Hyundai leads way with hydrogen-powered prime mover


US Hydrogen start-up Nikola has just announced an order for 2500 TRE battery/electric rigid waste trucks for Republic Services, with an option for up to 5000 units.

As is usual with these big-tech truck development companies, the deliveries are some way into the future and don’t start until 2022, and then only with a small fleet of test units. The hydrogen fuel cell version seems to be even further away.

Despite the fact that Nikola hasn’t yet put a single truck wheel on the real-life road yet, the stock price took a 22 per cent leap on the news. Such is the speculative nature of industry newbies who haven’t had to cart a load yet.

Meanwhile, you don’t have to wait for Nikola to translate its bewildering array of Tesla-like promises into production reality to get your hands on a hydrogen fuel-cell truck.

Hyundai has just announced a new 4×2 prime mover with almost the same torque (3,400Nm) as Scania’s 730hp R Series monster, but ‘only’ 470hp.

And it actually exists. The first 10 units of its XCIENT Fuel Cell truck are heading to Switzerland right now under an arrangement which will result in 50 of the super-clean trucks hitting the snow-covered peaks this calendar year, with handover to commercial fleet customers starting next month.

By 2025 Hyundai has committed to a total of 1,600 XCIENT Fuel Cell trucks on the road, generating revenue, highlighting the company’s environmental stance and technology as it works toward reducing carbon emissions through zero-emission solutions.

Hyundai’s Executive VP and Head of the Commercial Vehicle Division, Cheol Lee took a gentle swipe at the atmospheric promises of Tesla and Nikola by noting that the XCIENT is a present-day reality, “not . . . a mere future drawing board project. By putting this ground-breaking vehicle on the road now, Hyundai marks a significant milestone in the history of commercial vehicles and the development of hydrogen society.”

The truck is powered by a 190kW hydrogen fuel cell system with dual 95kW fuel cell stacks. Seven large hydrogen tanks offer a combined storage capacity of around 32.09kg of hydrogen.

The driving range between refuelling for XCIENT Fuel Cell is about 400km, The charging infrastructure in Switzerland had a bit to do with that, looking for an optimal balance with the specific requirements from the potential commercial fleet customers. Refuelling time for each truck takes between 8-20 minutes.

Fuel cell technology is particularly well-suited to commercial shipping and logistics due to longer ranges than pure battery/electric designs – unless weighty battery packs are included – and critically, shorter refuelling times. Nonetheless the truck still has a fairly high tare weight – just under 9.8-tonnes.

Switzerland’s topography will test the dual-mounted fuel cell system, which provides energy through the 72kWh battery pack and 350kW Siemens electric motor/inverter to punt the heavy-duty trucks across mountainous terrain in the region.

The aim is to continue the development of the driveline with in-service modifications towards extending the range to 1,000km on a single tank equipped with an enhanced fuel cell system with high durability and power. This variant will be aimed at global markets including North America and Europe.

XCIENT also has an Allison S4500 6-speed auto transmission behind the motor, seemingly to keep torque at its peak with reduced rpm. A maximum speed of just 85km/h would need some more work for Australia but is well suited to the roles the truck will fill in Switzerland.

The trucks will be leased to users on a pay-per-use basis through Hyundai’s joint venture with H2 Energy. An additional attraction is the Swiss road-tax – it’s zero for zero emission trucks – and this nearly equalises the costs per kilometre vs a diesel truck. Also, Switzerland’s high level of hydropower means plentiful energy for hydrogen production.

By 2030, Hyundai plans to build 700,000 fuel cell systems a year for automotive, marine and rail applications, as well as drones and power generators. And nothing drives down the cost base quite so effectively as volume.

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