The Hyundai Motor Group just placed a big bet on hydrogen as the zero-emissions fuel of the future, announcing its Hydrogen Vision 2040 roadmap, a new generation of fuel cell technologies and some very out-of-the-box hydrogen-powered concepts. Seeing commercial applications as the best place to get started, HMG also announced plans to become the first automaker to apply fuel cell tech to all of its commercial vehicle models by the year 2028.
Hydrogen Vision 2040
Hydrogen Vision 2040 is a seemingly simple plan. Hyundai Motor Group sees hydrogen as the best and most flexible renewable fuel source to move society into a zero-emissions future and plans to popularize hydrogen for ‘Everyone, Everything and Everywhere’ by the year 2040. That means new hydrogen fuel cell technologies, a heavier hand in hydrogen production and infrastructure and a new wave of hydrogen-based products.
Some of those products will be passenger cars, but Hyundai sees itself as a mobility company first and an automaker second these days, so it will also be exploring new applications in commercial trucking and transport, emergency services, homes and commercial buildings and robotics. The plan also includes development of hydrogen as a part of the larger ecosystem of renewable energy generation and storage.
Third-generation fuel cell system
Powering its newfound zeal for hydrogen power is HMG’s newly announced third-generation fuel cell stack technology. Still in development, the new stacks are expected to arrive by 2023 when they will replace Hyundai’s current Nexo-based fuel cell tech.
The new fuel cell will be offered in two flavors: A 100 kW unit is 30% smaller than the Nexo SUV’s 95 kW stack, making it a better fit for a wider range of vehicle types while also offering more flexibility for new applications outside of the car. There will also be a 200 kW version similar in size to the Nexo’s, but offering double the power output for commercial vehicle applications.
These new fuel cells should be more durable than before with an estimated service life target of up to 500,000 kilometers of operation (up from around 160,000 km for the second gen). Hyundai also expects that the third-generation tech will eventually cost around 50% less than current-gen fuel cell tech, which along with a growing economy of scale is a big step towards its goal of offering fuel cell electric vehicles priced comparably to battery electrics by 2030.
Perhaps the third-generation system’s neatest trick is its modularity. Multiple units can be stacked to create Power Unit Modules offering up to a megawatt (1,000 kW) of output, which Hyundai thinks will be “ideal for emergency power systems for large ships or IT companies.” There’s also a new ‘full-flat’ system configuration that lowers the stack height to just under 10 inches, allowing installation beneath the floor or in the ceiling of buses, trams or other low-profile applications.
With the new fuel cell at the forefront, the next phase of Hyundai’s plan is the electrification of its commercial fleet with the goal of all new HMG commercial vehicles — buses, heavy-duty trucks and purpose-built commercial vehicles — featuring the application of fuel cell electric powertrains by 2028. Albert Biermann, Head of R&D Division at Hyundai Motors and Kia, clarified that this doesn’t mean the automaker is phasing out of its combustion commercial engines and will continue to offer them beyond the 2028 target. However, all new model introductions and technology development going forward will feature the application of hydrogen or battery electric technology.
Hyundai is already mass-producing its Xcient Fuel Cell heavy-duty truck, which is currently powered by a pair of 95 kW Nexo fuel cell stacks. We’ll likely be hearing more about a move to the third-generation stacks as we get closer to 2023. Hyundai is also working on a semi-tractor truck based on similar underpinnings which should arrive in 2024. We’re told to expect more new hydrogen-powered (and battery electric) commercial vehicles to follow for global markets leading up to the 2028 goal.
To give us an idea of what to expect, Hyundai showcased the H Moving Station concept and the Rescue Hydrogen Generator Vehicle (RHGV), each offering an early peek at new service applications for hydrogen fuel cell tech.
The H Moving Station is a heavy-duty vehicle equipped with refueling facilities for hydrogen vehicles and systems operating in areas with limited infrastructure, such as work sites or rural zones. Think of it as a fuel truck for fuel cell vehicles. The RHGV is a similar concept, but equipped with charging equipment for battery EVs. Powered by Hyundai’s HTWO fuel cell electric generator, it features both single-phase 220V power and 3-phase 380V simultaneous power supplies for fast charging support for electric cars and SUVs that have run flat in remote, off-road areas or even powering homes, businesses or data centers in the event of emergency outages.
Perhaps the most radical hydrogen-powered concept is the Fuel Cell e-Bogie, essentially a cabless chassis powered by a fuel cell propulsion system that forms the basis of Hyundai’s autonomous Trailer Drone concept. HMG also previewed concepts for eco-friendly trains and trams, electric aerial vehicles and a standalone version of its new generation HTWO hydrogen power conversion generator — which is the backbone of the RHGV concept — as part of a ‘Hydrogen Village’ exhibition running in Goyang, Korea from September 8-11.
Hyundai also debuted the Vision FK concept, a 670-horsepower hydrogen plug-in hybrid performance showcase of the automaker’s passenger car fuel cell technology.
Hyundai’s big hydrogen bet
Of course, technology is only half of the equation. The other half is infrastructure. Here in America, slow and limited rollout of hydrogen infrastructure has been a stumbling block for the widespread adoption of fuel cell passenger cars. Here battery EVs that you can charge at home are the ride of choice for most green car enthusiasts. Asian automakers have had an easier time with adoption in their home markets where the outlook for hydrogen production, storage and infrastructure is more promising. There’s still potential for conquest here, but at least for the near future passenger FCEV will likely play a larger roll in outside of the States than in.
Meanwhile, Hyundai’s initial investment in fuel cell commercial vehicles is a much safer bet. It’s easier to integrate hydrogen infrastructure into existing infrastructure for shipping yards, bus depots, ports and distribution centers. There’s more potential with industrial applications to reduce carbon emissions and to bring hardware costs down with economy of scale. Hyundai also thinks that fill time, range and service life comparable to that of combustion vehicles makes fuel cell technology a more ideal fit for commercial and long-haul truck applications than battery electric trucks.