Hyundai Fuel Cell Technology + Fuel Cell Aquaponics Farm
by Maria Serra, Onclaude Founder
As the first car company in the world to assembly line-produce fuel cell vehicles (up to 1,000 will be available by 2015), having been researching the technology since 1998, Hyundai now aims at proving that hydrogen is a truly viable proposition and not just a futuristic folly.
The Korean company sees Europe, in particular, as the cradle of this new hydrogen economy and has, in fact, established here a sustainable “Hydrogen Road Map” with London its most strategic node.
A leading member of the London Hydrogen Partnership created in 2002 by the Greater London Authority, Hyundai will soon be delivering five emission-free ix35 fuel cell cars to the city and is committed to nurturing and promoting a positive culture around hydrogen as a more sustainable approach not only to mobility but to economy in general.
With this goal in mind, the company has recently collaborated with London-based design studio Something & Son, an innovator in urban farming and sustainable living, to show people the real-life benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology. The outcome of this creative collaboration was the Fuel Cell Farm, an aquaponics ecosystem powered by the ix35 Fuel Cell, which was unveiled on 21st October this year outside the Design Museum in London.
Aquaponics is a sustainable farming solution which combines “hydroponics” (growing plants in water), and “aquaculture” (raising fish in tanks). As one of the few by-products of fuel cells is water (the other one is heat), the combination of these two green technologies is absolutely fascinating, even visionary perhaps. What it does is provide an easy, tangible context for understanding how the fuel cell technology actually works and what impact it has on the environment. To put it in very simple terms, instead of releasing CO2 emissions that generate pollution, hydrogen-fuelled cars just produce water, which can obviously be reused in many different ways.
We had an interesting conversation with Robin Hayles, ix35 car Product Manager, and Natasha Waddington, Head of PR for Hyundai UK, about these topics.
One of the challenges for a sustainable hydrogen-fuelled economy seems to be that the methods currently used to extract hydrogen rely on electricity, which is generated largely through polluting processes. What are your views on this?
From a sustainable point of view, this is a very interesting issue. For us, as a car company, it’s a slightly strange situation where we need to go to great lengths to explain why hydrogen is important rather than just trying to sell a car, but we need to be able to explain to customers why hydrogen is important and what you said there makes it easier. It’s important to explain how hydrogen can act as an energy carrier. You can’t depend on sustainable energy or renewable energy such as wind power. As a basic example, when the wind doesn’t blow, you don’t get any power, but alternatively, if the wind is blowing too strongly, you can’t control the renewable power that’s being produced, so you can use that electricity that’s being produced by a renewable source to create hydrogen and, once that’s happened, you can use that hydrogen in a number of different ways.
Obviously, in our way, we use it within a fuel cell to create electricity and power. I think that’s a very important part of the whole project, to explain hydrogen as an energy carrier and as a future power source and how it works. Certainly, for us, with the ix35, it’s one of the things we do whenever we pull out a vehicle, explain to the public the broader concept of hydrogen as a fuel rather than just hydrogen as a road vehicle fuel. As you said there, from a sustainable point of view, you need to explain not just the benefits of zero emissions, but how hydrogen can help developing countries where they don’t have traditional fossil fuel power systems.
The introduction of fuel cell technology in the automotive mass market is potentially a breakthrough innovation. Are there already any stations operating in London for fuelling the ix35 fuel cell car?
As a country and as a city, we’re involved in a number of different projects. One of them is UK H2Mobility, which is focusing on hydrogen as a road transport fuel, not just within fuel cells, but in a broader range of ways. We’re also part of Hydrogen London, which is an interesting project. It’s very interested in developing London as a key market for hydrogen, but also fuel cell technology. There’s also some quite serious investment going into the production of copper hydrogen, so reverse electrolysis. We work quite closely with a tech called ITN Power.
There’re two hydrogen stations at the moment in London. They’re publicly accessible sites. They’re our sites that are run by Air Products. At the moment, the hydrogen is transported in. There’s also an on-site production facility, which is planned, and that will be towards the east side of London and there’ll also be an additional station for road vehicle use in North London. Now those stations are being developed under a project which is run by Air Products in the UK and that’s the London Hydrogen Network Expansion and that will see five fuel stations being brought into the UK by the end of 2015.
You may have seen some of the work we did on the fuel cell farm. If you look at our partners in that, they’re already looking at hydrogen in fuel cells outside of road transport fuel as almost a sustainable way of life I suppose, to explain it. Coming back to the fuel station, through UK2Mobility the networking stations have already been developed and we hope to have somewhere in the region of 65 stations by 2017. Again, we’re working with a number of different partners, a gas company, a green production company, as well as various government departments to make sure that that’s something that becomes a reality, so we can start to have a proper and a realistic roll-out of the fuel cell vehicle within the next five to ten years.
How did you come up with the idea of collaborating with Something & Son for the Aquaponics installation that you presented together at the Design Museum?
Our goal was mainly to educate people about the benefits of the technology, as the whole idea of hydrogen and how it can actually be used is very far away from their everyday experience; it doesn’t affect their lives yet. Now that it is becoming a much more realistic proposition from a manufacturing perspective but also from a government agency point of view, we need to educate people in a way that makes sense to them. We came to this project because we wanted to create something with a visual representation of the benefits of the technology and explain that our zero emission car only produces water. This was the key point that we wanted to communicate to people who might not understand all the details of the technology, but who can see how sustainable and green the car is. We asked a creative agency we are working with in London, which is called Unity, to come up with a number of ideas on how best to showcase the green story around the car and they suggested working with Something & Sons and producing a one-off aquaponics installation.
What kind of response did you get from the audience?
More than anything else, most of the people recognised that it was a very innovative way to showcase a new technology and we had a very good response in terms of the amount and quality of feedback we received. Opinion formers, especially on social media, took the story and used it in an interesting way to educate people about the technology. The collaboration with the Greater London Authority and with the Design Museum contributed to giving value to the event, of course. We hosted a lecture where we presented an infographic explaining how the whole system worked and we invited eco-chef Tom Hunt to create a menu based on the farm's products.
Do you see it as a one-off experiment or are you interested in embarking on similar collaborative projects in the future?
With the perspective of mass production of this car, we’ll need to widen our collaboration to other potential partners in order to educate the public. The actual installation is going to be donated to a college which focuses on sustainable food. They will take on-board the aquaponics system and use it and this definitely adds value to what we did, so it’s actually much more than just a one-off. Collaboration is the best way to tell the whole story in a meaningful way and to help people to understand the bigger picture, so it is definitely something that we want to pursue.
Watch a video about the Hyundai Fuel Cell Farm:
Would you like to better understand how the Fuel Cell Farm works? Take a look at this infographics, which was presented at the Design Museum: