Hyundai ix35 fuel cell prototype

2 Nov, 2011 12:00pm Andrew English

We hit the road in pioneering hydrogen-fuelled crossover


With 136bhp, the fuel cell in this Hyundai is one of the most powerful in the business. Its near ambient pressure cell means the driveline is quiet and impressively refined. But the car itself needs a lot more work before it can match the best prototypes from rival manufacturers. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are getting ever closer to reality these days, so even development cars should drive better than this.
It's the most common element in the universe, but developing hydrogen into a viable fuel is proving to be a very lengthy and expensive task for the world’s car makers.

Hyundai has been working on fuel cells since as far back as 1998, with early test vehicles based on the Tucson and Santa Fe SUVs. But these have now been replaced by the latest ix35, launched last year. A fuel cell version is earmarked for production in 2015, so we test drove a prototype to see what buyers can expect.

The fuel cell uses a reaction that creates electric current when hydrogen and air are exposed to a platinum catalyst. This type of power source was first developed by General Electric in the fifties and was used by NASA to propel its Gemini space probes.

In the ix35, two high-pressure hydrogen tanks are mounted in the boot, giving a range of 348 miles, while the electric motor produces 136bhp and 270Nm of torque – enough to provide 0-62mph in 14.1 seconds and a top speed of 100mph.

As with pure electric vehicles, the ix35 is lively from a standstill, but as the motor reaches its peak revs, efficiency falls off markedly and performance becomes very sluggish above 50mph.

What is impressive, though, is the refined, quiet operation of the hydrogen car. The fuel cell has a turbo to maintain pressure and to purge it of water when the temperature drops. On the road, all you hear is a low moan when accelerating hard. Hyundai claims it has successfully cold-started its fuel cell at minus 25 degrees Celsius, but it takes a couple of minutes to get it up to full power.

The prototype’s dynamics are less impressive, however. The regenerative brakes are grabby, so stopping always involves a series of lurches, no matter how sensitive you are with the pedal. The electronic steering is very light and completely lacking in feedback, while body control is poor, as the car rolls a lot over large bumps. This is a shame, as the first examples of Hyundai fuel cell vehicles have handled immaculately until now.

Of course, there are bigger questions about hydrogen fuel for cars that are still to be answered. The problems of where the fuel will come from, how to store it and how to extract it from renewable resources still need to be solved. But Hyundai seems well advanced with fuel cell design at least, if not the dynamics of its test car.

Disqus - noscript

Hydrogen cars would be great, but nobody is going to use large amounts of energy making it when that energy is much more efficiently put into batteries even taking into account efficiency losses in the electricity network!

The world is afraid of Nuclear (at the moment) but the use of Thorium in L.F.T.R reactors would solve most of the safety and waste problems of current Nuclear technology, it would also eliminate the millions of acres required to install wind or solar.

But Thorium would be a great solution to our ever growing dependence of foreign energy, given the fact that Norway has thousands of years supply of it seems like an excellent solution to our energy problems, if energy departments were better informed and stop wasting countless billions in wind turbines that only produce 20% the rated power!

Wind is a hell of a lot more expensive than gas to generate electricity!

More research is being done in L.F.T.R which is the safest way with very little waste.

Batteries will also improve a lot in 5 years and we will see a range of nearly 200 miles, more than enough, Nissan have already a super fast charger that can charge in 10 minutes and will have induction charging pretty soon too. So maybe the need for hydrogen isn't as great as we once thought ? we never imagined batteries would even get as good as they are today!

Our need for energy is growing though, and electricity demand will soar if many people switch to electric drive and higher electricity bills are inevitable if we do not find our own fuel.

renewables will only ever play a part, they will never be Europe's solution, it has to be a mixture of Thorium and renewables!

The technology to supply hydrogen at the pumps is already being used over in California by Honda and it's unlikely so many manufacturers would be looking at hydrogen if batteries were such a boon. The cost of batteries makes the problem of keeping a car beyond the life of the first set of batteries non-viable, indeed it must alter the life cycle of motor vehicles making used vehicles scarce and expensive.

The problem with hydrogen is that it is a gas and thus can not be compacted into liquid form by compression. Hence the 10,000 PSI (670 times atmospheric pressure). It is odourless and explodes very easily if there is a leak and spark.

I believe that today, most hydrogen is made from natural gas (methane). Would it not be more sensible to use this for electricity production on site where it is produced? This green electricity could then be safely supplied either for the barmy EV industry or, to our homes. Reducing CO2 is the target. Whether this is done at the power station or by a vehicle is not important compared to safety.

"This type of power source was first developed by General Electric in the fifties and was used by NASA to propel its Gemini space probes."
Or, they used them to generate electricity - they probably preferred to use a rocket motor for propulsion.

Key specs

* Price: £30,000 (est) 
* Fuel cell: 100kW proton exchange membrane with twin 10,000psi hydrogen storage tanks
* Battery: 21kW lithium polymer
* Motor: AC induction brushless
* Power: 136bhp
* Torque: 270Nm
* Transmission: Single-speed reduction gear, front-wheel drive
* 0-62mph: 14.1 seconds
* Top speed: 100mph
* CO2: 0g/km
* Range: 348 miles
* Equipment: Cruise control, reversing camera, electronic steering
* On sale: 2015