Around a decade ago hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were considered the solution to our dirty road networks, with only water coming out the exhaust and refueling that takes the same time as filling with petrol or diesel.
Then Elon Musk with his extraordinary cars came along. His plug-in battery cars were fast, with a long range between charges, fun to drive and very sexy.
Many car manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and plug-in battery cars and hybrids multiplied and recharging points proliferated. Hyundai joined the fray with its Kona Electric at the forefront of this wave.
The advantage of electric plug-in cars is that recharging points are everywhere. In comparison, the UK, for example, currently has only ten hydrogen stations. Electric plug-in seems an easy-to-do alternative to petrol or diesel for now, but hydrogen keeps putting up its hand as the long term solution.
General Motors first dipped its toes into the hydrogen tank in the ‘60s, but the technology has always remained ‘about ten years away’. Musk speculated that hydrogen was a front for car makers to keep the green lobby at bay while it kept producing fossil fuel cars.
However, this lightest of all elements recently found support from the ultimate petrol head. “I’m baffled by the car industry’s apparent reluctance to think more seriously about hydrogen as a replacement for petrol and diesel. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, so we wouldn’t run out of it for about a billion years, and it’s clean too. A car powered by hydrogen fuel cells produces nothing from its tailpipe but water.” Jeremy Clarkson wrote in a column in the Sunday Times.
Clarkson is not the only compelling voice for hydrogen and several major manufacturers have recently launched hydrogen cars.
Hyundai has long been a proponent of hydrogen, but the compelling immediacy of plug-in electric has led to the very successful Kona Electric. It is now so popular that the Korean giant has its work cut out to keep up with battery production.
Yet hydrogen remains important to the company. Hyundai recently launched its FCEV Vision 2030, a roadmap for the next 10 years, with nearly R100 billion in investment and a goal of producing 700 000 fuel-cell systems annually by 2030.
“We honestly don’t know what the future will hold,” Hyundai’s Sylvie Childs recently said. “We think that there will be a mosaic — different people will need different technology.
“Battery electric is fantastic; perfectly suitable for cities and short journeys. There’s a long charging time, but you can top up overnight. It’s a quick fix as well because electricity is readily available. It’s good to try to electrify and reduce CO2 emissions.
<“There are a lot of transport needs that can’t stay idle. How do you run a fleet of buses when you have to wait 12 hours to recharge it? You need two buses when you could have just one diesel. It’s not viable. Hydrogen has really high energy density and so it can be the solution to replace diesel.”
So Hyundai is currently not putting all its eggs in one basket, investing in battery electric as the now and happening solution, while keeping the long hydrogen view.
As Clarkson describes hydrogen: “You can drive all day and at night plug in your car to light up the whole street.”