Fuel Cell Driving
by Sue Baker
The future of driving
By the time newly-born HRH Princess Charlotte and her generation are drivers, the type of car they will drive is likely to be significantly different from today’s predominantly fossil fuelled vehicles. The future lies in fuel cell equipped cars, or so many of the brightest brains in the motor industry are predicting.
Until now, cars running on fuel cell technology have been limited to prototypes driven on test tracks. I first drove one nearly ten years ago in Germany, when Vauxhall’s sister company Opel demonstrated the experimental HydroGen4. Then on a visit to South Korea a few years back, I tried a Kia Sportage FCEV on the company’s private access roads at its test centre.
A milestone in the history of motoring
That was then. Now, the future has arrived. A few days ago, I drove a milestone vehicle in the history of motoring: the world’s first production fuel cell car, the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell. You can buy one, if you have £53,105 to spend on a car that would put you right at the front of the early adopters’ league.
If that sounds a lot to splash out, it could be worse. The car qualifies for part-funding from the HyFive project, which subsidises the price by almost a whopping £15,000, compared with what would otherwise be the unfunded on-the-road price of £67,985.
If you bought one, you would be among a very small and select band of owners. So far only eight of these cars are in use in the UK, operated by organisations such as Transport for London. For anyone tempted by the thought of buying one of these high-tech Hyundais, be warned that it comes with an inherent disadvantage, for the present at least.
Under the bonnet
There are currently only 11 places in the whole of Britain where you would be able to refuel this car, and at eight of them you would have to plan ahead, ring up in advance and make an appointment. So your clean, green, futuristic machine has a bit of a handicap. The modestly good news is that two more refuelling sites are planned before the end of the year.
Instead of having an engine under the bonnet, you have a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack which generates electricity. As a result, what this car comprises is an electric vehicle by a different route, one that produces its own electricity rather than having to spend hours plugged in to a power point to top up its batteries.
At the heart of the ix35 Fuel Cell is a hydrogen fuel cell stack combined with a 24kW lithium-polymer battery pack. How does it work? Hydrogen reacts electrochemically with the oxygen in ambient air to produce electricity, which is then stored in the battery pack and used to run the car. The only emission is water vapour.
I drove an ix35 Fuel Cell on roads around Buckinghamshire, and the immediate impression was of a car that feels very normal to drive. It has 136 bhp of power and 221 lb ft of torque, much like any typically good-performing family car. Its top speed is a fraction short of 100 mph, and the 0-62 mph acceleration is a respectable 12.5 seconds. With its on-board hydrogen storage tank full, the car’s range is said to be 369 miles.
Like the look of this car, but not the price? With a 1.6 litre petrol engine, the Hyundai ix35 starts at £17,000.
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