The opportunity to drive a car that is so new it’s not really even available to buy is never one I’d easily pass up, so when the Hydrogen Fuel Cell powered Hyundai Nexo was ready to hit the streets I jumped at the chance.
Here’s the thing, I knew nothing about the car. I’ve seen Hydrogen cars at motor shows and trade shows, and I’ve heard about Hydrogen Fuel, but frankly, I hadn’t put two and two together to work it all out.
I got in this car as you do in this job, you find the start button, adjust the mirrors and drive away as if it’s perfectly normal to be in a brand new car every single week. I had my 9 year old son Harri with me, and after about 200m of driving I turned to him and said this is just like an Electric Car.
And then it hit me. Idiot. This IS an electric car.
The power delivery, uniquely electric. The sound, silent like an electric car.
For all that I knew, I was in a Hyundai Ioniq.
Strangely Hyundai seem to fit these electric cars out much differently to their traditional models, so the whole centre console is a mess of buttons that is more than a touch confusing. But it doesn’t matter, I’m driving the future.
But not the future of cars. More on that shortly.
What’s under the body here is an electric drivetrain, with a Hydrogen Fuel Cell. With Hydrogen stored at high pressure the first question is safety, and that was answered by Hyundai telling me the Cell itself is inch thick carbon fibre with a whole range of tests and reinforcements meaning this thing isn’t going to be an issue.
The high pressure Hydrogen is then vented out, pressures lowered down to a conversion where the Hydrogen is converted to energy to power the electric motor.
There is a small battery on board, which is charged during that process and regenerative braking etc, but it isn’t actually responsible for the power delivery.
I mentioned this was silent, which it is, except for a small whistle of air I hear whenever I get on the loud pedal. I’m reliably informed that sound I hear is the Hydrogen being moved down the pressure chain to be at safer lower pressures for the energy conversion. In simple terms anyway.
From then on, it was just an EV to me.
Problem was, I could only drive 300km, because the car had half a tank due to the one filling station in Sydney (at Hyundai HQ) being limited in it’s pressure delivery. But that was ok, I had no plans for a road-trip.
There’s only filling stations in Canberra and Melbourne anyway, these are very raw and early trials.
And the market Hyundai is aiming for isn’t you. Its government and fleet. The ACT Government is investing in NEXO vehicles and there’s a single filling station down there, Toyota are also operating trials in Melbourne with a filling station there.
Generally though, this wasn’t about the NEXO, this was about future fuels.
If you think batteries and the future of road-transport, you might think Tesla truck. The much anticipated big hauler that isn’t ever likely to come to Australia due to our design regulations, and while Tesla like to make a funky looking rig, it will be rare even on US roads.
The thing is, Batteries are the least efficient way to power a long haul truck. The weight batteries alone would add so much weight to the truck that things like tyre wear would be increased dramatically, and most importantly the time to recharge will dramatically change the routine for truck drivers today.
Forget all that. Think Hydrogen. It was explained to me that you can think about the future of fuel in this way. Vehicles that are today powered by Petrol – will in the future be battery electric.
Vehicles that are fuelled by Diesel today will be best placed to be Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric.
Think buses, and trucks. While there might be some cars, that’s not going to be common – at all.
Highway petrol stations will add Hydrogen Filling stations, replacing pumps with Hyrdogen. It’s a similar process, and time wise the difference will be inconsequential.
The Hyundai Nexo felt normal. For to me EVs are normal already. But in fact, what I was driving was a vision of the future, a prototype for a next-generation concept. The Nexo exists as proof something can be done, as a lobbying tool for government as we move to find out future and what will power our highways.