The Inner Workings Of Fuel Cell Technology

Hyundai Hydrogen Engine

Hyundai’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell Drivedrain

With car emissions still regarded as one of the main forms of pollution, automakers from across the world are working tirelessly toward more eco-friendly vehicles. As air quality in cities and towns are a major cause for concern, the automotive industry is looking to fuel cell technology to help create a cleaner environment and Hyundai is leading from the front.

A Cleaner Future With Hyundai Fuel Cell Technology

Since the turn of the century, Hyundai has been investing heavily in developing hydrogen as an alternative fuel source and their efforts finally paid off. In 2013, the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell became the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen vehicle showing some impressive results. They set new records for the longest fuel cell vehicle road trip across Europe (2,500 km) and achieving 170 km/h on public roads.

At the 2017 Davos World Economic Forum, Hyundai joined the launch of the international Hydrogen Council. This global initiative aims to promote the development of hydrogen fuel cell car technology as an alternative to fossil fuels and who better to join them than Hyundai?

The automaker has also initiated partnerships to deliver fuel cell vehicles and the fuelling infrastructure to various European cities. This includes Paris, Munich, Copenhagen and a charging point at Hyundai’s European headquarters in Offenbach, Germany.

How Does Fuel Cell Technology Work?

To help explain how fuel cell vehicles work, we take a look at the Hyundai NEXO which is the latest car to adopt this technology in international markets. Hyundai revealed the NEXO as its new flagship hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle at CES 2018 which is part of Hyundai’s plan to introduce 18 eco-friendly models to global markets by 2025. Without going into too much technical detail, here’s how the technology works.

Fuel cell technology combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen taken from the air to produce electricity, heat and water. Hydrogen gets pumped into the fuel cell through a flow plate from where a platinum catalyst splits hydrogen molecules into ions and electrons. These separated electrons are diverted along an external circuit and that’s where an electrical current is produced.

At the same time, the system captures oxygen from a flow plate where another catalyst causes the negatively charged electrons and positively charged hydrogen ions to combine with oxygen to form water. The fuel cell technology combines oxygen with hydrogen to form water which is then emitted, resulting in nothing more than water vapour exiting the car.

Considering one fuel cell generates about 1 volt, you need hundreds of fuel cells stacked to generate sufficient power. Once stacked, the combined voltage from the fuel cells will power an electric motor fitted to a vehicle.

Is Fuel Cell Technology Safe?

Aside from a combustion engine, hydrogen or fuel cell vehicles have a lot in common with their petrol or diesel cousins. They’ve got everything you’d expect from a modern-day car including airbags, stability control, ABS, EBD, power steering and a host of other driver aids.

In terms of the hydrogen tanks or fuel stacks, they purposefully undergo more strenuous testing than drivers would ever experience on the road. There are also leak sensors in place that will stop the flow of fuel from the hydrogen tanks if it detects any kind of leak.

These vehicles are put through rigorous tests including fire, crash and leak detection to ensure they are safe or even safer than other cars. Fuel cell technology is an amazing feat of engineering as it generates electricity from hydrogen which results in zero-emissions, besides water.


Fuel cell vehicles combine the best of combustion engine cars and electric vehicles. However, as the new Hyundai NEXO shows, they are cleaner, offer longer range and faster refuelling. Fact is, the NEXO can be refuelled within five minutes and has an estimated range of 800 kilometres.

Fuel cell technology is only getting better and it won’t be long before it becomes more readily available and affordable. Knowing what you do now, would you buy a hydrogen car?

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