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HYDROGEN VEHICLES: Hydrogen 'step-change' looming

Date: 19 December 2013   |   Author:

Zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles will arrive in the UK by the end of this year, with Hyundai starting serious production in 2015. Paul Barker finds out how the new fuel will be introduced in order to give it a shot at success

Hydrogen has long been seen by many as the end-game in terms of vehicle propulsion.

The only by-product or emission is water, it can be in plentiful supply and there are no more range anxieties than there would be with a petrol or diesel car because the vehicles are fuelled in a couple of minutes from a pump, just as we do at the moment.

Plug-in hybrid and electric cars may be the short-term solution to lowering emissions, along with continued improvements to internal combustion engines, but the only option for a complete zero-carbon footprint appears to be hydrogen fuel-cell.

Several car manufacturers are working on the technology, with Daimler, Ford and Renault-Nissan forming a collaboration, as have Honda and General Motors. Firms such as BMW and Toyota are developing systems, while Aston Martin raced a hydrogen-powered Rapide S at the legendary Nurburgring 24-hour race in May.

But Hyundai says it is stealing a march on its rivals by becoming the first manufacturer to launch a factory-built hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, rather than the ultra low-volume prototypes seen from anyone so far.

The Korean brand will build 1000 ix35 Fuel Cell models for worldwide markets between now and 2015, before the next-generation ix35 is launched, complete with a fuel-cell version that will be produced at a rate of 10,000 per year.

"That's a step-change because it's a serious product," said Hyundai's UK boss Tony Whitehorn at an event organised by the brand last week to trumpet the progress of hydrogen.

"It's a seminal moment, really crucial in the automotive industry. It's a pivotal moment in the history and development of hydrogen. It's definitely made us a market leader. This is a no-compromise car, it's the beginning."



Whitehorn said there is an effective and functioning collaboration to get the vehicles, infrastructure and Government support all in line, and the next stage is an education process for the general public.

"I have been around this industry for many years and everyone is always talking about fuel-cell as the future, and now it's within reach," he declared.

That point is backed up by Alex Stewart, associate director of low-carbon consultancy Element Energy.

"Hydrogen has a lot of unrealised potential; there was a lot of hype about 15 years ago but the vehicles weren't ready, the infrastructure wasn't available and there wasn't a strong sign from Government that these things were needed, as there weren't the likes of CO2 targets at that point," he said. "All these things have changed since then."

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