B.C. the testing ground for fuel-cell ve­hi­cles

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - JIM KERR

AND now for some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Hyundai is of­fer­ing the first fuel-cell pow­ered ve­hi­cle to the public in Canada. The Hyundai Tus­con FCEV is avail­able to a se­lect few in the Van­cou­ver area. So is this the tip of the ice­berg? Will fuel-cell ve­hi­cles be of­fered in the rest of Canada? Bri­tish Columbia com­pa­nies have been lead­ers in fuel-cell re­search. Ac­cord­ing to B.C.’s pro­vin­cial min­istry, 77 per cent of the world’s fuel-cell re­search and devel­op­ment ex­pen­di­ture oc­curs in B.C. That makes it a nat­u­ral place to start with fuel-cell ve­hi­cles, and Hyundai is com­mit­ted to lead­ing the way by work­ing with Canadian gov­ern­ments and the fuel in­dus­try to pro­vide a na­tion-wide in­fra­struc­ture of hy­dro­gen re­fu­elling sta­tions.

The Hyundai Tus­con will be avail­able on a three-year lease for $599 a month. Dur­ing the lease, Hyundai will sup­ply the hy­dro­gen fuel, per­form all ser­vice and main­te­nance work on the ve­hi­cle for free and pro­vide driv­ers with a hy­brid ve­hi­cle as a loaner while the ser­vice work is be­ing done. They will also pick up and re­turn the ve­hi­cle to you. To learn more about the ve­hi­cle and the leas­ing pro­gram, Hyundai has a ded­i­cated web­site at www.HyundaiHy­dro­gen.ca.

So how does it work? The Tus­con FCEV (Fuel Cell Elec­tric Ve­hi­cle) is based on the gaso­linepow­ered ver­sion of the Tus­con, but in­stead of a gaso­line mo­tor, it uses fuel-cell stack, elec­tric mo­tor and bat­tery pack. Re­fu­elling the ve­hi­cle with hy­dro­gen takes about five min­utes, sim­i­lar to fill­ing with propane, but at higher pres­sures. The hy­dro­gen then goes to the fuel-cell stack where it un­der­goes an elec­tro­chem­i­cal re­ac­tion com­bined with oxy­gen atoms to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity, which can ei­ther be stored in the ve­hi­cle bat­tery pack or used to power the ve­hi­cle’s elec­tric mo­tor. The range is more than 425 kilo­me­tres and just like pure elec­tric ve­hi­cles, ac­cel­er­a­tion can be brisk, with no tailpipe emis­sions other than wa­ter.

Just a few years ago, fuel cells worked poorly in cold weather and had a very limited range. Those ob­sta­cles have been over­come and The Tus­con FCEV is on the mar­ket in Europe, the United States and Korea. Other man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Honda and Toy­ota have fuel-cell pow­ered cars avail­able in the United States, but Hyundai is the first to of­fer one in Canada.

The big­gest ob­sta­cle to fuel-cell ve­hi­cles is cur­rently the re­fu­elling in­fra­struc­ture. It is ex­pen­sive to in­stall a hy­dro­gen fill­ing sta­tion and then there is the ques­tion of which comes first — the chicken or the egg? Now with Hyundai lead­ing the way and bring­ing a fuel-cell ve­hi­cle to Canada, per­haps there will be more com­pa­nies will­ing to in­vest in the re­fu­elling fa­cil­i­ties. While es­ti­mates of the num­ber of fuel-cell ve­hi­cles world­wide for 2015 are only about 1,000 ve­hi­cles on the road, it is also es­ti­mated by Toy­ota this will in­crease to 2 mil­lion ve­hi­cles by 2030. That should pro­vide an in­cen­tive to build more re­fu­elling sta­tions.

An­other ques­tion some­times arises about the cost of hy­dro­gen fuel. Hy­dro­gen can be gen­er­ated many ways. A byprod­uct of man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses is one pos­si­ble sup­ply, but this would only pro­vide some of the fuel re­quired for the fu­ture. Hy­dro­gen can be pro­duced from oil, but that seems like a step back­ward. The ex­cess sup­ply of nat­u­ral gas is an­other po­ten­tial source of hy­dro­gen fuel, but per­haps the most promis­ing source is from sea­wa­ter. Elec­tric power gen­er­ated by re­new­able re­sources can be used to ex­tract hy­dro­gen from wa­ter, and the chem­i­cal pro­cesses nec­es­sary to do this are un­der­go­ing much re­search. Some may say we should just go with elec­tric ve­hi­cles in­stead of us­ing elec­tric­ity to gen­er­ate hy­dro­gen, but hy­dro­gen can be stored and trans­ported much more eas­ily than elec­tric­ity, so hy­dro­gen is bet­ter suited to mo­bile de­vices such as ve­hi­cles.

One fi­nal con­cern al­ways comes up — SAFETY. Hy­dro­gen is a safe fuel, de­spite the men­tal im­age many of us have of the Hin­den­burg blimp go­ing up in flames. Hy­dro­gen fuel tanks have un­der­gone many safety tests and I be­lieve they are safer than gaso­line tanks. They are al­most im­pos­si­ble to rup­ture, and in­ter­nal valves block the flow if a line breaks. Even if hy­dro­gen were to es­cape, it would dis­si­pate into the air al­most im­me­di­ately, un­like gaso­line or propane vapours which re­main in the area un­til vented.

Will fuel-cell ve­hi­cles be in our fu­ture? Only a few for the short term, but per­haps for many more of us in just a few short years.


The Hyundai Tus­con FCEV is avail­able to a se­lect few in the Van­cou­ver area.

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