I was standing at the pump with a hydrogen car, where I couldn’t tap hydrogen, but I could get coffee, when someone asked: who invented the hydrogen car? Professor Barabas, Professor Calculus. The concept has the picturesque cumbersomeness of mad science from a comic strip. You have an electric car, but the power does not come from a battery. This is generated on board with a fuel cell, a chemical factory that converts the hydrogen from the tank, stored under an improbable pressure of 700 bar, into electricity. He is the snail with the house on his back; almost self-sufficient, except for the little one.
The fuel cell seems to be a utopia that has been superseded by evolution. Ten years ago, when the battery with reasonable range seemed far away, miracles of technology were expected. You could fill up with hydrogen just as quickly as diesel or petrol at a hydrogen station, while you waited centuries for a battery charge. The range was on the level of a combustion engine. That had to be it, couldn’t miss. Mercedes, Toyota, Opel and GM, everyone is dragging the knives. The concept cars seemed ready for production. Sometimes you were invited for an invariably hopeful test drive. Guys, did that run great!
Then the tide turned. The battery capacity of EVs increased, their range rapidly increased from 150 in the first hour to four to five hundred. Charging speeds accelerated accordingly and the day will come when the entire charging process will take no more than ten minutes. Why opt for a fuel cell when you can do without it?
Moreover, refueling is almost impossible. There are four hydrogen stations throughout the Netherlands. The technology is complex, the costs are high, hydrogen extraction from fossil fuels is both counterproductive and non-climate neutral; Producing green hydrogen is (too) expensive.
And now hydrogen is Bitcoin. The price is nearing its lowest point, while the faithful continue to hope for a miracle. The concerns seem to want to keep the fuel cell as Plan B on hand. Honda has been building the Clarity for years, Toyota has the Mirai, Mercedes launched the GLC F-Cell last year with plugin option for extra range. Hyundai is also holding on. Following the first commercial hydrogen Hyundai in 2013, a variant of the existing ix35 SUV, this year it introduced the Nexo, “the world’s first SUV specifically developed for hydrogen driving”.
At a time when every new EV has a run, including the Hyundai Kona, that glad tidings will be spent on few. Nevertheless, 85 Nexos have already been ordered in the Netherlands. Hyundai benefits from a loophole. Hydrogen cars are exempt from the upper limit of 50,000 euros for the low addition on emission-free cars. Over the full price of 70,000 euros, the business driver pays 4 percent addition. The refueling options will be fine, the importer declares. In 2020, the Nexo pioneer should be able to refuel in twenty places.
The price is not even unacceptable for an SUV of this size. The comfort is top class, the seating space is good, the ambiance stylish. By default, you get almost everything the heart desires. Faux leather upholstery, an impressive battery of active safety systems, automatic parking aid, the retrofuturistic center console that floats between the front seats like a tilted stereo tower – it’s all there. For the vegans: all touchable surfaces in the interior are made of biomaterials with which, according to Hyundai, 20 percent CO2emissions are saved. It doesn’t get any more ecological than that.
What’s more, it’s an interesting, ingenious car. The range of 665 kilometers should be achievable with some caution. The test car, which was prepared for me after the refueling in Rhoon in Sassenheim, gives a range of 485 kilometers on departure with a tank that is not full, of which 145 remain after driving 390 kilometers. Potentially, it has everything it takes to beat the most heavily equipped Teslas on endurance. But for the nearest gas station I can go to Delfzijl as Drent. The Nexo is a technical feat for yesterday’s future. However, should the power grid crash or a raw material crisis paralyze battery production, Hyundai has First Aid.