Hydrogen powered cars step closer to production reality

Published 17 July 2013

Hyundai UK has partnered up with the Greater London Authority and hydrogen infrastructure partners to start the installation of affordable hydrogen filling stations, initially across the capital and then across the UK. Plans are to make hydrogen-powered cars a viable alternative to battery-electric and fossil fuel cars within the next ten years.

The initial plan is to have six fuelling stations set up in London by 2015, plus further stations nationwide, with a fairly steep rise in numbers from then – the goal is to have as many as 1.6m across the UK by 2013. Initially these would be standalone filling stations but eventually there should be hydrogen pumps integrated into regular forecourts. Filling station giants Morrisons and Sainsbury’s have shown interest and partnered with the programme.

Alongside the roll-out of these filling stations, Hyundai is ramping up the production of its ix35 fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV). It is to build 1000 by 2015 and aims to be able to produce 10,000 from 2015. Hydrogen cars can be refuelled in three minutes and have the same range as petrol or diesel cars, but with water as the only exhaust emission.

Filling the ix35 FCEV should cost between £30-40, giving a range of up to 410 miles

On the road a FCEV drives much like a battery EV – there is no noise at all from the motor and there is no gearbox to worry about. With the ix35 FCEV you pop the lever in ‘Drive’ and then head off like you would in any automatic, albeit with no engine noise at all – just the whir of the air-conditioner.

Unfortunately, FCEVs are currently expensive to produce, costing significantly more than battery EVs. As a result the first batch of ix35 FCEVs will be operated by fleets, which will lease the cars from Hyundai. For private buyers the reality of a hydrogen power is a fair way off, but the hope is that FCEVs will be as affordable as petrol or diesel cars, both to buy and run, by the mid 2020s.

Graham Cooley of ITM Power, one of the companies participating in the infrastructure roll out, says hydrogen fuel hould cost from £6 to £8 per kg, which would make the cost of filling the ix35 FCEV between £30-40, giving a range of up to 410 miles – which is fairly respectable if the cost of the car comes down to an affordable level.

Ix 35fuelcell _131

One of the key concerns to the green parade is the cost of producing hydrogen, but ITM power is developing portable, modular hydrogen production stations that would sit at filling stations making fuel out of water. That cuts haulage costs, plus the system reacts to the grid to draw power at times when demand is low, maximising efficiency. With an increase in the amount of clean energy production, whether from waves, wind or nuclear power stations, the impact on the environment will be minimised.

Hydrogen can also be hauled to filling stations by trucks or, eventually, piped to them directly. Air Products is a producer of gases and makes hydrogen for use, typically, in industry, including food production and the manufacture of glass. It is also produces hydrogen for EVs and it, too, is planning to improve infrastructure as part of the programme, aiming to set up 65 stations across the UK by 2015.

It might be some time until you have a hydrogen fuel cell car in your garage, but the process has begun. Providing the roll out goes to plan the costs involved in producing FCEVs and the hydrogen fuel should drop to affordable levels, while those who want to pioneer the technology and lead the way will have earlier access to the cars in a few years– but at a higher price. 


krisalexroberts    on 23 July 2013

hi this looks more interesting to me and could be the genuine answer to a replacement for oil. Thanks for another great article from John Slavin. eric roberts www.pellonautocentre.com

TDIPower    on 8 September 2013

Right, so it's better to make hydrogen by using massive amounts of electricity (or any energy) to convert water to hydrogen and then back to electricity, That's incredibly inefficient and such a waste of energy.

All that energy could go into charging batteries which would use far less power.

Tesla Model S has 260 average miles and Elon Mush says 5 min charging isn't that far away !

In 10-15 years batteries will be more than good enough and we will not need Hydrogen. Maybe hydrogen could find uses in Planes, Trains, Ships etc but for cars at least I don't think Hydrogen has a future. And considering the cost and the fact fuel cells have a limited life, battery life is improving.

Future batteries such as lithium air will have energy densities much closer to petrol and along with faster charging who will need fuel cells ?

Just think of the cost of filling with hydrogen compared to electricity ? it will be much more expensive and you have the option to install wind or solar PV systems to charge your car.

I believe 200 mile range is the sweet spot for electric cars and if you can charge in 5-10 mins then what more do you want for the occasional long journey ? if 100 mile range will meet 90-95% of your range why do you need a 300-400 mile vehicle if fast chargers can ensure you get there and back ?

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