PowerTorque had the opportunity to sit in on a global discussion, hosted by Hyundai, with about 20 technical journalists and took the opportunity to ask the question, why hydrogen and why Australia? The management team driving the development of fuel cell technology in Hyundai talked about their plans and answered a wide variety of questions.
“It’s safe to say that we are at the forefront, and the number one with the launch of the first serial produced hydrogen fuel fuel cell truck,” said Maik Ziegler, Vice President Hyundai CV Business Division. “We know that we are not the only ones but with our experience from the last few years. We began developing fuel cell trucks in 2006 and we launched a fuel cell bus in the United States two years ago.”
In light of the development already made and looking into the future, the team at Hyundai are convinced that the future is electric. It is already making electric cars, As well as fuel cell cars, alongside the heavy duty fuel cell trucks. In the long term, the company sees that electric power will be the standard on vehicles, it is the source of the energy to supply that power which may differ.
For short journeys and for vehicles which only run for a few hours a day, on board batteries supplying electric power and then recharging when off the road is a viable technology. However, if a truck is running at higher weights and over longer distances, or the vehicle is being used for long periods during the day, then fuel cell will be the energy source for the electric motor.
The development of powerful batteries has not come far enough for long haul freight vehicles. The commonly used example is the B-double running from Sydney to Melbourne. To enable an electric powered truck to travel this route at a GCM of 62.5 tonnes, it would need over 20 tonnes of batteries to make the journey, leaving precious little room for actual paying freight.
“For light commercial vehicles, battery electric vehicles are not a bad solution,” said Martin Zeilinger, Executive Vice President Hyundai CV Development Tech Unit. “The heavier a vehicle is and the longer range you are expecting, the more the fuel cell comes into the game. We are not talking about different things here, it is all an electric power train. In the case of the heavier vehicles, you use a fuel cell and hydrogen as the energy storage, you have a way better range and you do not sacrifice your payload. Plus, you have a refuelling time which comparable to that of a diesel truck.”
Economic forecasts tell us that the price of hydrogen on the world market is likely to reduce to $4/kg by 2030, with the prospect of staying at this level, or below, into the future. This will have the effect of making zero emission renewable hydrogen a keen competitor to diesel, even without legislation to reduce emissions.
One of the main issues when a new technology comes along, using a new fuel, is refuelling infrastructure. This is an area of expertise Hyundai have been working on and this has led to the building of a network of hydrogen fuel stations in Switzerland.
“The concept is relatively easy, if you want to build up infrastructure, passenger cars are the wrong product to start with,” said Mark Freymuller, CEO Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility, who has been running the Hyundai project in Switzerland. “A truck is a much better way to create the demand to enable a hydrogen fuel station to be able to stand on his own two feet.
“If you look at the annual cost of a new fuelling station, including staff and space and investment, and compare how much hydrogen needs to be sold at a certain margin, you need around 700 passenger cars to refuel at this station, but you only need 10 to 15 trucks to refuel at the station to make a financially viable business case. It is, obviously, easier to organise just building a refuelling station to supply fuel for 15 trucks and then allow passenger cars to use that fuelling station to refuel.”
Australia may be one of the countries to benefit from the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell technology, both here and overseas. In fact, Hyundai is already planning the next generation of Xcient fuel cell trucks, for introduction in 2024 and there will be a right hand drive variant suitable for our market.
“Australia has great potential in producing hydrogen, you have plenty of sunshine and you have really good wind from the south pole,” said Dr Sae Hoon Kim, Senior Vice President Hyundai Fuel Cell R&D. “We think that Australia has one of the biggest potentials for producing hydrogen. I think that Australia, alone, could produce all of the energy for the world. Geographically it’s quite near to Korea and Japan.
“A study has shown that if Australia produces hydrogen and delivers it to Korea, the cost could be about three dollars a kilo, which will be cheaper than producing it in Korea by other means. In the future, there will be more industrialised countries, which will need more renewable energy than they can produce domestically. God bless Australia, because you have been able to export the resources in the past, and now you’ll be able to export the sunshine.”