Hyundai's hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle, NEXO, made its debut at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, NV and is currently selling in its home town of South Korea. This clean-lined crossover, available in two editions, emits only water from the tailpipe and actually purifies the air when it is in motion. The NEXO features a 95 kW fuel cell stack coupled with a 40 kW lithium-ion battery pack, for a total power output of 135 kW and a driving range of about 370 miles per fill up. The fuel cell stack uses hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to generate electricity. Hydrogen is flowed through the fuel cell, where the atoms are split into protons and electrons. These electrons create a circuit of electricity and then recombine with the protons, back into hydrogen atoms, which join with oxygen from the air, creating water as a byproduct. The air supplied to the Hyundai NEXO fuel cell stack goes through a three-step air purification process which filters out impurities for efficient fuel cell operation. When this air is released back into the environment, it is cleaner than when it was taken into the fuel cell.
Filling up the NEXO with hydrogen is not all that different than filling up a traditional vehicle at the gas station. Hydrogen pumps work similar to traditional pumps, but feature secure sealing mechanisms for safety. Hydrogen fill ups take just about the same few minutes of time as a traditional fill up, making the process a relatively seamless integration into how we fuel our vehicles. According to the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center, only two states in the U.S. currently have publicly accessible retail hydrogen fueling stations, California and Hawaii. California has just over 30 public fueling stations connecting northern and southern parts of the state and Hawaii just celebrated the grand opening of their first public fueling station in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. The station was opened by Servco at their flagship Toyota dealer in Mapunapuna where hydrogen is produced onsite, through electrolysis. Electrolysis is the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This hydrogen is then stored to be distributed as fuel through the station. Onsite solar power is providing a portion of the electricity needed for electrolysis at the Servco hydrogen station. When hydrogen is produced using renewable resources, it is referred to as renewable hydrogen. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, even when the hydrogen for a fuel cell vehicle is produced by natural gas, carbon dioxide can be reduced by up to half and if the hydrogen is renewable, the reduction is 90 percent. Additional hydrogen stations are under construction and expected to open later this year in California and also the U.S. Northeast, which will connect areas of New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
Fueling up the NEXO may not significantly change our everyday experience, but driving the NEXO does completely redefine vehicle emissions. Whereas traditional vehicles are known to emit a list of pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds, fuel cell vehicles emit only purified air and water. In addition to clean emissions, other redefining features of the NEXO include the whole-home concept where NEXO is used to improve overall quality of life. The power generation output of the Hyundai NEXO power module could potentially be integrated into the home, similar to adding solar power or batteries. The electricity could be used to power necessary appliances in times of disaster or be used to offset traditional grid power consumption, leading to a cleaner environment and greater energy security. Water emitted by the NEXO could be recaptured and used for purposes such as indoor hydroponics to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in the home. Hyundai's NEXO isn't just another vehicle on the road. It is potentially a game changing technology that could redefine the way we view, consume, and create energy and preserve our natural resources.