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Hyundai’s Xcient Fuel Cell Heads to Switzerland

2020-08-13

Hyundai Motor Company is taking an important role in developing Europe's nascent fuel cell ecosystem. As a first crucial step to that end, Hyundai’s fuel cell truck Xcient Fuel Cell is heading to Switzerland—a country that has seen its demand for eco-friendly commercial vehicles skyrocket recently.

Hyundai Motor Company has expanded its Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) line to include commercial cars. Following the development of the Nexo, a fuel cell sports utility vehicle, and the Elec City, a fuel cell citybus, Hyundai has unveiled this April the Xcient Fuel Cell, the world’s first mass-produced heavy-duty fuel cell truck line. But Hyundai’s efforts do not end with mere production here; it has also been involved in the development of the nascent FCEV infrastructure in Europe, cooperating with Switzerland’s many hydrogen solution firms, power plants, charging stations, and retail logistics chains. The first 10 units of Xcient Fuel Cell, shipped to Switzerland on July 6th from Gwangyang, South Korea, are the flare that begins this important purpose. These pioneering trucks are expected to play an important role in establishing Europe’s commercial FCEV infrastructure. But first, a question—why is Hyundai Motor Company showing such zeal in this endeavor?

The Advantages of Heavy-Duty Commercial FCEVs

Commercial vehicles emit various pollutants―such as NOx and Particulate Matter(PM)―while in operation. As they require massive cargo-transporting power and efficiency, they are often equipped with Diesel engines; moreover, they naturally end up traveling greater distances than do ordinary passenger cars. Heavy-duty trucks, in particular, have been pointed fingers as a significant culprit for air pollution. According to the figures reported by the Korean Ministry of Environment, the amount of fine particles (PM 2.5) emitted by one heavy-duty truck is 85.98kg, over 40 times that emitted by an ordinary passenger car (2.12kg). As for carbon dioxide emissions, one Diesel truck emits approximately 69 tons every year, following the Swedish standards whereby the truck is expected to travel 80,000 km per year.

But these pollution problems can be addressed by adopting commercial FCEVs. FCEVs do not emit pollutants or carbon dioxide in operation; rather, they generate clean air as a byproduct of the fuel cell operation.

Hyundai Motor Company has established the world’s first mass-produced fuel cell heavy-duty truck line.

There are many reasons why FCEVs are a perfect fit for large commercial vehicles. First, FCEVs can more easily accommodate long-distance travel compared to other eco-friendly options: simply adding or expanding on-board hydrogen tanks can guarantee a longer range. Moreover, FCEV infrastructures are easier to build than EV infrastructures. Building charging stations at or around loading and unloading stations is enough preparation for building a relatively efficient FCEV charging network. The costs are an advantage as well. According to the global consulting firm McKinsey’s report on the relative costs of running FCEV and EV trucks over various distances, FCEV trucks’ cost of transport was cheaper than that of EV trucks in distances over 100 km. Finally, FCEV trucks guarantee much higher driver comfort over those with internal combustion engines, as they create very little NVH (Noise, Vibration & Harshness).

The Xcient Fuel Cell, Optimized for Heavy Cargo and Long-Distance Transport

The 10 units of Xcient Fuel Cell shipped to Switzerland were set at the specifications requested by the prospective local users of the trucks (surveyed before the development). The range was set at 400 km, and the time needed to recharge hydrogen was set at between 8 and 20 minutes (the variance depends on the temperature of the air outside the hydrogen tanks). To this end, the trucks were mounted with 7 large hydrogen tanks, which total 32 kg of hydrogen storage.

The Xcient Fuel Cell’s specifications reflect the various demands made by the prospective local consumers of the trucks in Europe.

The finished truck is based on the Xcient refrigerated upfit configuration but complemented with the proven performance and durability of Hyundai’s FCEVs. Equipped with the 190 kW fuel cell system, composed of a stack of two 95 kW fuel cells, and the high-performance motor, with the 350 kW of max power output, the Xcient Fuel Cell boasts the specification optimized for long-distance transport of heavy cargo.

