It was a motoring event big enough to draw Federal Science and Technology Minister Ian MacFarlane to a car launch at Hyundai’s national HQ in Sydney.

Yet unlike other launches, there’s no new model for Australian Hyundai drivers, no place to refuel out there in the broad community, and no existing models sharing the technology driving the latest Hyundai initiative. Even Hyundai’s executives admitted the retail sales of this particular technology are up to 10 years away.

So why the big fuss?

In actual fact there are a couple of claims deserving a headline or two, even during this period of in-field and ongoing development as the technology moves towards the mass market.

Firstly, the ix35 Fuel Cell is the first serious production hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle in the world. Originally built in a batch of 1000 for a lease program in the US, the technology has now been developed to run the cars down a production line up to an annual volume of around 15,000 units. They’ll be aimed at Europe, the US and, of course, Hyundai’s Korean homeland.

It’s no coincidence the company launched the lease program in the biggest state in the US; California is the home of Tesla and Hyundai has the electric car pioneers in its sights, as a techno competition between alternative automotive energy sources begins.

Saudi Arabia and its oil- producing mates needn’t worry yet though. There is only one automotive hydrogen refuelling station (HRS) in the country right now, and it’s at Hyundai’s office. Built by the company to demonstrate the ease of the process, the station itself is also in a development phase.

The company presently buys hydrogen from Coregas Australia, which produces it in a natural gas-powered plant in Port Kembla, on the NSW south coast. It’s also limited to 350bar pressure, so the maximum range of the car in Australia is less than 300km, not the 594km the car can achieve if it is fuelled to maximum capacity.

However, it’s the model for a string of HRSs connecting Sydney and Melbourne initially, that Hyundai calls the “Hydrogen Highway”.  

It appears to be supported enthusiastically by the Federal Government — no wonder, as the fuel is totally renewable and toxic emissions are zero.

We’re going to need a new way of thinking to understand hydrogen fuel efficiency as well. The steel and composite wrap pressure tank on the ix35 holds 144 litres, or 5.64kg of hydrogen. With the range at the maximum 594km, that translates to 24.24L/100km, which is a good indication of the relatively low energy density of hydrogen.

But with the gas able to be delivered from solar energy and water, the non-capital cost of the fuel is equal to the emissions: zero.

Outside you’d be hard pressed to see the difference between this car and the regular ix35. In fact, Hyundai says it is identical.

Driving is Tesla-like, with no engine sound to speak of and instant torque at the touch of the throttle.

With only 100kW though, the ix35 is a slouch, which is not Tesla-like but probably fine in today’s SUV version for city and suburban commuting.

But bringing only one left- hand-drive unit here for the foreseeable future means the first game Hyundai’s playing is enlisting financial support from government.

Without that, fossil fuel/ electric and all-electric cars will decide the course of energy independence in Australia.



© The West Australian