Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell: is future technology suitable for the present?

There is no question among experts that we will all be electric in the long term. Not with electricity from a battery, but from a fuel cell that turns hydrogen into electricity and only emits water vapor from the exhaust. What sounds a bit “too good to be true” is already a mobile reality. With a Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell, we tested whether this future technology is suitable for the present.

Hydrogen is unlimited in the universe. On Earth it is predominantly part of the water. To be able to fill up with hydrogen, it first has to be obtained from water with a relatively high energy input. If the energy required for this comes from regenerative sources, mobility with the fuel cell is the ideal energy cycle that should even make German environmental aid cheer. So far so good. And right in principle.

Plug-in hybrids are just an interim solution

But, there are still a few "but". Let's start with the good news: We are thrilled to be driving with the Hyundai fuel cell. The range with one tank of fuel corresponds to almost standard gasoline engines with almost 400 kilometers. Refueling takes exactly

Refueling hydrogen is as quick as refueling with petrol or diesel

Refueling with hydrogen is as quick as refueling with petrol or diesel

as long as refueling with common fuel: about three minutes. The "refueling" of a battery vehicle with electricity from the socket is not possible under three hours, even under the most favorable conditions. Range extenders (a petrol engine on board that generates electricity for the battery, such as in the BMW i3 and i8) and plug-in hybrids are just crutches with which we struggle into the future. In spite of the state purchase premium, customers do not really get involved in these alternative drives (because the conventional combustion engine still offers many advantages).

This could change suddenly with the fuel cell. But here's another but. The filling stations for hydrogen are still very rare. We were standing at the only hydrogen filling station in Munich - and it reported a malfunction. On a Sunday. No help anywhere. The next hydrogen filling station in Ulm: unreachable. It was still enough for the editorial team, but the vehicle had to be picked up by trailer, which was planned anyway, but would normally have been necessary. Unless Linde had sent his mobile gas station past. "We are painfully aware that customers with fuel cell vehicles still have to be very suffering," wrote a responsible person on behalf of the Clean Energy Partnership when we informed them about the malfunctioning gas station. In addition to the missing hydrogen infrastructure, there is still an unsatisfactory reliability of the filling station technology.

The journey with the fuel cell needs to be well planned

We should not forget that even Berta Benz had to buy the necessary petrol in the pharmacy during her legendary journey in a Benz motor car from Cannstatt to Pforzheim in 1885. Even back then, today's hydrogen skeptics would have said that the automobile could not prevail because there were no petrol stations. So please be patient: time heals all gaps.

The interior hardly differs from the normal ix35 photos: Hyundai

The interior hardly differs from the normal ix35 Photos: Hyundai

We had planned our trips with the hydrogen Hyundai carefully so that we could easily fill up with hydrogen on the way to Stuttgart and back both in Ulm and at Stuttgart Airport. In fact, we could have gone to Hamburg without stopping. The hydrogen network is already better than its reputation. But you have to think carefully about how far the hydrogen goes. Then everything is no problem: insert the fuel card, put the tap on carefully and accelerate - in the truest sense of the word. You just have to ignore the hissing sound of the hydrogen flowing in at a pressure of 700 bar, which sometimes makes you feel bad. The security systems should be so mature that nothing can happen. Even in the event of a serious crash, the tank remains tight or allows excess pressure to escape via a safety valve.

The sound of the future can hardly be heard

There was a reason why we were unsettled after our test drives: a few days later, a natural gas tank in a Volkswagen exploded, which only has to withstand a pressure of 200 bar. However, the owner had failed to follow the VW recall for the tank overhaul. If a hydrogen tank exploded, it would be a disaster not only physically, but also communicatively. But after decades of experience with hydrogen tanks in the car, that seems very unlikely.

The tank under the trunk is under pressure: at 700 bar

The tank under the trunk is under pressure: at 700 bar

Driving in the world's first production fuel cell vehicle built since 2013, the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell, was at its best. The 136 hp electric motor ensures sufficient temperament from a standing position, which subjectively seems even more impressive than the numbers indicate: 12,5 seconds from a standing start to 100 km / h are not exhilarating, but that doesn't bother at all. Gliding amazingly quietly at 160 km / h on the highway has charm. The barely perceptible engine noise, sometimes a quiet hum, is undoubtedly the sound of the future. In terms of comfort, the hydrogen Hyundai does not differ from its brothers with combustion engines. The fact that it is so quiet also harbors risks. As with any electric vehicle, pedestrians are frightened when the car suddenly appears. For this, the Hyundai engineers have installed the "Virtual Engine Sound System": At speeds below 20 km / h, for example in a play street, the sound of a normal car engine can be generated at the push of a button. It's not funny, it's helpful.

The fuel cell is still too expensive

Based on our experience, we ask why the automotive industry is only taking the detour via hybrid and battery vehicles when it comes to alternative drives. The answer is simple: the fuel cell is still very expensive because of the platinum coating that is still required. Substitutes have not yet been developed. And batteries will have a bigger leap in range performance in about two years. But even a range of 500 kilometers from the battery cannot overcome the disadvantage of long charging times. Driving with the fuel cell comes closest to the user-friendliness of today's internal combustion engines. However, we have not reached the officially specified range of 600 kilometers. The 400 kilometers are probably due to the fact that we were not traveling very slowly and never filled the tank completely. For 400 kilometers we used hydrogen for about 43 euros. That comes very close to an economical gasoline engine. In 2014, a Norwegian made 700 kilometers with one tank of fuel during a record run.

BMW has given up the internal combustion engine with hydrogen

Incidentally, Hyundai was the first manufacturer to put this future technology on the road in 2013 and actually offers it for sale today. At a price of 65.450 euros or as a leasing model for a monthly rate of 1290 euros, this is not a special offer. In fact, Hyundai should pay a good 20.000 euros on each vehicle. The Koreans are impressively future-oriented and want to help the fuel cell make a breakthrough. They are ready to invest a lot in this, while BMW, for example, had developed its announced hydrogen seven up to series production, but stopped the project years ago. BMW intended to use the hydrogen in the internal combustion engine. We drove the 12-cylinder at that time and couldn't find any difference to the petrol engine. It is a pity that BMW has also secretly shut down the hydrogen filling station at Munich Airport. As can be heard, BMW is still working on the technology for the fuel of the future, but will ultimately switch to the fuel cell, which simply works more efficiently than a hydrogen-fueled piston engine.

Conclusion: The Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell absolutely convinced us. Range and tank times are important arguments. The thin network of petrol stations will hopefully be sufficiently dense in the next five years. If the batteries in electric cars do not generate significantly more range, can be charged faster and without cables, the fuel cell, which is still too expensive today, will prevail in the long term. That should be the case in about 20 years. Hybrids are undoubtedly just an interim solution. If cities start to shut off internal combustion engines entirely, the hybrid could still get to the city center by electric drive. The dilemma for automakers: it is the still unforeseeable political requirements of the next few years that will also influence technological development.

Technical data Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell: five-door SUV, length: 4,41 meters, width: 1,82 meters, height: 1,65 meters, empty weight: 1.839 kilograms, trunk volume: 465 - 1.436 liters, tank capacity: 144 liters / 5,64, 136 kilograms of hydrogen, motor: induction motor, power: 300 hp, max. Torque: 0 Newton meters from the start, 100 - 12,5 km / h: 160 seconds, top speed: 0,98 km / h, average consumption: 100 kg hydrogen / 2 km, CO64.450 emissions: none, if the electricity for hydrogen generation is regenerative is produced, price: XNUMX euros.







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