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Take a Test Drive in the World’s First Commercial Fuel Cell SUV

October 23, 2015 - 2:25pm


The Department of Energy hosted an exciting and unique visitor last week: the world’s first commercially available, zero emissions fuel cell electric SUV. The first-of-its-kind vehicle was brought to Washington, D.C. by Hyundai executives from South Korea who were in the United States as part of South Korean President Park Guen-hye’s delegation visiting President Obama. They brought with them two Hyundai Tucson fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), which are now being sold in Europe and Korea, and leased in California to everyday consumers. 

FCEVs, which run on hydrogen rather than gasoline and only emit water from the tailpipe, have the potential to be game-changers in our country’s sustainable transportation energy portfolio. They can significantly reduce our nation’s oil use and lower harmful greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. On top of those great benefits, FCEVs also can be more than twice as efficient as today’s gasoline vehicles. The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has long been researching and developing the technologies needed to make FCEVs a viable transportation option for the American public, and the Tucson being made commercially available is a huge step in that direction.

Assistant Secretary David Danielson and Hyundai executives exchange ideas about the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell Vehicle. Photo by Mike Mueller.

EERE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office has worked hard to help cut the cost of automotive fuel cells in half over the last decade, and we continue to make progress in our efforts to improve durability and affordability to enable widespread adoption of fuel cell technologies. In addition to funding research and development, we also validate the technologies under real-world conditions and now have independent data from more than 5.7 million miles of driving FCEVs from global automakers. Part of a broad portfolio of EERE-supported technologies, FCEVs have already shown fast refueling, driving range, and performance on par with many of today’s automobiles—with dramatically less petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions. While hydrogen from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind can cut total well-to-wheels emissions by 90% compared to gasoline vehicles, even producing hydrogen from natural gas (as a transition strategy) can cut well-to-wheels emissions by 50% compared to today’s gasoline vehicles.

Assistant Secretary David Danielson and Hyundai executives examine one of the two the Hyundai Tucson fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) that were hosted by the Energy Department. Photo by Mike Mueller

While visiting our department, Hyundai Motor Company President Jin Haeng Chung and his colleagues explained the company’s future plans and the value of the Energy Department’s independent validation of advanced technologies and international collaboration. Hyundai is not alone in the development of FCEVs—General Motors, Toyota, Honda, Daimler, Ford, and other automakers have been active partners with EERE in developing and demonstrating FCEV technology over the last several years.

Developing a hydrogen infrastructure is challenging—it’s costly to deliver, pressurize, and dispense hydrogen gas—and that is why global collaboration through partnerships such as the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy (IPHE) with 17 countries and the European Commission are so critical.  Here in the United States, we co-launched H2USA, a public-private partnership dedicated to addressing the hurdle of hydrogen fueling stations, and we continue to achieve progress, especially in key regions like California and the Northeast.

This is an exciting time for the hydrogen and fuel cell industry, so be sure to keep an eye out for more FCEVs soon.