Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell: We drove the UK’s first mass-produced hydrogen car around London

Car companies like BMW, Hyundai and Toyota have spent the last few years developing hydrogen fuel cell technology, and it’s looking more like a viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries. Hyundai has just released the ix35 FCEV, the UK’s first mass-produced hydrogen-powered car – and we took it for a drive around London.

Why hydrogen?

Electric cars are becoming more popular, thanks in part to cheap, affordable vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, Renault ZOE and the compact but expensive BMW i3.

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These vehicles get their power from lithium-ion batteries – similar to the ones that power our smartphones and laptops – but they come with all the same drawbacks. They’re heavy, performance can degrade over time and, worst of all, they need regular charging. But there is an alternative. Hydrogen fuel cells offer a longer range, are quicker to recharge and, best of all, their only waste product is water vapour.

Hyundai ix35 first drive

The ix35 FCEV is based on the conventionally powered ix35 SUV, but has a completely different powertrain. It’s similar to an electric vehicle – with one major exception. Hydrogen fuel cells release energy in a chemical reaction by combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, while electric cars simply use a battery’s charge.

Hydrogen fuel cells have larger range than their lithium-ion counterparts and are potentially greener too. The only waste products of the chemical reaction are heat and water. Better yet, refilling a fuel cell can take around three minutes – much better than the recharging time of an EV.

Hydrogen is extremely flammable, so must be stored in a reinforced, chilled environment, while the oxygen required for the reaction is collected from the air. This obviously takes some pretty smart engineering, but the potential benefits are big.hydrogen_fuell_cell_6

Driving the Hyundai

When driving the Hyundai around London, it’s very easy to forget the sophistication of its power source. Apart from the left-hand drive configuration of the car we used, there’s very little difference between it and a standard SUV. The boot is smaller than you’d expect, as much of it is taken up by the car’s two fuel cells – but almost everything else in the car is completely standard. The ix35 uses 100kW and two hydrogen storage tanks to offer a top speed of 100mph and a range of 369 miles.

Alongside a smooth power delivery, one of the best and worst things about the car is its total lack of noise. Although the silence made driving a quieter experience, it also had a worrying side effect – pedestrians didn’t seem to hear or notice the car. The result? On busy high streets, I had to avoid several people walking in front of the car simply because they didn’t hear it.

So will it catch on?

While the ix35 FCV appears to tick all the boxes – and even has increased range compared to EVs – its main issue is going to be infrastructure. Electric vehicles are often overlooked for their lack of charging stations, and the situation is even worse for hydrogen-powered vehicles. With only 15, yes fifteen, hydrogen charging stations currently in the UK, the ix35 might be commercially available, but it’ll need significantly better infrastructure to be truly viable.

Read next: Tesla Model 3 rumours surface as Elon Musk pushes engineers for efficient, super-slippery aerodynamics.

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