NEPTUNE ON THE HORIZON | Chris Mullett reports on hydrogen fuel-cell technology from the NACV Atlanta.

Chris Mullett reports on hydrogen fuel-cell technology from the NACV Atlanta.

There’s little doubt the impact of future technology is going to radically change our current perceptions of long-haul trucking. Although the truck manufacturers of Europe and North America have dominated engineering development since the first diesel engine cranked into life, the computer age may well result in the next major step outside the square coming not from Detroit or Stuttgart, but from Seoul or Beijing.

Amidst the showcasing of hydrogen fuel cell and electric vehicle battery technology on display at the NACV show in Atlanta, the Korean company Hyundai took these levels of competence to completely new heights with the release of the Neptune Concept of HT Nitro ThermoTech.

Hyundai Motor Company shared its concept for hydrogen fuel-cell technology, taking the presentation a couple of stages further than other manufacturers that simply showed fuel-cell installations in existing truck shells.

The Hyundai HDC-6 NEPTUNE Concept Class 8 heavy-duty truck provides a window into the future of the transportation in the US and around the world.

Hyundai is a global leader in fuel-cell technology. In 2013, Hyundai launched the first mass-produced and commercially-available fuel-cell electric vehicle. In 2018, Hyundai launched the dedicated FCEV, NEXO. In December 2018, Hyundai invested $US6.4 billion ($A9.3 billion) to accelerate the development of a hydrogen society, looking beyond passenger vehicles.

“By showing HDC-6 Neptune, the first hydrogen-only concept for Hyundai Motor Company’s commercial vehicles, we will start exploring opportunities in the United States’ commercial vehicle market,” said Edward Lee, Head of Hyundai Commercial Vehicle Business Division.

“Furthermore, we are willing to work with other partners to pave the way to establish a hydrogen ecosystem for CV,” Mr Lee added.

When it comes to self-driving and connectivity, Mr Lee also stated that Hyundai expects to introduce Level-3 autonomy to its passenger-car range by 2021, with Level-4 autonomy following just three years later.

By 2030, Mr Lee estimated the company will have produced 500,000 vehicles powered by fuel-cell technology while further insight was provided by Dr Maik Ziegler, vice president of Hyundai’s Commercial Vehicle Research and Design Strategy Group, who announced that delivery of the first serial production run of fuel-cell electric trucks will occur in 2020.

Hyundai is very clear when it states it has the necessary processes and experience to develop vehicles that support its FCEV 2030 vision for a hydrogen ecosystem. For commercial vehicles, fuel cells are the perfect fit for heavy-duty trucks and long driving distances due to higher drive range, higher payload, less refuelling time and ultimately lower costs.

The HDC-6 NEPTUNE evolves the Class 8 truck, looking toward the future in design, in-cab technology and propulsion system. The concept continues Hyundai’s leadership in moving to a decarbonised society and the advancement of zero-emission vehicles.

With a commercial vehicle range that is sold in 130 countries, the NACV event also provided the  springboard from which Hyundai announced it will start exploring opportunities in the US commercial vehicle market, as well as being open to working with other partners to pave the way to establish a hydrogen ecosystem for CV.

“The Hyundai Commercial Vehicles Design Team started with a clean sheet of paper focusing on the new defined functionality resetting all standards in order to project commercial vehicles in the future,” said Luc Donckerwolke, Chief Design Officer of Hyundai Motor Group.

One of the key design inspirations for the HDC-6 NEPTUNE Concept was the streamliner railway trains that ran from 1936 until 1959, a prime example of Art Deco industrial design.

On HDC-6 NEPTUNE, the design team took packaging challenges and found new ways to combine both form and function. Due to increased cooling requirements, the grill of the concept commercial vehicle is applied as the theme across the entire lower portion of the front of the cab. The grill also integrates the retractable steps, which are cleverly hidden, permitting access through the sliding side door.

The cab interior design shows an amazing insight into what drivers might expect within even a decade. Presuming that autonomous trucks will continue their development in certain applications, the HDC-6 NEPTUNE has space-saving features similar to the miniature houses currently seen on TV. The sleeper bunk area built into the interior of the rear of the cabin slides forwards on demand, doubling the normal space and offering an upper-level double bunk accessed in the roof area. Below the elevated bunk is a kitchen with microwave, hotplate, sink and additional power sockets for coffee machines. There’s even a shower area with hot and cold water for the driver.

The wide frontal windscreen can communicate with the driver by displaying all vehicle functions in a heads-up presentation, including face-time calls, projected on the inside of the windscreen. Sensors continuously monitor the movement of traffic around the truck, highlighting when another vehicle is attempting an overtake or when other traffic encroaches on the safety envelope of the vehicle.

Hyundai has already expanded its global leadership in fuel-cell technology. Through its joint venture with H2 Energy, Hyundai is commercialising fuel-cell electric trucks by providing 1600 FCEV heavy-duty trucks to the Swiss commercial vehicle market, beginning 2019 through to 2023. The 4×2 rigid truck version runs at 16 tonne with a range of 400 km, plus there are additional options of 6×2 variants with GCWs extending from 34 tonne to 40 tonne. At this level the hydrogen fuel-cell electric motor runs at a peak power of 350 kW (476 hp), with a refuelling time of just 15 minutes. Payloads are similar to those of diesel-powered vehicles.

With Hyundai’s commercial vehicle entry to the European market, the US market is an important next phase of the company’s FCEV 2020 vision. Hyundai suggests that the transition to installing on-site hydrogen refuelling storage capacity becomes economically viable in fleets of 10 vehicles or more.

Although hydrogen fuel-cells suggest a level of future technology with which we currently have little exposure, the benefits of rapid refuelling, minimal noise levels, almost zero emissions and lower total cost of operation reinforce that its development may well impact on fleets sooner than we think.

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