Hyundai may lag behind its rivals in offering a battery-electric car, but the Korean carmaker has other plans as it starts to roll out the ix35 fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in Europe. While other carmakers have focused on bringing battery-electric and hybrid models to market, Hyundai has positioned itself as a world leader in FCEV development. The ix35 debuts to the public this week at the Paris Motor Show after touring nine European capitals on the 2012 European Hydrogen Road Tour, using the event to announce plans of commercial availability of the fuel-cell-powered vehicle in 2015.

Hyundai has leased 15 ix35 FCEV’s to Copenhagen for use as municipal vehicles, taking delivery of the cars in the spring 0f 2013. Experts characterize the deal between Hyundai and Copenhagen as a “win-win” for both parties. Considered one of the greenest cities in the world, the Danish capital aggressively pursues its goal of becoming 100 percent carbon neutral by 2025, and implementation of FCEV technology plays a key role in achieving that goal. For their part, Hyundai gets a real-world proving ground for what they believe will ultimately surpass battery-electric technology with its inherent range limitations and lengthy “refueling” time.

Advantages and challenges of fuel cell vehicles

Fuel cells power a vehicle when hydrogen reacts with atmospheric oxygen through a “fuel cell stack,” producing electric power to drive a motor. The only waste product is water. FCEVs have a range similar to gasoline-powered cars (the ix35 has a range of about 365 miles) and can be refueled in minutes — much faster than the hours required for a battery-electric. That’s assuming there’s a hydrogen refueling station anywhere nearby. And therein is the rub. With a battery-electric car, the fuel source is ubiquitous, even if it doesn’t get you very far. Add to that the current estimated initial price tag of $88,000 for a FCEV and the principal challenges to fuel cell technology becomes apparent.

But Hyundai and other FCEV developers are confident those challenges will be met — and soon: “We aim to reduce prices of fuel-cell vehicles to match battery cars by 2020-2025,” says Hyundai’s director in charge of fuel cell research Lim Tae-won. With plans from companies like Germany’s Linde to half the cost of building hydrogen refueling stations and carmakers like Hyundai aiming to cut that $88,000 price tag in half as it rolls out up to 100,000 FCEV’s by 2020, Tae-won sees FCEV’s as ultimately a better choice than battery-powered cars.

Main image credit: Revolve Eco-Rally/Flickr