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Hyundai Motor Group’s next-generation fuel cell system,
a key technology for popularizing hydrogen energy

2021-09-07

Hyundai Motor Group has presented a vision for a future hydrogen society and various solutions at “Hydrogen Wave.” Among them, the newly unveiled next-generation fuel cell system is a key technology that will advance the popularization of hydrogen energy.

As countries around the world are making efforts towards decarbonization, Hyundai Motor Group is also trying to change the energy paradigm for carbon neutrality. Hyundai Motor Group has been preparing for an eco-friendly era by starting the development of hydrogen fuel cells in 1998, and recently announced “Hydrogen Vision 2040,” which aims to popularize hydrogen energy by 2040, at Hydrogen Wave.

A next-generation fuel cell system that has evolved in many aspects such as output, volume, durability and price competitiveness

At Hydrogen Wave, Hyundai Motor Group unveiled the prototype of a next-generation fuel cell system, a key technology that will advance the popularization of hydrogen energy. This next-generation fuel cell system has achieved innovations in various fields such as performance, volume, durability and price competitiveness. Hyundai Motor Group plans to apply its next-generation fuel cell system to various forms of hydrogen mobility in the future.

Hyundai Motor Group’s NEXO has shown the world the eco-friendly performance of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with its excellent fuel cell system

The fuel cell system, the heart of hydrogen mobility, acts like the engine of an internal combustion engine vehicle. Electric energy is generated through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, and this electric energy drives the motor. The hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCEV) is attracting a lot of attention as an eco-friendly vehicle with zero carbon emissions in the global automobile market. Its biggest advantages are the fast charging time of only 3 to 5 minutes, and the fact that it only discharges pure water.

Hyundai Motor Group has been working hard on developing technology using hydrogen energy since 1998. As a result, it succeeded in mass-producing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for the first time in the world in 2013. In 2018, it launched the NEXO, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle based on the second-generation fuel cell system. In 2020, it established a mass production system for hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty trucks for the first time in the world. Through the hydrogen fuel cell technology pioneered by Hyundai Motor Group, hydrogen energy is gradually attracting more interest from consumers. Just as the first internal combustion engine became a popular power source that anyone could easily use, the development of the next-generation fuel cell system by Hyundai Motor Group is also focused on the popularization of hydrogen energy.

In order to popularize hydrogen energy, it is essential to secure the price competitiveness of the fuel cell system and durability that allows long-term trouble-free driving. Several challenges such as the construction of hydrogen charging infrastructure and technological innovation must be resolved.

Structure of fuel cell

As a result of continuous research, Hyundai Motor Group has developed a next-generation fuel cell system that overcomes existing limitations. The core of a fuel cell system is a stack in which multiple cells are combined. The cells create a passage for supplying hydrogen and oxygen, and consist of two metal bipolar plates that support the stack structure, a gas diffusion layer (GDL), and a membrane electrode assembly (MEA) that produces electricity by causing a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. Lowering the prices of these parts is of the utmost importance. Hyundai Motor Group secured price competitiveness by replacing expensive titanium with a steel-based material for the bipolar plate of the next-generation fuel cell system and reducing the amount of platinum used as a catalyst.

As a result of constant research and development, the price of fuel cell systems has decreased by about 98% compared to 20 years ago. The fuel cell system price of the prototype FCEV in 2003 was the price of a luxury house at the time. However, in 2006, the prototype fuel cell price decreased by 50%, and in 2013, the price of the first-generation fuel cell system installed in the Tucson ix hydrogen electric vehicle decreased to 10%. The NEXO released in 2018 also achieved the current price through this cost innovation process, and the price of the next-generation fuel cell system is expected to remain at 2% of the initial prototype level.

Hyundai Motor Group plans to secure price competitiveness of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to the level of battery electric vehicles by 2030. In order to achieve this, the company plans to develop parts that can be mass-produced, apply them to fuel cells, and actively lower costs by improving technologies such as valves and sensors.

Hyundai Motor Group’s fuel cell systems are also rapidly improving in terms of durability. The very first fuel cell system was durable for 30,000 km (800 hours), but the first-generation fuel cell system secured the level of the internal combustion engine with 100,000 km (3,000 hours) and 160,000 km (5,000 hours) for the NEXO. Among the next-generation fuel cell systems, the high-endurance fuel cell system for commercial vehicles aims to achieve a driving range of about 500,000 km.

First-generation, second-generation, and next-generation (100 kW, 200 kW) fuel cell systems, from left to right

The reduced volume is also a major feature of the next-generation fuel cell system. The next-generation fuel cell system is divided into the 100 kW class and the 200 kW class based on output. The volume of the 100 kW class has been reduced to 70% compared to the existing NEXO system. The 200 kW class has the same volume as the NEXO system but twice the output.

The power unit module using the next-generation fuel cell system can build a large-capacity power generation system of 500 kW to 1 MW depending on the amount of power required

Power unit module

Hyundai Motor Group’s next-generation fuel cell system, which has reduced volume and price and increased output and durability, continues to improve, with the goal of mass production by 2023. The next-generation fuel cell system can be used in various fields other than hydrogen mobility.

Typical examples are the “power unit module” and the “full flat system.” The power unit module for MW-class large-capacity power generation can build a 500 kW to 1 MW-class large-capacity power generation system by expanding the 100 kW-class fuel cell system vertically and horizontally according to the amount of power required. In the future, it can be used for power plants that require a lot of electricity, auxiliary power for buildings in remote areas where it is difficult to supply electricity, and transportation such as large ships and trains.

The full-flat fuel cell system has a structure that can be mounted on PBVs, MPVs, buses, trams and small ships

The full-flat system is only about 25 cm high, so it can be widely used in various mobility applications such as MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles) and SUVs, as well as PBVs (purpose-based mobility), trams, buses and small ships. The basic output is 105 kW, but it can be easily changed to 200–300 kW depending on the use, so it is very versatile.

Hyundai Motor Group plans to make possible a hydrogen society in which hydrogen energy can be used easily and conveniently for “Everyone, Everything, Everywhere.”

Hyundai Motor Group plans to expand the application of fuel cell systems to UAMs, robots, aircraft and large ships by 2040. This is in order to realize a hydrogen society in which hydrogen fuel cells are applied to all means of transportation, and where hydrogen energy can be used easily and conveniently for “Everyone, Everything, Everywhere.” The next-generation fuel cell system will be the first step in advancing such a hydrogen society.