Future of hydrogen fuel vehicles get a boost as Hyundai joins forces with INEOS

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Hyundai FCEV Image
Hyundai's hydrogen fuel cell SUV, which was launched in 2018, on display

INEOS Group which is owned by Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, is joining forces with the South Korean automotive manufacturer Hyundai Motor in a bid to give hydrogen fuel cell vehicles the boost they need to become more mainstream.

Mr. Ratcliffe’s INEOS Group will explore opportunities to produce and supply hydrogen to Hyundai, which has been making fuel cell vehicles in low volumes since 2013. In the Grenadier, the Land Rover-like sport utility vehicle INEOS aims to bring to market next year, Mr. Ratcliffe may also use Hyundai’s fuel cell system.

Makers of cars and chemicals are finding common ground in their pursuit of hydrogen projects. Targets are being set globally to phase out the combustion engine and decarbonize industrial production. INEOS, which makes 300,000 tons of hydrogen annually, could play an instrumental role in helping set up the infrastructure Hyundai needs for models like the Nexo SUV to catch on in Europe.

“There’s verbiage and there’s getting on and doing stuff,” INEOS Chief Technology Officer Peter Williams said. “We would like to do something of serious scale in the next five years.”

For Mr. Ratcliffe and INEOS, helping to kick-start the hydrogen economy will open up more attractive uses for the gas output of his company, a byproduct of chlorine-making brine electrolysis. INEOS currently uses it at refineries for fuel and desulfurization. It also has gas-storage caverns underground that could be used for hydrogen.

Hydrogen future

Hyundai and Japan-based Toyota Motor Corp. still see immense promise in their technological advantages, even though the relative growth of battery-electric cars has put some doubt on the future of fuel-cell vehicles. Hydrogen tanks can be refilled more quickly than recharging batteries, and fuel cells, especially in heavier vehicles, can provide greater driving range.

“Clearly Hyundai wants to see their fuel-cell technology used globally,” Mr. Williams said. “They set up a business and they want to grow it and get into Europe and probably the US as well.”

By 2030, the South Korean carmaker aims to grab as much as 15 percent of Europe’s hydrogen-fueled truck market, targeting countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. Earlier this year, the company delivered the first batch of such trucks to Switzerland and expects to manufacture 1,600 units by 2025.

Collaborating with Hyundai could also provide a boost to INEOS’ plan to enter the auto market. Mr. Ratcliffe had announced plans to develop an SUV comparable to the Land Rover Defender earlier in 2019.

Although the Grenadier model will initially operate on six-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines supplied by BMW, sometime in the future INEOS will evaluate the suitability of using Hyundai’s fuel cell system.