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First Look: Hyundai Blue2 Fuel Cell Concept

Is a production car coming?

by on Mar.31, 2011

Hyundai hints the Blue2 fuel cell vehicle might be more than just a concept car

Remember hydrogen…as in fuel cells?  It wasn’t all that long ago that battery cars were kids to play with and environmentalists, regulators and automakers alike were talking confidently of the “hydrogen economy.”

Well, these days, the focus is on what the industry calls “electrification,” which takes in everything from mild hybrids all the way up to battery-electric vehicles.  And even though much of the government funding has been shifted from hydrogen to battery research, there are those who believe that fuel cells are still the ultimate – and eventual – solution to environmental and energy problems.

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Apparently, Hyundai is either in that camp or at least hedging its bets.  The maker will be pulling the covers off the new Blue2 fuel cell concept at the Seoul Motor Show, this week, and its promise to take “early leadership in the FCEV market” suggests that this is more than a work of fantasy-in-chrome.

The Blue-Square, as the Koreans tell us Blue2 should be pronounced, is a slick sedan incorporating Hyundai’s new “Intersected Flow” design language, which we’re left to wonder if this approach will replace the current “Fluidic Sculpture” theme that has been appearing in products such as the latest Hyundai Sonata and new Elantra.

The look of the Blue2 is a little cleaner, less heavily clad, with a bit more of an angular design, with the fuel cell prototype adopting a wraparound windshield and a nose that is almost Aston Martin-like, down to the winged badge above the grille, in this rendering.  One of the most distinguishing features is the glossy black line that races through the base of the door panels  before hooking upwards into the back pillar.

Fittingly, there are some obvious high-tech touches: doors that don’t just unlock when someone walks up with the right key fob, but which actually recognize the owner and swing the door open.  The sideview mirrors have been replaced by aero-slick cameras.  Inside, there are a variety of information displays using organic LED technology, as well as places to plug in and mount an iPad or some other tablet.

But the most important piece of technology is, of course, the fuel cell system.  For those who didn’t catch onto the basics the last time around, hydrogen gas is forced into a fuel cell stack where it passes through a permeable membrane coated with platinum and other exotic metals, combining on the other side with oxygen from the atmosphere.  The process generates an electric current – and water vapor, the only thing that flows out of the vehicle’s exhaust.

Think of a fuel cell system as a “refillable battery,” as the stack simply replaces hundreds of pounds of lithium-ion packs.  That means you get the same burst of torque the moment the motors start turning – in this case generating about 90 kilowatts, or 120 horsepower, but far more power than this number might suggest.

Add an aerodynamic body and low rolling-resistance tires and Hyundai claims the Blue2 will deliver about 82 mpg, based on the American fuel economy cycle.

Even though most of the media buzz – and federal funding – might have shifted to batteries, fuel cell technology hasn’t been entirely abandoned.  Honda is still marketing the FCX Clarity in Southern California, and Mercedes-Benz is launching limited numbers of its hydrogen-powered F-Cell in that market, one of the few places in the country where you can tank up on the gas.

Some foreign markets are taking a more aggressive stand, notably Germany, which has approved funding for a nationwide network of hydrogen filling stations.  Korea is also looking at making the technology viable.  And that could encourage Hyundai to bring the Blue2 concept to production.

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