Electric powertrains might hog the headlines, but hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are also shaping up as a viable alternative to internal combustion engines because they combine the zero local emissions (if you don't count water) benefits of electric vehicles with the convenience of being able to top up at a fuel pump. The new Hyundai H350 Fuel Cell Concept takes just four minutes to refuel and can travel up to 422 km (262 mi) on a single tank.
The H350 Fuel Cell Concept made made its debut at IAA in Hannover, where it shares floorspace with new electric vans like the Volkswagen e-Crafter and the futuristic Mercedes Vision Van. Where it deviates from the path taken by these vans is under the floor, where 175 L (46 gal) worth of tanks pressurized to 700-bar hold up to 7.05 kg (15.5 lb) of hydrogen.
That fuel is broken down into protons and electrons in the fuel cell stack, which produces energy to be stored in a small 24-kW lithium-polymer battery pack. An inverter converts the energy in the battery into the alternating current required to power the electric motor, and the only by-product is water vapor.
The use of hydrogen gives the H350 a huge range advantage compared to a pure battery electric light commercial vehicles. For example, compared to the 208 km (129 mi) you'll get from the 43 kWh battery in the e-Crafter, the Hyundai can cover 422 km (262 mi) on a full tank, and refueling it doesn't take 45 minutes when you're empty.
It's not just range where the hydrogen fuel cell forges ahead, with the 100-kW (134-hp) powertrain able to take the van to 150 km/h (93 mph), rather than the 80 km/h (50 mph) you'll get from an e-Crafter or 120 km/h (75 mph) the Nissan e-NV200 can manage.
Performance aside, there are no real practical drawbacks in terms of cargo room to running hydrogen power compared to gasoline, diesel or electric power. The load area can still hold between 10.5 m3 (370 cu.ft) and 12.9 m3 (456 cu.ft) in load-hauling guise, and the passenger version still has room for 14 rear seats.
At the moment this is just a concept, but it's not a giant leap to suggest Hyundai has a production model in the works. It already has a Tucson (ix35 outside the US) fuel cell CUV in production, and although hydrogen infrastructre still lags behind charge stations and gas stations, Toyota and Honda have also committed to the technology.