Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell Offers 365 Miles of Range, and Quick Fill-ups
Hyundai joined the London Hydrogen Partnership (LHP) last week. The LHP has initiated more than $66 million worth of hydrogen projects, from buses to scooters and refuelling stations. Hyundai will help by bringing its cars and expertise with the goal of making London a world leader in clean energy.
This comes after the fuel cell version of the Hyundai ix35 (sold as the Tucson in America) was selected last March by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH-JU) to showcase the benefits of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies to European policymakers.
There's nothing besides the stickers on the outside to reveal that the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell is special. No dramatic differences on the inside either. The speedometer is on the right, and the left dial, which should be a tachometer, has readings going up to 120. That's because it's a power meter showing kilowatts.
Starting the car is conventional, except the absolute quiet says this is no standard automobile. The total lack of noise comes from the use of ambient, instead of compressed air, to feed the fuel stack. Hyundai was the first to develop that technology—it was already present in a 2005 prototype I had a ride in—and it feels superior to all the other systems with noisy compressors. This fuel cell car is silent, just like a battery electric car.
Actually, this Hyundai is very much an EV. It has a battery that can put out a 24-kW current. That is enough for low speed city driving. Some people may then wonder about the usefulness of the fuel cell then. Why not not removing it, enlarging that battery, adding a charger and a plug, to get the same range as the fuel cell gives? The easy answer is that it wouldn't work as well. And, looking further, it's just not doable. This is a compact SUV, but it's still significantly bulkier than a Nissan Leaf. It would take a very large, and very heavy battery to match the range and performance the fuel cell delivers. More than that, according to all the people I talked to—disagree if you like— the fuel cell is cheaper.
We can debate the cheaper question, but the size and weight issue is easier. The Hyundai ix35 stores 5.64 kg of gaseous hydrogen. This fuel cell car adds weight from the 700-bar tank and the fuel cell itself—but it would take more than 1,000 pounds of the best cells to get the same quantity of energy.
The cost issue is harder to prove, because it's not about the price of a hand-built fuel cell today, but the price in the future when it's built in volume. The average person can't make those calculations, but Hyundai engineers say that fuel cells would not be that expensive if they were put in regular production.
I can't confirm or disprove the claim, but the Hyundai ix35 provides an impressive ride. Suspension and steering could be improved but the propulsion is flawless. The cars I drove was a 2012 model, but Hyundai has already started regular production of an updated ix35 Fuel Cell—gas version should launch as the 2014 model in America—which should correct any remaining small flaws in the model I drove.
Hyundai plans to build a thousand of them before 2015, when the car should be widely available. That is, in the places few and far between where there will be a network of hydrogen stations. Sounds far-fetched, but with a 100-kW fuel cell and a consumption below one kg of hydrogen per 100 kilometers, this car offers 365 miles of range in a fill-up that only takes a few minutes. You have to admit that no battery-electric vehicle can match those characteristics.
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