First, an argument: what is a motor, and what is an engine? This is the sort of debate that tends to plague the comments on any sort of electrically powered vehicle, causing much name-calling and e-bloodshed. There’s an easy out when internal combustion is involved – you just call the motivating device a “mill” or “powerplant” or (my personal favourite) a “stove.”
“Hey bud, that thing got the big stove option?”
“Yeah right she does, bud!”
“Oh right on, eh – let’s take ‘er for a rip!”
And *scene*. But what about this Hyundai? Pop the hood and there’s this sort of complicated apparatus that looks like an industrial dishwasher. What’s a “fuel cell”? Be it engine? Be it motor? Be it witchcraft? As it turns out – all three, sort of.
Let me come back to our argument briefly. There is a belief held in the automotive world that engine refers to combustion-derived motive power and motor to electrical power. So sayeth Wikipedia, but it’s wrong: a motor is anything that transforms one kind of energy into mechanical work, whereas an engine is anything that creates motive force by consuming fuel. The finer points of the definition involve the sort of fracas between lab-coat-wearing eggheads that you see in Far Side cartoons, but let’s defer to MIT’s assessment that the words are, in modern usage, nearly synonymous.
And anyway, a fuel-cell powered vehicle is technically both motor and engine. The fuel-cell stack consumes fuel in the form of compressed hydrogen gas, stripping electrons as the H2 reacts with oxygen from the air to produce water and electricity. The electricity is then used to power electric motors to turn the wheels, and there are regenerative brakes as in a hybrid.
This is the only hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle you can buy in Canada, the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle, which we’ll call FCEV for brevity. Sorry, that’s incorrect: you can’t actually buy the Tucson FCEV. You may lease it for $599 a month over three years, with a required down payment of $3,995. Oh, and you can’t just waltz into a dealership either, you have to sign up online as a sort of beta tester and hope your application is picked.
Despite this somewhat convoluted process, Hyundai reports that demand is far outstripping supply. To be fair, supply is only currently sitting at two cars, both delivered in BC, but there does seem to be a considerable clamour for the car. Given the large number of electric vehicles available to the buying public (last year Nissan sold nearly 1,000 Leafs), why would anyone bother with a more complex fuel cell vehicle? And where does one buy hydrogen – your local zeppelin hangar?