February 22, 2017 Vol. 14 No. 04

Hydrogen has been on the tip of our collective tongue for years now, whenever the subject of alternative fuel sources comes up. When I first entered the trucking fray in the late 1970s, on a long-defunct magazine called Bus & Truck Transport, I inherited an on-going hydrogen story. We followed the research of an engineer at the University of Toronto who was convinced that hydrogen was the answer to just about everything in the world of motive power.

Yet here we are, almost 40 years later, with… well, not really quite enough to show for it.

Chemists and engineers at U of T are still hard at it, as are such people all over the world, perhaps nowhere more so than at Ballard Power Systems in Burnaby, B.C. The company has been making hydrogen fuel cells for a couple of decades now, and they do have the better part of 100 city buses running on electricity derived from a fuel cell fed by hydrogen. Creating an affordable fuel cell is the trick. We’re not there yet.

Some of those buses are Daimler vehicles, and the German manufacturer is at the forefront of hydrogen development. But it’s not alone by any means. Honda, for example, had a fuel-cell car available for sale in 2010. Said to cost US$1 million to build, who knows what it sold for. Toyota is also heavily involved in the search for a hydrogen answer.

ONE OF THE LEADERS IS HYUNDAI, whose European arm recently signed a memorandum of understanding to hand over 60 ix35 fuel cell cars to the Paris-based electric taxi start-up STEP (Société du Taxi Electrique Parisien). Already the world’s largest fuel cell taxi fleet, it currently serves the Greater Paris Area with five such cars that Hyundai Motor delivered in December 2015. The fleet is planned to increase up to several hundred vehicles within five years.

The signing took place at the opening of a public hydrogen fuel station (operated by Air Liquide) at Hyundai headquarters in Offenbach, Germany.

The ix35 is said to be the world’s first mass-produced and commercially available fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). Currently there are more than 300 Hyundai ix35 fuel cell cars in 12 European countries. That’s more than all other manufacturers combined, the company says. The car’s asynchronous electric motor generates 134 hp and maximum torque of 280 lb ft. The car’s range is up to 594 km on a full tank.