Hyundai's Hydrogen Plans Could Jumpstart US Fuel-Cell Trucking

Hyundai Xcient Fuel Cell Truck
Credit: Hyundai


Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can deliver many of the same benefits as pure battery-electric vehicles without the need for a large battery pack or extended charge times. The issue is that the refueling infrastructure is far less robust than is required for mass adoption. It's why fuel-cell vehicles like the Toyota Mirai are only available for purchase in California.

At CES 2024, Hyundai unveiled a bold plan that could potentially jump-start the adoption of hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) by creating fuel from food waste and non-recyclable plastics. Under the "HTWO" banner, the company announced an overarching proposal that covers everything from the creation, storage, and transportation of hydrogen to deploying vehicles run on the abundant element. 

The main portion of the plan is a megawatt-scale PEM electrolyzer to produce green hydrogen from the methane created from food waste. A more impressive proposal is creating hydrogen from unrecyclable plastics. Hyundai told SAE that it already has programs in Korea that produce hydrogen from these sources. While CES is known for pie-in-the-sky ideas, Hyundai is already on its way to making this happen. 

At the press event announcing the plan, Jay Chang, President and CEO of Hyundai Motor Company said, “Clean hydrogen should be for everyone, powering everything, and available everywhere.”

Hydrogen passenger vehicles have been available in the United States for years. The issue isn't the technology in the cars, it's the lack of a robust infrastructure outside of a few areas. 

While the majority of the hydrogen technology seems to have been focused on the automotive sector, the reality is that the fuel could be used beyond passenger vehicles. Hyundai is all in on the electrification of passenger vehicles. But for commercial trucks, it realized that there needs to be a lighter solution that offers more range while offering fill-up times on par with gas and diesel. 

Toyota for its part has had a fleet of hydrogen trucks and fueling infrastructure at the port of Long Beach and late last year, opened a facility that produces renewable electricity, renewable hydrogen, and water from directed biogas. 

Hyundai is offering something on a much larger scale. The company plans to produce and distribute hydrogen throughout the country and is working with partners to make this a reality. Those partnerships will likely include other companies that build long-haul trucks in need of an alternative fuel source for their vehicles in the future as emissions regulations get more stringent. 

Another reason Hyundai stated for its hydrogen production and distribution future is that in some regions, people don't have easy access to fossil fuels or a robust electrical grid for a variety of reasons. Building a hydrogen infrastructure within those areas using food waste and unrecyclable plastics (items are available nearly everywhere on the planet) levels the playing field for those areas. 

In addition to trucking, the system can be also be used for public transportation including buses and trams. In California, Orange and Alameda Counties are already using hydrogen-powered buses. A larger supply of the fuel would allow for additional regions to implement these buses and reduce emissions. 

There's also the benefit of these refineries and distribution centers needing employees. Technology can only get a company so far and it's people that make these ideas into a reality. The world might be focused on battery-electric passenger vehicles (and rightfully so), but public transportation and shipping also need to adjust and hydrogen is a solid solution in addition to batteries. 

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