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First Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell arrives

Number one: Hyundai Australia’s first hydrogen fuel-cell powered ix35 sailed in earlier this year, but with the country’s only filling station now pumping gas you can expect to see more.

Australian Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell trials are go with next-gen on the way

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Hyundai logo9 Dec 2014

By DANIEL GARDNER

HYUNDAI Motor Co Australia (HMCA) is preparing to introduce a small fleet of ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles as it takes a lead role in pushing for commercial trials and, ultimately, retail sales in Australia.

A single example of the zero-emissions vehicle is currently in service as part of HMCA’s campaign to highlight the feasibility of hydrogen and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in Australia.

While more of these first-generation left-hand-drive ix35 Fuel Cell cars will follow, Hyundai Motor Company is also well down the track with its next-generation model – which will be available in right-hand drive – and an initial leasing plan could develop into Australia’s first full-scale retail FCEV by about 2018.

If such a vehicle were to be sold in Australia its cost would likely compare with the only possible rival at this stage – the Toyota FCV – which is due to go on sale in Japan for about ¥7 million ($A73,300) and has not been ruled out for Australia.

In the absence of a right-hand-drive car, the ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles in Australia will fulfil roles where left-hand drive is a safety advantage, such as roadside assistance and roadside furniture or footpath inspections.

Participating National Roads and Motorists’ Association (NRMA) and local government council employees will benefit from exiting the vehicle on the opposite side to traffic when attending breakdowns or roadside inspections of council property, for example.

HMCA public relations general manager Bill Thomas told GoAuto the acceleration of FCEV technology and the arrival of its first Australian car could herald the first operational hydrogen fleet on local roads as soon as five years away.

“We have got to the point where the technology is more affordable, and while the next-generation car will still be expensive it will be within the realm of government and commercial fleets,” he said.

“Assuming we have a number of cars on the road by 2018, you’d like to think by 2020 or 2025 there would be a reasonable number of these vehicles on the road and the infrastructure to support them.”

Details of Hyundai’s next-generation FCEV are scarce, but the company is satisfied with the performance of the first model, meaning future FCEVs will likely adopt an SUV or similarly practical body style.

“One of the wisest things we have done is use something as versatile and practical as the ix35,” said Mr Thomas.

“It’s a great vehicle for commercial and passenger vehicle applications and I think the next-generation vehicle may head that direction as well.”

The Australian-resident ix35 Fuel Cell uses a 100kW/300Nm electric motor fed by a fuel cell stack in which the hydrogen fuel is combined with oxygen from the air to produce electricity and the reaction byproduct – water.

As is the case with catalytic converters fitted to internal combustion engines, the fuel cell uses expensive noble metals to optimise the reaction and boost power output, but trials are underway using more abundant and affordable materials which will progressively drive down the cost of the technology.

The cell’s polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) through which the hydrogen ions pass is also a component under continuous development and will potentially speed up power-generation electrolysis in future fuel cells.

HMCA product planning manager Scott Nargar told GoAuto fuel cell vehicles have an advantage over plug-in electric options thanks to their fast refilling process that requires no operator behavioural changes.

“There’s definitely a place in the world for EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids but at this stage we are focusing on fuel cell vehicles and it’s such a benefit that we can do the 600km and get a three-minute charge unlike other technology that may limit the distance travelled and how long it takes to recharge,” he said.

“We thought if we could get the right type of trial happening over the next two to three years that there might be some take-up for fleet use and other trial for that particular car.”

Performance is not sportscar-like, but with zero to 100km/h acceleration in 12.5 seconds the zero-emissions ix35 is comparable to the rest of the small SUV range which consists of a 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre petrol variant and a range-topping 2.0-litre diesel in Australia.

It has a top speed of 160km/h and can travel almost 600km before needing to refuel.

While Hyundai focused heavily on developing a drivetrain that offers real-world practicality, safety for the FCEV was also a top priority.

Its hydrogen tank can be pressurised to as much as 700 bar (the same pressure experienced under 7km of water) but in the event of a leak the lighter-than-air gas dissipates rapidly and is far less likely to combust than liquid fuels, which pool.

Hyundai says leaks and tank rupture are extremely unlikely thanks to a super-durable steel and carbon-fibre construction which was subject to immersion in fire baths and even shot during development.

The fuel cell cars are already on trial in other parts of the world with a leasing plan for private owners ongoing in California – known locally as the Tucson Fuel Cell – which includes the car and fuel for about US$500 per month.

Hyundai’s ix35 Fuel Cell is not the hydrogen-powered vehicle to touch down on Australian soil but it is the first to be permanently imported.

BMW previously toured its Hydrogen 7 (E86 series) in 2008, which burns the gas in its V12 engine in a more conventional internal combustion process and its fuel tank cryogenically stored liquid hydrogen, unlike the Hyundai’s gaseous storage.

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