Hyundai Unveils Roadmap for Hydrogen Power

Hyundai foresees a hydrogen economy in which solutions like the fuel cell-powered Trailer Drone dramatically reduce carbon emissions in industrial areas, such as shipping ports. (Hyundai Motor Group)

As the global auto industry's shift to electrification marches on, Hyundai Motor Group has unveiled Hydrogen Vision 2040, an ambitious strategy to popularize hydrogen by introducing new fuel cell technologies and fuel cell-based mobility solutions across transportation and other industrial sectors by the year 2040. The newly-announced sustainability roadmap also outlines the Korean automaker's plans to move its full line of commercial vehicle offerings to hydrogen power by 2028.

The most immediate component of Hyundai's hydrogen plan revolves around introducing the company's next-generation fuel cell stack technology. Due in 2023, this third-generation fuel cell technology will replace the current 95-kW system that powers the Hyundai Nexo SUV.

The new technology promises two variations – 100 kW and 200 kW – and lower development and manufacturing costs. The 100-kW system will reduce the total package volume by 30 percent, allowing greater flexibility for a broader range of mainstream vehicles. The 200-kW version will yield more than twice the power output and will have relevance in commercial vehicle applications, to which Hyundai appears fully committed.

However, there are challenges for fuel cell technology to overcome if it is to become a mainstream option for consumers. The most significant is the lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure, which is essentially nonexistent in most places outside of California. Other challenges include the durability and reliability of fuel cells and the overall cost to produce a fuel cell vehicle. To make hydrogen a more viable fuel source for a zero-emissions future, Hyundai aims to "achieve a fuel cell vehicle (FCEV) price point comparable to a battery electric vehicle (BEV) by 2030."

Challenges aside, the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles can be significant. Not only do FCEVs operate without carbon emissions, but they also refuel as quickly as combustion vehicles at the gas pump.

"The goal is to make hydrogen readily used for everyone, everything, and everywhere," said Chairman Euisun Chung, Hyundai Motor Group. "We want to offer practical solutions for the sustainable development of humanity, and with these breakthroughs, we aim to help foster a worldwide Hydrogen Society by 2040."

Hyundai has a track record in the hydrogen space, beginning with the company's first fuel cell prototype in 1998. In 2013, the Tucson FCEV debuted, bringing fuel cell technology closer to mainstream production. The Nexo fuel cell SUV came along in 2018, followed by the world's first heavy-duty commercial fuel cell truck, Xcient Fuel Cell, in 2020. Hyundai Motor Group’s Kia brand has also delved into fuel cell initiatives over the past two decades.

Other automakers from Audi to Volvo have made varying degrees of progress in hydrogen-power in recent years. In 2020, the Volvo Group formed a joint venture with Daimler Truck AG to develop and manufacture fuel cell systems in heavy-duty commercial truck applications as a step toward a climate-neutral future by 2050.

According to the Hydrogen Council, a global initiative of leading energy and transportation companies, hydrogen energy will account for almost one-fifth of all global energy usage by 2050. Hydrogen energy at that level will help reduce carbon emissions by more than six billion tons a year.