While battery-electric vehicles may be catching most of the attention — and investment — these days, there are some manufacturers that believe hydrogen also will play a significant role in the auto industry’s future.
That includes Hyundai which went so far as to form an entirely new subsidiary, HTwo, last year. Now, the Korean carmaker is preparing to reveal more about what it has in mind for a “hydrogen society” at a Sept. 7 online event. Among other things, the “Hydrogen Wave” forum is expected to showcase a fuel-cell-powered sports car, as well as hydrogen truck.
The forum, Hyundai said in a statement, “represents the Group’s plans for a new ‘wave’ of hydrogen-based products and technologies. The forum will also provide a revealing insight into the Group’s future vision of a sustainable hydrogen society.”
Hyundai exploring a variety of ways to use hydrogen power
Along with competitors Toyota, Honda and General Motors, Hyundai is betting heavily on hydrogen power. It already offers the Nexo, a crossover drawing power from a fuel-cell stack. And it is working the technology into a variety of other applications through the HTwo unit launched last December. That includes boats, trains and trucks, Hyundai already showing off its HDC-6 Neptune fuel-cell semi back in October 2020.
“Not only will the next-generation fuel cell system be available for many different mobility products and services, it will deliver enhanced performance and durability at an affordable price in a lighter architecture with enhanced energy density,” the Hyundai Motor Group said in a statement announcing the formation of the HTwo subsidiary.
The online Hydrogen Wave forum, as well as a physical event in Goyang, South Korea running Sept. 8 through 11, should give us a hint of what’s coming next from the automaker. But several new teaser videos offer some clues. That includes quick, blurry images of what appears to be a sports car, as well as some trucks, all using hydrogen power.
An old technology could power the future
For the uninitiated, fuel-cell technology dates back to the mid-1800s. But it only saw serious applications develop in the late 1960s with the launch of the Apollo lunar mission, providing power for the Command Modules headed to the moon and back.
At its most basic, a fuel-cell stack combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air in the presence of a catalyst like platinum. That creates both water vapor and a stream of current that can power the same electric motors used in a battery-powered car. The energy also can be used for stationary applications, providing back-up power for cellphone towers, as one example.
In mobile applications, proponents contend that hydrogen has a big advantage over batteries. The fuel tank for the Nexo, for example, can be filled in about five minutes, far less time than it takes to charge even the most advanced lithium-ion batteries.
Challenges and opportunities
There are plenty of challenges, however, including high costs. Meanwhile, there’s even less of a distribution infrastructure than now available for electric vehicles. That’s why vehicles like the Hyundai Nexo, as well as the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity FCV, are today sold only in a handful of markets where hydrogen fueling stations have been opened — mostly in California.
But one of the more intriguing of the new Hyundai teasers promises that we’ll be able to “Charge hydrogen, wherever you are. Hydrogen is on its way to the world.” That raises the question of whether the automaker plans to help promote fuel-cell technology by helping fund the development of a hydrogen production and distribution network
Many proponents believe that the first big market for hydrogen technology will be the heavy truck industry because fuel cells not only can be refilled quickly but also they can provide range approaching that of a diesel truck.
Toyota this week announced plans to produce fuel-cell stacks for the trucking market in the U.S. Meanwhile, startup Nikola plans to bring its own heavy-duty hydrogen trucks to market before mid-decade. General Motors, partnering with Honda, also plans to build fuel-cell stacks in the U.S. that could find use in passenger vehicles, trucks, locomotives and stationary power applications.
For its part, Hyundai has made it clear it is working up plans for both the passenger car and truck markets — as well as boats, locomotives and other applications.
We expect to find out more about the Korean company’s plans Sept. 7 at 2 a.m. ET. You’ll be able to watch the Hydrogen Wave presentation using this link.