A Breath Of Fresh Air...

Cars28 February 2019


Hydrogen-powered cars are technically hybrid vehicles because they rely on two fuel sources: a regular battery and a hydrogen fuel cell. Both power the electric motors that ultimately drive the car, but complex control systems decide which of the two power sources provide drive at any given period. The fuel cell uses the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to generate the electricity that powers the motor, whilst the only bi-product from this chemical process is water vapour.

The world is in the grip of a crisis that might just take your breath away. Quite literally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality database, 49 per cent of cities in high-income countries fall short of its air quality guidelines. As air quality declines, the dangers of strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma increase.

The World Health Organization estimates that in London alone, air pollution is responsible for 40,000 premature deaths each year – and London isn’t even the UK’s biggest culprit! A 2016 survey found that more than 40 UK cities breached pollution limits, with London being only the sixth biggest offender.

By 2020, cities such as Oxford will have imposed a zero emissions central zone and by 2040, countries including the United Kingdom and France will have enforced nationwide bans on the sale of all new internal combustion engine cars.Until now, the development of the automobile has  been one of steady evolution rather than revolution. Yet the increasing urgency of critical topics such as air pollution means we’re likely to see more changes to cars in the next 10 years than we have in the previous 100. Interest in battery-powered electrified vehicles like IONIQ Electric and KONA Electric (see p52) has started to carry some momentum into the mainstream, but battery-powered cars can’t offer the entire solution. Step forward NEXO: the hydrogen powered jewel in Hyundai’s eco car strategy.

NEXO hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle not only produces zero emissions (the only thing that comes out of the exhaust pipe is pure water vapour) but it actually cleans the air around it as it drives. When NEXO is driven for just one hour, for example, it purifies 26.9kg of air. That’s the amount needed by 42 adults every hour. Moreover, driving 10,000 NEXOs will produce the same carbon reduction effect as planting 600,000 trees!

That may sound too good to be true, but NEXO isn’t a conceptual endeavour of money-no-object excess, or a design department getting delirious over the Christmas holidays. NEXO is a future-gazing tech pioneer that is firmly routed in the present – an on-trend SUV that will be on sale soon. Beneath the flat underbody is a unified three-tank hydrogen fuel system. This technology has been developed over the last 20 years to allow the fuel tank to be shaped around a five-seat layout so neither passenger nor boot space is compromised.

By passing hydrogen and oxygen through a fuel cell stack, a chemical reaction generates electricity. This powers an electric motor that propels the vehicle. Fuel cell electric vehicles need oxygen, which is taken from the air, to create the chemical reaction with hydrogen. That air needs to be clean, and NEXO is different from other fuel cell vehicles because it has been designed with an advanced three-step air purification system that filters out 99.9% of very fine dust particulates.

If such obsession with detail gives the impression that this isn’t Hyundai’s first fuel cell rodeo, you’d be right. As of July 2018, according to Hyundai’s Thomas Schmid, “more than 70 per cent of all fuel cell cars driving in Europe are made by Hyundai. ”The company’s commitment to hydrogen as a fuel source began almost 20 years ago and has manifested 

itself most recently in a fleet of hydrogen-fuelled public buses as well as NEXO’s forefather – the ix35 Fuel Cell – which was the first fuel cell electric car to be mass produced and made commercially available.

Not to be outdone by the technology under the bonnet, NEXO’s clean aesthetic – highlighted by the impossibly thin LED running strip that extends to the outer edges of the bonnet – disguises a great deal of clever detail. The front bumper features wheel ‘air curtains’, for example, that shape air around the body to aid aerodynamics whilst cooling the fuel cell stack at the same time. Meanwhile, the door handles fit flush into the bodywork when not in use and the rear windscreen wiper is hidden underneath a prominent spoiler, both helping the car to glide through the air.

The interior feels futuristic, almost spaceship-like, and is in many respects a contrast with the exterior’s clean lines. Thankfully, you won’t have to learn how to drive all over again; it’s still right pedal to go, left pedal to stop, twin-spoke steering wheel to turn. The driving position is commanding, and there is room for three people in the back. But the cockpit is highly intuitive and will make you feel as if you are driving the future. The central panel, for example, even has a function that shows the exact amount of air that has been purified on your most recent journey!

NEXO’s air filtration system uses three stages of filtering:

STEP 1 Outside air passes through an advanced air filter where more than 97 per cent of ultra-fine particulates, as well as harmful gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrous dioxide, are filtered out and retained.

STEP 2 Any remaining particulates are absorbed on the surface of the humidifier.

STEP 3 The air reaches the Gas Diffusion Layer within the fuel cell stack. This layer is made of carbon fibre paper with a microspore structure that allows for further filtration. The air released back into the environment has more than 99.9 per cent of ultra-fine particulates and toxic gases filtered out.


Such a rich display of innovation doesn’t stop there. Remote Smart Parking allows NEXO to be parked in tight spots, and can be operated from either inside or outside the car using the key as a remote control. Meanwhile, when indicating, the Blind Spot View Monitor displays a wide angle view of the car’s blind spot directly in front of the driver on the instrument panel, and Lane Follow Assist uses clever radar technology to ensure you drive within your lane. Should you move towards a white line, NEXO will pull you back in – unless you have indicated, of course!

Indeed, NEXO has already completed a 118-mile self-drive from Seoul to Pyeongchang in South Korea, navigating toll gates and slip roads in the process.

With an impressive range of 414 emission-free miles, the environmental benefits of NEXO are obvious, and over the past five years Hyundai has worked with the government to develop hydrogen refuelling stations. The UK’s strategy is to first build reliable clusters of hydrogen availability. London and the South East have been the initial focus as hydrogen stations have started to become available alongside petrol and diesel pumps. However, Swindon, Sheffield, Birmingham and Derby are also getting hydrogen ready, and there is expected to be a strong coverage of some 330 stations across the UK by 2025.

NEXO is a pioneering accomplishment of design and technology that makes the dream of sustainable motoring a much more realistic possibility. The car is environmentally conscious, it refuels just as quickly and simply as a combustion engine car, and it looks fantastic. All this goes to prove that Hyundai is fully committed to hydrogen and sees it as the beginning of a more sustainable future.

Visit www.hyundai.co.uk/new-cars/nexo for more information.

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