Two of the world’s best known automotive manufacturers – Hyundai and Audi – announced this week that they have entered into an agreement that will allow them to cross-patent fuel cell technology for electric vehicles.

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) differ from standard battery electric vehicles in that the energy is instead stored as hydrogen gas in a tank, which then produces electricity when oxygen (from the air) is introduced into the mix.

They are said by proponent to have an advantage over BEVs as refuelling only takes a few minutes to pump hydrogen gas into the tank, but analysts say that they are limited by the need for more expensive infrastructure, and the costs of the technology itself.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles form only a tiny fraction of electric vehicles sales. And Hyundai and Audi’s announcement came just days after Daimler and Ford ended a similar joint venture.

Hyundai and Audi say that by sharing in the development of fuel cell technology, they will be able to leverage R&D capabilities, increasing their joint potential to further lead the way in sustainable transport.

Hyundai already have a big presence in the albeit very small FCEV market as the world’s largest maker of fuel cell SUVs which have been part of their stable since 2013.

In Australia, Hyundai revealed their latest offering last August, the ix35 FCEV. Although offered only as a left hand drive vehicle, it was trialled in Australia as part of the company’s cold weather testing.

The Korean carmaker has also said their flagship FCEV model, the Nexo, will reach the Australian shores late this year.

 

Audi, who are in charge of fuel cell production for the Volkswagen group, say they will benefit from the agreement by accessing Hyundai’s FCEV parts supply chain.

“The fuel cell is the most systematic form of electric driving and thus a potent asset in our technology portfolio for the emission-free premium mobility of the future,” says Peter Mertens, Board Member for Technical Development at AUDI AG.

Hyundai’s subsidiary Kia as well as the entire VW group will also benefit from the partnership, which will allow both companies and their affiliates to equally share the patent licences for an as yet undisclosed multi-year period.

Euisun Chung, Vice Chairman at Hyundai Motor Company, says the agreement underlines Hyundai’s future as a leader in zero-emission vehicles.

“This agreement is another example of Hyundai’s strong commitment to creating a more sustainable future whilst enhancing consumers’ lives with hydrogen-powered vehicles, the fastest way to a truly zero-emission world,” he says.

The partnership may not be limited to patent sharing either, with both companies agreeing to further discuss possibilities for further collaboration.

However, analysts such as Ali Izadi , the head of intelligent mobility at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, say that FCEV will struggle to compete against electric vehicles, particularly for passenger vehicles.

Izadi said only 6,746 FCEVs had been sold to date, compared to more than 3 million EVs, even though the roll-out of competing technologies occurred around the same time.

He says that Daimler and Ford had cancelled a fuel cell j-v, and Nissan Renault has also pulled out. It may work well for heavy vehicles, but even that market faces strong competition from new electric buses and trucks.

Hydrogen proponent say the crossover point from EVs to fuel cell vehicles is 55kWh battery (beyond which fuel cells would have an economic advantage. But Izadi says the crossover was more likely to be 70-80kWh batteries, which means more expensive and luxury models.

“And that’s just for the vehicle, not the infrastructure,” he said.

Additional reporting by Giles Parkinson

 

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