Can Hydrogen fuel cell cars go mainstream? This tie-up in UK may help do it

Jim Ratcliffe
Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, is joining forces with Hyundai Motor Co. in a bid to give hydrogen fuel cell vehicles the boost they need to become more mainstream.

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. Ratcliffe may also use Hyundai’s fuel cell system in the Grenadier, the Land Rover-like sport utility vehicle Ineos plans to bring to market next year.

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 decarbonise 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 in an interview. “We would like to do something of serious scale in the next five years.”

For Ratcliffe, 68, helping to kick-start the hydrogen economy would open up more attractive uses for his company’s output of the gas, a byproduct from the electrolysis of brine to make chlorine. Ineos currently uses it for fuel and desulfurisation at refineries. It also has underground gas-storage caverns that could be employed for hydrogen.

While the relative growth of battery-electric cars has cast some doubt on the future of fuel-cell vehicles, Hyundai and Toyota Motor Corp. still see enormous potential in their technical advantages. Hydrogen tanks can be refilled faster than batteries recharge, and fuel cells can offer greater driving range, particularly in heavier vehicles.

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

The South Korean carmaker aims to capture as much as 15% of the hydrogen-fueled truck market in Europe by 2030, targeting countries including Germany and the Netherlands. The company shipped its first batch of such trucks to Switzerland earlier this year and plans to produce 1,600 units by 2025.

Collaborating with Hyundai may also give Ineos’s plan to enter the auto market a boost. Ratcliffe, who is worth $25.9 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, announced plans in 2019 to build an SUV similar to the Land Rover Defender.

While the Grenadier will initially run on six-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines supplied by BMW AG, Ineos will assess the suitability of using Hyundai’s fuel cell system sometime in the future.

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