Everyone in the world is paying attention to hydrogen energy; it’s because it is an eco-friendly fuel that will help sustainable growth while protecting the environment. Hydrogen ignites a chemical reaction with oxygen to produce electricity, and during the process, it does not emit any greenhouse gas such as carbon dioxide, which helps to prevent global warming. In addition, hydrogen can be stored in a liquid or gaseous state, making it easy to transport. Most of all, electricity and water are the only elements to generate hydrogen energy, and the biggest feature is that it can offset the shortcomings of new and renewable energy, whose production amount varies depending on changes in natural and environmental conditions such as solar and wind power.
Governments around the world are anticipating that hydrogen energy will become the central force driving society in the future, and are making various efforts to accelerate the hydrogen society that uses hydrogen energy. Hyundai Motor Company is also actively working to realize a hydrogen society in line with this. One of the outcomes is the XCIENT Fuel Cell, the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty truck launched in 2020. The Xcient fuel cell truck is unique in that it presents a new paradigm for green commercial vehicles.
Hyundai Motor Company started developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in 1998 and has consistently shown promising results. The automaker launched the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle back in 2013, Tucson ix Fuel Cell, and in 2018, the FCEV Nexo, which recorded the world’s longest driving range; they were indeed the pioneers who popularize FCEVs. And recently, using the technology, the FCEV industry is expanding to the field of commercial vehicles. The company started supplying mass-produced Elec City fuel cell buses and exported Xcient fuel cell trucks to the European market as they have accumulated abundant know-how for the FCEVs.
The core technology of FCEVs is the hydrogen fuel cell system. The hydrogen fuel cell system is a device that generates electricity by splitting hydrogen gas molecules into hydrogen ions and combining them with oxygen in the air, and this requires a sophisticated level of technical development. Hyundai’s fuel cell system has proven its competitiveness by winning the ‘World’s Top 10 Engine Awards’ given by Wards Auto in 2014 and 2018, respectively. In particular, Nexo’s fuel cell system has accumulated more than 200 million kilometers of accumulated driving range through its sales of more than 10,000 units worldwide, proving its performance and durability.
The Hyundai’s Xcient fuel cell truck actively operating in Europe also houses hydrogen fuel cell technology. The Xcient Hydrogen Electric Truck is equipped with a 190kW fuel cell system consisting of two 95kW fuel cell stacks and a driving motor with a maximum power of 350kW to ensure optimal performance and regenerative braking capacity for freight transportation. In addition, considering the long-distance driving in Europe, it is equipped with 7 large hydrogen tanks with a total hydrogen storage capacity of 32 kg, and can drive as long as 400 km (based on cruise speed) with a single charge.
Xcient fuel cell trucks are more economic and efficient than any other current eco-friendly commercial vehicles. When it comes to a typical electric truck, the battery capacity needs to be increased for a longer range; but this will also increase the volume and weight of the battery, tightening cargo capacity and energy efficiency, not to mention profitability. On the other hand, the hydrogen tank of the Xcient fuel cell truck is not only smaller in volume than a battery with the same energy capacity, but also about 2.5 times lighter. This means bigger cargo space and longer driving ranges.
There is also an advantage of refueling times. Fuel cell trucks can be fully charged in about 8-20 minutes (depending on the outside temperature of the hydrogen tank), reducing fuelling time. This is one of the characteristics of fuel cell trucks that make the consumers be less reluctant to eco-friendly commercial vehicles, as there is no significant difference from the fueling time of current heavy trucks equipped with internal combustion engines.
The reason why Hyundai Motor Company is striving to expand the hydrogen electric vehicle into the commercial vehicle field is, above all, that the commercial FCEVs can and will protect the environment. Xcient fuel cell trucks do not emit carbon dioxide as well as pollutants including nitrogen oxides and fine dust during operation. Rather, the vehicle emits clean water and air during the operation of the fuel cell system. If one large truck equipped with a diesel engine is replaced with an Xcient fuel cell truck, about 70 tons of carbon dioxide can be reduced when driving 80,000 km per year.
Hyundai not only sells Xcient fuel cell trucks to Europe but also actively collaborates with various domestic and overseas companies for FCEV-related technology development and infrastructure construction. This is because, in order for commercial FCEVs to operate smoothly, a hydrogen ecosystem in which the production, supply, and use of hydrogen lead to a virtuous cycle must be established in advance. In this regard, last year, Hyundai Motor Company co-established ‘Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility’, a mobility service company, with a Swiss hydrogen solution company, joining the Swiss Hydrogen Mobility Association as a partner.
In addition, Hyundai is cooperating with Toyota and other global automakers for international standardization of large-capacity hydrogen charging technology for FCEVs. In the field of hydrogen fuel production, H2Pro of Israel and GRZ of Switzerland have developed a technology to lower the production cost to increase cost-efficiency for the hydrogen economy. H2Pro’s electrolysis technology produces hydrogen with 20% less power than before, and GRZ’s Metal Hydride-based hydrogen compressor technology significantly improves the safety and cost-efficiency of hydrogen charging stations.
Hydrogen, which can be obtained endlessly from nature, is the ultimate energy source for a better tomorrow. Sustainable development is no longer in our dreams and imaginations. Xcient fuel cell trucks can make this future closer. As the first auto manufacturer to realize the commercialization and potential of FCEVs, Hyundai Motor Company plans to keep making efforts to build a hydrogen society where humans and nature coexist through new eco-friendly mobility using hydrogen power.