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Hyundai’s FE Fuel Cell concept car previews hydrogen’s future

Why it matters to you

It shows that Hyundai is serious about hydrogen -- which just might solve our fossil-fuel problems.

Hyundai beat Toyota and Honda to the punch with a hydrogen fuel-cell car, but the South Korean carmaker also took a shortcut. That’s because the current Tucson Fuel Cell is a derivative of an existing model, rather than a clean-sheet design like the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity Fuel Cell.

But Hyundai is now thinking ahead to its next generation of fuel-cell cars. At the 2017 Geneva Motor Show, it unveiled the FE Fuel Cell concept, which shows what a Hyundai fuel-cell vehicle based on a dedicated platform could look like. That’s exactly the kind of vehicle Hyundai will launch sometime next year as a replacement for the Tucson Fuel Cell.

The FE (for “Future Eco”) Fuel Cell is a crossover like the Tucson Fuel Cell, but with styling that’s radically different from any current Hyundai production model. Because fuel cell cars don’t require large radiators, Hyundai ditched the traditional grille for a smooth front fascia. The rest of the body continues that motif, with relatively simple surfaces that contrast with the sculpting and heavy lines of many current cars. Hyundai says the shape is supposed to reference the flow of water — the fuel-cell powertrain’s only emission.

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Speaking of the powertrain, Hyundai says it’s an improvement over the one used in the Tucson Fuel Cell. The FE Fuel Cell concept’s setup is 20 percent lighter and achieves 10 percent greater efficiency, according to the automaker, with a 30-percent increase in the power density of the fuel cell stack. That allows for more power to be produced from the same volume, in theory providing greater range. Hyundai says the FE Fuel Cell can drive 800 kilometers (497 miles) between hydrogen fill-ups.

The FE Fuel Cell concept doesn’t just use fuel cells to propel itself. Water emitted by the fuel cell stack is cycled through a humidifier to make the cabin more comfortable, and electricity is sent to portable battery packs that can charge electrical devices, including a scooter stored in the cargo area.

Hyundai plans to launch its next-generation fuel cell crossover next year, and says that the production model will incorporate some features from the FE Fuel Cell concept. Fuel-cell cars still face major challenges, included limited hydrogen infrastructure and relatively high prices. But Hyundai is hedging its bets: it’s devoting resources not only to fuel cells, but also to hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric cars in a bid to become a major green-car player.