truck manufacturers including Toyota, General Motors, Daimler and Volvo, startup Nikola and engine maker Cummins have a more expansive view, seeing both batteries and hydrogen as necessary technologies for clean vehicles. And in Hyundai’s case, the company has unusually ambitious hopes for the universe’s most abundant element as a power source.
The automaker “is aggressively developing hydrogen technologies and fuel cell applications for transportation, homes and industry,” Muñoz said in a presentation at the Los Angeles Auto Show this month. “We envision a future in which hydrogen is the primary power source for everyone, everything, everywhere.”
Fuel cell and battery vehicles are both electric, sharing the same motors and many other components. The key difference is that batteries store electricity while fuel cells make it onboard as needed, in an electrochemical process that extracts electrons from hydrogen forced through fuel-cell membranes. Aside from electricity, the only by-product is water vapor. Beyond cars, trucks and forklifts, they’ve been used by NASA for decades, they work as stationary electricity generators and are being developed to power trains and even ships and ferries.
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