Audi h-tron quattro concept: Audi joins the hydrogen fuel cell party with a 600km-range SUV

Audi has just unveiled its first hydrogen car. Called the h-tron quattro concept, Audi’s new SUV was shown off during a press conference at the Detroit Auto Show, and looks almost identical to the e-tron SUV shown in Frankfurt. However, unlike the battery-powered e-tron, the h-tron gets its power from hydrogen.

Audi h-tron quattro concept: Audi joins the hydrogen fuel cell party with a 600km-range SUV

Audi describes the h-tron three key features as “high range, swift refuelling [and] sporty road performance,” and the car’s statistics appear to back it up. The SUV’s fuel-cell technology delivers up to 110kW while an additional battery provides a 100kW boost. The h-tron channels power to a front-mounted electric motor that produces 90kW and rear-mounted one that produces 140kW. The result? The h-tron can reach 62mph in under seven seconds.

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But the main benefits of hydrogen are range and refuel time, and the Audi h-tron appears to excel in both. Audi says the the h-tron takes just under four minutes to refuel, and could have a range as large as 600km (372.8 miles) from a full tank. Interestingly, that’s 60 miles more than the e-tron.

Is hydrogen the answer?

Thanks to companies such as Tesla and Faraday Future, EVs are big news – but they’re not the only option for sustainable transport. Hydrogen fuel-cell cars have been around for a similar amount of time – and they’re gaining momentum. Last year we drove a fuel-cell-powered BMW, and in the last quarter of 2015 alone, we took two hydrogen-powered production cars for a spin; the Hyundai ix35 and the Toyota Mirai.

Many believe hydrogen is an inefficient “petrol substitute” – including Elon Musk – but regardless of your opinion, it’s clear that hydrogen is being seriously considered by manufacturers. Audi has already unveiled the e-tron, so its desire to unveil a hydrogen car soon afterwards suggests it thinks both technologies are important – and could even co-exist. It certainly doesn’t have anything like the range or the infrastructure enjoyed by EVs, but there’s no doubt: hydrogen fuel-cell technology is on the radar for many OEMs.

How do hydrogen cars work?

Hydrogen cars use specially prepared H2 hydrogen as a fuel, separating the molecules using a proton exchange membrane. Electricity and H1 molecules are produced as a byproduct of the reaction, and power the car. After that, oxygen from the air is added to the free H1 particles to make water vapour – the Mirai’s only waste product.

The Mirai stores its hydrogen in two pressurised, robust tanks, but uses a nickel battery as a buffer to store and send energy to the car’s front-mounted electric motors. Why not lithium? It’s because nickel is more profitable for Toyota, more reliable and better at the high-frequency charge cycles it’s used for.

Read next: Toyota Mirai review

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