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A History of Hyundai and Fuel Cell Technology

A History of Hyundai and Fuel Cell Technology

The beginning

Hyundai Motor began development of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) technology over 20 years ago, with the establishment of a dedicated research team in 1998.

The first step towards whole vehicle development was the Project Mercury collaboration between Hyundai and United Technologies Corporation (UTC). A number of vehicles were developed during the collaboration, with system improvements in powertrain performance and increasing range capabilities culminating in the final vehicle, Mercury â…ˇ. 
This  was based on the Tucson platform with an 80kW fuel cell system, 209 mile range and the ability to start from temperatures as low as -20 degrees celcius.

In 2000, Hyundai launched the Polaris project in conjunction with the Korean Government. The Polaris project saw Hyundai independently develop complete fuel cell vehicle systems, which lead to several project vehicles such as Polarisâ…ˇ which showcased a Hyundai fuel cell system with an output of 80kW and a range of 229 miles.

Hydrogen powered buses are relatively common in cities such as London now, but in 2005 Hyundai produced its first fuel cell bus, with a 160kW fuel cell system and an operating range of 236 miles. As the sole automotive sponsor of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Hyundai provided a fuel cell bus as official transport for the duration of the tournament.

Unifying Technologies

As well as fuel cell systems, Hyundai also began in-house electric vehicle research in the early 1990’s. The two technologies became unified for the first time in the 2007 Tucson FCEV, which had a combined fuel cell and battery electric drivetrain output of 100kW and a range of 229 miles.

2010 saw two milestones in the Company’s fuel cell technology development: the accumulative distance covered by all Hyundai fuel cell vehicles reached the two million mile mark and the new ix35 FCEV prototype was launched. This fuel cell vehicle was the first Hyundai to use high pressure 700bar fuel storage, boosting range to 394 miles from the 100kW fuel cell drivetrain.

Significantly in 2013, Hyundai became the first manufacturer to series produce the ix35 Fuel Cell electric vehicle for commercial sale. The 100kW fuel cell system and 700bar storage produced an NEDC certified 369 mile range.

By 2015, ix35 Fuel Cell sales were taking place across the world, including 13 countries in Europe. In the UK, 17 customers (from private companies, car sharing organisations and government agencies) became the first to drive hydrogen fuel cell cars. Across the European continent, the ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles on the road covered more than 1.2 million km’s

Fuel Cell Concepts

In 2014, Hyundai unveiled the Intrado concept at the Geneva Motor Show. This concept showcased a focus on usability and adaptability, using advanced materials such as high strength steel and carbon fibre and new manufacturing and joining techniques that together have the potential to change the way cars are made. Intrado demonstrated a next-generation hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain with a hybrid Li-ion 36 kW battery, with a range of over 372 miles.

Hyundai’s ongoing commitment to fuel cell development was shown in 2017, with the FE Fuel Cell concept. Longer, lower and wider than the ix35 Fuel Cell, the FE (Future Eco) concept was shown with a number of innovative vehicle technologies demonstrated alongside its powertrain.  These included integrated storage and charging space for an electric scooter which demonstrated how Hyundai Motor was starting to broaden the development of mobility solutions to match future lifestyles.

The FE Fuel Cell concept featured new drivetrain technology including a fuel cell stack 20% lighter than that of the ix35 Fuel Cell, yet with an increased power density of 30% and a range of over 497 miles.

NEXO arrives

2018 was another landmark year for Hyundai's fuel cell story, with the launch of NEXO, the only fuel cell SUV in the world. The design for NEXO clearly followed on from the FE Fuel Cell concept, with many of the innovative technologies such as Lane Following Assist, Highway Driving Assist, Blind Spot View Monitor and Remote Smart Park Assist carried over from the concept to Hyundai’s 2nd commercially-available hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

In comparison to the ix35 Fuel Cell, NEXO offers a 25% faster acceleration rate, increased torque and 40% more range. Its 135kW powertrain and three reinforced carbon fibre/plastic fuel tanks allow NEXO to deliver a range of 413 miles.

Find out more about NEXO

Looking to the future

Following on from the launch of NEXO, Hyundai Motor Group announced its long-term roadmap - ‘Fuel Cell Vision 2030’ - to reaffirm its commitment to accelerate the development of a hydrogen society by leveraging the group’s global leadership in fuel-cell technologies

In May 2019, the Hyundai Motor Group announced an investment of €80 million in electric performance car manufacturer Rimac and is also aiming to lead the high-performance electrified vehicle market. The companies have been working closely together to develop prototypes for both an electric version of Hyundai’s N brand mid-ship sports car and a high-performance fuel cell electric vehicle with the intent to bring them to market.

In a busy year, Hyundai also unveiled the HCD-6 Neptune concept - a hydrogen-powered Class 8 heavy duty truck. One of the key design inspirations for the HDC-6 NEPTUNE Concept was the streamliner railway trains that ran from 1936 until 1959, a prime example of Art Deco industrial design.

Hyundai is committed to a continued investment in hydrogen powered technology and also to working with governments and businesses to develop and increase the infrastructure required to normalise hydrogen powered transport.

This article is for editorial purposes only and may show features not available in the UK.


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