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