Skip to main content

Hyundai bets big on hydrogen from sewage, plastic

Hyundai's press conference at CES 2024 focused on hydrogen fuel cells.
Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

Today’s EVs may be stuffed to the gills with massive batteries, but Hyundai rolled into CES 2024 with a reminder: It hasn’t given up on hydrogen yet. In fact, it’s doubling down and finding solutions in odd places, like the toilet and recycling bin.

As part of a plan to develop hydrogen from more environmentally friendly sources, Hyundai has developed processes for obtaining hydrogen from sewage and waste plastics.

According to Chang Hwan Kim, Hyundai’s head of fuel cell development, sewage can be digested with a microorganism that produces biogas, which can then be “upgraded” to hydrogen. Plastic, meanwhile, is melted into a black, honey-like goo, which can also be turned into gas and further refined into hydrogen. Hyundai claims the process can even be used with otherwise non-recyclable plastics. Currently, most industrially available hydrogen is refined from natural gas, making it reliant on fossil fuels.

Hyundai sells just one hydrogen fuel cell vehicle right now, the Nexo, a model it introduced in 2018. But don’t expect to see its lineup shift away from batteries anytime soon. “Batteries and fuel cells are not really competing technologies,” said Kim. “Batteries are energy storage and fuel cells are energy conversion.” Because fuel cells offer superior energy density, Hyundai will focus on bringing them to industrial applications like large trucks, construction equipment, and even ships. A fleet of 30 big rigs powered by its Xcient fuel cells is already operating at the Port of Oakland.

To improve hydrogen infrastructure, Hyundai will also participate in a U.S. government initiative to develop seven regional hydrogen hubs around the United States, use hydrogen at a new EV factory under construction in the state of Georgia, and partner with Indonesia to begin deploying its waste-to-hydrogen process in West Java. The company has invested $1.4 billion in hydrogen since it began development of fuel cells in 1998 and intends to spend another $1.4 billion in the next three years.

Editors' Recommendations

Nick Mokey
As Digital Trends’ Managing Editor, Nick Mokey oversees an editorial team delivering definitive reviews, enlightening…
Toyota uses hydrogen fuel cells to power one of its Japanese factories
toyota uses hydrogen fuel cells to power a factory cell generator

Toyota uses hydrogen fuel cells to power everything from ordinary passenger cars to lunar rovers, but it's not stopping there. The Japanese automaker is testing the use of fuel cells to power one of its factories. An experimental fuel cell "generator" -- built using components from the Toyota Mirai sedan -- has been installed at the Honsha Plant, which is located part of the automaker's main Toyota City campus in Japan. The test shows how fuel cells could provide zero emission electricity to buildings as well as vehicles.

The generator uses two complete Mirai fuel cell systems, according to Toyota. Each system includes a fuel cell stack (that's the part that actually turns hydrogen into electricity), a power control unit, and a backup battery. Using components from the Mirai, instead of developing new components from scratch, helps keep costs down, according to Toyota.

Read more
BMW teases hydrogen cars again with fuel cell X5 concept
bmw i hydrogen next concept fuel cell vehicle 2019 frankfurt motor show



Read more
Hyundai Nexo is the first fuel-cell vehicle crash-tested by the IIHS
2019 hyundai nexo iihs crash test ratings

2019 Hyundai Nexo driver-side small overlap IIHS crash test

The 2019 Hyundai Nexo has taken a small step for a Korean automaker, and a giant leap for public acceptance of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. The Nexo is the first fuel-cell vehicle to go through the full battery of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests -- and it did well. The Hyundai achieved the highest-possible rating of Top Safety Pick+, although that only applies to vehicles built after June 2019. The safety award could be a major coup for Hyundai and other makers of hydrogen cars.

Read more