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Hyundai's next-generation fuel-cell stacks revealed: Why the Korean brand thinks you'll be considering an affordable hydrogen car by 2030

Hyundai continues to back a hydrogen future for both commercial vehicles and passenger cars, despite what some rivals may say.

Hyundai has revealed its next-generation fuel-cell drivetrain technology, which will power an expanded range of hydrogen passenger cars and trucks starting in 2023.

The ‘third-generation’ stacks are significantly smaller and more affordable than the second-generation technology, which currently powers the Nexo SUV and Xcient heavy-duty truck, two of the first mass-produced fuel-cell vehicles in the world. It is part of the brand's 'Hydrogen Vision 2040' roadmap.

The new system is offered in two forms, a 100kW unit and a 200kW unit aimed at passenger-vehicle and commercial applications respectively. The 100kW passenger-car unit - which replaces the one currently in the Nexo - is some 30 per cent smaller.

The 200kW unit is roughly the same size as the unit in the Nexo but has had its output doubled for the same mass. The brand says it has been able to reduce the amount of precious metals required, as well as change the majority of the interior surface from graphite to steel in order to significantly bring costs down.

Hyundai says the second-generation stack was ‘durable’ enough to run for up to 10 years, but the third-generation unit has been engineered with commercial vehicles in mind and as such will be able to last 500,000km instead.

Hyundai says the price of fuel cells could drop up to 50 per cent by 2030 – making them cost competitive with battery-electric technology. The brand’s head of fuel-cell development, Saehoon Kim, explained he expects this to be true even with the dropping costs in battery technology at present.

The third-generation units are modular and are able to be stacked to offer outputs ranging from 500kW to 1MW, and usage has been suggested for even heavier applications like marine freight, or as a backup system for IT infrastructure.

Hyundai's Xcient truck family will also receive a next-generation update in the near future. Hyundai's Xcient truck family will also receive a next-generation update in the near future.

Hyundai says not only will these new cells appear in the next-generation Nexo due to debut in the second half of 2023, but will also be in a FCEV version of the Staria people mover and at least one model from both the Kia and Genesis brands by 2025.

To that end, the brand showed multiple fuel-cell based concepts including a tram, a mobile power generator and smaller-scale power packs which can be used for “forklifts and excavators.”

While some rivals, particularly VW Group, are opposed to the use of fuel-cell technology, citing its inefficiency compared to battery-electric technology, Hyundai believes fuel cells can help to make smooth the curve of demand between peak and off-peak times for renewable power generation, and create a more portable energy source. It believes both battery-electric and fuel-cell technologies are required to achieve a “zero-emissions society.”

The next-generation fuel cells are smaller, more affordable, more powerful, and more durable. Hyundai says they will debut in vehicles by 2023. The next-generation fuel cells are smaller, more affordable, more powerful, and more durable. Hyundai says they will debut in vehicles by 2023.

It has also not ruled out investigating such technologies in the future as hydrogen combustion engines, as Toyota has experimented with, saying it needs to remain technology neutral.

“We are not against any technology, but there needs to be a balance between hydrogen consumption and the production of hydrogen vehicles,” explained Mr Kim. “I hope Toyota has success in both hydrogen combustion engine and fuel cell – it will help build a hydrogen society.”

Hyundai has stated on multiple occasions that it hopes its Toyota rival will continue to bring competition to the hydrogen space, as it has already done with the Mirai which is currently the only fuel-cell vehicle to rival the Nexo. Toyota is also trialling commercial vehicles with its Hino brand in Tokyo.