And the target market is ripe for the Xcient Fuel Cell. Europe, the first commercial test-bed for the Xcient Fuel Cell line, has seen its demand for eco-friendly commercial vehicles skyrocket in recent years. Starting with Norway in 2025, many countries in Europe are planning a complete ban on sales of traditional internal combustion vehicles, phasing them out in favor of eco-friendly cars. Given the continent’s frequent international long-distance cargo transport, the rising interest in FCEVs appears destiny. That FCEV infrastructures are easier to build in mountainous or backcountry regions is another plus. Whereas high-speed EV charging infrastructure requires the installation of high-voltage cables, FCEV charging infrastructure only requires the building of stations and periodic delivery of fuel via tank lorries, much in the same way that existing gas stations function.

Building the FCEV Ecosystem in Europe

The 10 exported units of Xcient Fuel Cell will arrive in Switzerland in September and meet a variety of local demands.

The 10 exported units of the Xcient Fuel Cell, upon arrival in Switzerland in September, will be transferred to Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility’s registry and meet a variety of local demand for heavy-duty trucks from retail to F&B chains to health care. Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility is a mobility service provider co-founded by Hyundai Motor Company and H2 Energy, a Swiss-based hydrogen solution firm. By the end of this year, more than 40 Xcient Fuel Cell units will have been sent to Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility; the number of units is expected to rise to 1,600 units by 2025. The trucks will not be sold in the traditional sense but be available for lease on a pay-per-use basis, where a single convenient fee will include the costs of charging, maintenance, and insurance for the trucks. This relatively risk-free arrangement is expected to lower the psychological hurdle of consumers who are accustomed to using trucks with internal combustion engines.

In order for commercial FCEVs to reach mainstream status, the FCEV ecosystem―including the all-important hydrogen charging stations―needs to be established first. To this end, Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility has joined the H2 Mobility Switzerland Association, a partnership of 21 global energy providers and consumers (retail/logistics), and also supported the establishment of Hydrospider, the Swiss’s first commercial hydrogen producer. In doing so, Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility has established a value chain that links the Xcient trucks to producers of fuel, managers of charging stations, and prospective consumers.

Creating a Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Hydrogen Value Chain

The Xcient Fuel Cell can be refueled in a short time, ensuring the all-important high transport efficiency for transport operators.

Hydrospider uses the excess energy from hydropower plants and subjects it through the process of electrolysis to generate hydrogen fuel; this production cycle is notable for sustainably producing fuel without producing any pollutants at all. As for establishing the hydrogen station network, the very first hydrogen station was established in Gewerbestrasse, Hunzenschwil, in 2016. Oberstrasse, St. Gallen, also saw a hydrogen station open on July 7th of this year; the plan is to establish seven stations throughout key transport hubs in Switzerland by the end of this year. By 2025, there will be approximately 80 hydrogen stations scattered throughout Switzerland supporting the FCEV ecosystem.

The Xcient Fuel Cell trucks will serve an important role in establishing Europe’s nascent commercial FCEV ecosystem.

Emboldened with the export of Xcient Fuel Cell trucks to Switzerland, Hyundai Motor Company is seeking to enter other European markets in Germany, Netherlands, Austria, and Norway, as well as the North American market. In tandem, it is aggressively pursuing the expansion of the global FCEV market as well as the expansion of infrastructure and production to meet the rising demand for hydrogen. Next year, the Xcient Fuel Cell truck will be tested in Korea as well: starting 2021, the Gunpo-Okcheon route (as well as a few other routes in the Seoul metro area) will be graced with these eco-friendly trucks, with the eye on improving the model for domestic mass production in 2023.

All this, of course, is within the ‘FCEV Vision 2030,’ the larger vision of the Hyundai Motor Company that seeks to produce 500,000 fuel cell and electric vehicles by the year 2030. Indeed, the company’s efforts to become more than just a car manufacturer and become a global “Smart Mobility Solution Provider” has begun―and its first step, the Xcient Fuel Cell, appears ready to change the paradigm of cargo transport.