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Fuel cell advances

With consumer websites in the US already hailing the Ioniq EV as the world’s best electric car and that vehicle’s hybrid sibling rating higher than the Toyota Prius, Hyundai now appears to be winning the race to develop a viable fuel-cell vehicle.

The Korean car-maker has just launched the hydrogen-fuelled Nexo, a quasi-SUV that could convince consumers that electric propulsion does not have to involve long recharging intervals, plugs or range anxiety.

Filling the special carbon-fibre fuel tank of the zero-emission Nexo takes just five minutes if the refueling station delivers the gas at 700 bar of pressure, and the energy storage allows the silent-running Hyundai to roam for 600km before needing a further refill.

The gas passes though special membranes of the fuel cell stack, combining with oxygen to produce water vapour and enough electricity to drive the Nexo as convincingly as any electric vehicle. The combining of a 95kW fuel cell stack with a 40kW lithium-ion-polymer battery allows up to 120kW to reach the front wheels.

Over a 300km media drive route it proved an utterly conventional vehicle to drive, apart from its eerie silence and occasional emissions of steam when overtaking performance was required.

But the greatest progress made by Hyundai is not represented by the fuel cell vehicle-leading Nexo — it’s the increased durability of the fuel-cell stack. Hyundai’s California-only Tucson FCV had a stack that could last five years before static would deteriorate the ability to generate power. The Nexo doubles that viable stack life to 10 years, beating the eight-year life of the stack powering the Toyota Mira FCV.

This increased stack durability has encouraged Hyundai to sell the Nexo in markets where hydrogen-refueling infrastructure is rapidly developing such as California and Germany.

New Zealand hydrogen advocate, Dr Linda Wright, driving the Nexo.