Hydrogen power. Sounds futuristic, doesn’t it? Something starring Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman (and maybe Rachel Weisz). In fact, NASA has been using liquid hydrogen as rocket fuel since the 1970s. But what we’re talking about is an even more refined application: the Hydrogen Fuel Cell, the first of which was invented – wait for it – in 1838. And in recent years, this technology has been used to power cars. Most notably, the Hyundai ix35 FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle).
How best to explain how a Hydrogen Fuel Cell works? While many have attempted to explain the concept of a fuel cell as something akin to a battery. A more apt (and more familiar) comparison is perhaps to a diesel generator. You put fuel in, you get electricity out. It’s the electricity we’re interested in, because that’s what the FCEV runs on. But the fuel, in this case, is hydrogen not diesel. The hydrogen interacts with oxygen, spurring a chemical reaction that creates – voilà! – electricity. As long as it has hydrogen and air, it can go on producing electricity for ever.
Not only is there no combustion, there is (get this) no emission! It’s a completely green process which produces only one waste product: pure water. You could drink it straight from your exhaust. And Hyundai Australia have taken it a step further. The Australian government has commissioned twenty commercially produced fifth generation ix35 FCEVs for 2018. This is part of their Renewable Transport Fuels Test Berth, being conducted in Canberra. And to keep it green, Hornsdale Windfarm, aided by electronics giant, Siemens, will build a 1.25MW hydrogen electrolyser to create the fuel and supply Canberra’s very own hydrogen refueling station. On the front line of this worthy projects stands French renewable-energy company Neoen, backed by investor Megawatt Capital.
But enough about the science. How does the car compare to other electric vehicles? Suffice to say, the previous generation ix35 FCEV boasted a whopping 100kW (134 horsepower) engine and had a range of approximately 594km. With electric cars, power and distance rarely coexist, which is why the FCEV is such a unicorn. And with the successive and impressive betterment we’ve seen in generations one through four, the newest brood promises to be awe inspiring indeed.
Heavens knows, it would be nice to have a car that produces electricity instead of just needing more. All eyes are on Canberra, hoping to see the start of a global overhaul.