Another Major Car Maker Is Backing Hydrogen

By Jon LeSage

Hydrogen

The hydrogen fuel cell market has a serious player emerging in South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Corp., which is jumping into the hydrogen truck market to compete with Nikola, Toyota, and Tesla’s Cybertruck and Semi.

Hyundai and Yeosu Gwangyang Port Corp. are partnering to commercialize hydrogen fuel-cell trucks in South Korea. An agreement between the automaker and the port operator includes the development and demonstration of hydrogen fuel-cell trucks for logistics transportation and building out a hydrogen fueling station.

The commercial fuel-cell trucks will be put in operation to cover the 320-kilometer (199-mile) round-trip route connecting Gwangyang Port and Busan. Yeosu Gwangyang will provide a site for the construction of the hydrogen refueling station by 2022.

Hyundai plans to introduce two hydrogen trucks for logistics transportation by 2023, and then will eventually add 10 more models.

Hyundai’s efforts are being supported by the South Korean government’s embrace of hydrogen vehicles. The automaker recently added a second plant to build the fuel-cell powertrains, and expects to produce up to 40,000 fuel-cell vehicles, including semi trucks; by 2030, the company expects to produce 700,000 fuel cell systems annually. Hyundai said that about 500,000 of those systems would be for personal or commercial use, with the rest available for heavy equipment such as forklifts and vessels, and later more being produced for drones and other applications.

Last fall, Hyundai introduced two fuel cell truck concepts during the North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta. One was the HDC-6 Neptune Concept Class 8 heavy-duty truck. The company’s trailer manufacturer subsidiary Hyundai Translead announced the launch of its new, clean energy refrigerated concept trailer, the HT Nitro ThermoTech. The company said that its future offering of the tractor-trailer combination illustrates its corporate vision for wide-spread deployment of hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology, company representatives explained.

Toyota Motor Corp. has made inroads to hydrogen trucks in test projects in Japan, while startup Nikola continues to make contracts for its hydrogen commercial trucks and announced plans to enter the pickup market with its Badger launch.

Along with its Mirai fuel cell sedan, Toyota has been testing fuel cell commercial trucks with partners in Japan; and that’s been carried over to the US. The company has been testing a hydrogen fuel cell yard truck that moving shipping containers within the Port of Los Angeles. The company also entered a project with truck maker Kenworth to build 10 zero-emission Class 8 trucks. They’ll be supported by the California Air Resources Board’s Zero and Near-Zero Emissions Freight Facilities grant, and these trucks will be used at the harbor complex for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Nikola Motors has made the automotive and transportation sectors take fuel cell commercial trucks seriously with its offerings. Now the company is preparing to compete with Tesla and startup Rivian in the electric pickup space.

Nikola Motors CEO Trevor Milton thinks the company’s Badger pickup concept will be best looking truck on the market. “Better looking than the new [Chevy] Silverados. The new [Ford] Raptors,” Milton said

So far, Milton has only revealed renderings of the Badger, but Nikola will have a working prototype ready for test rides in the fall. It will have Tesla and Rivian beat on driving range — battery-powered range of 300 miles per charge, while the optional fuel cell stack will stretch that to 600 miles. The Badger pickup will have quite a lot of power — a peak output of over 900 horsepower, and will be able to go 60 mph in under three seconds.

Like Toyota, Hyundai is also staying committed to the hydrogen passenger car side of the business through its Hyundai Nexo fuel cell vehicles. Its Kia subsidiary has also been toying with fuel cell car concepts and plans to launch a model sometime this year.

On Feb. 10, Hyundai announced the expansion of its partnership with the US Department of Energy (DOE) and its support of the DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program — with the Nexo serving as a test model. Hyundai will provide the energy department with five Nexos for use in various regions of the country including Washington, DC, to help advance research and development of fuel cell technologies. Data from the vehicles and infrastructure will be collected, analyzed and published to identify additional research needs in key areas.

The automaker says that its commitment aims to increase technical collaboration to better understand challenges and to collect and publish independently validated data from demonstrating fuel cell technologies and hydrogen infrastructure under real world operating conditions.

Hyundai and a few of its competitors expect the cost of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel will be dropping soon and becoming more competitive with diesel and electricity. A new study by Hydrogen Council and McKinsey & Co., forecasts a 50 percent cost reduction in the near future. The report outlines three core market drivers: a steep drop in production costs, higher load utilization cutting distribution and refueling costs, and additional cost drops from scaling up of end-use equipment manufacturing.

“The Hydrogen Council believes that the report’s findings will not only increase public awareness about the potential of hydrogen to power everyday lives, but also debunk the myth that a hydrogen economy is unattainable due to cost,” said Euisun Chung, executive vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Corp. and co-chair of the Hydrogen Council.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com