Hyundai XCIENT: NZ’s first road-ready hydrogen truck

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Lyndsay Whittle and supplied

NZ Post adds the country’s first hydrogen truck to its fleet

While it may have been just a little over six months since New Zealand’s first heavy-duty hydrogen-powered truck hit our shores in its original left-hand-drive configuration, with its hydrogen tanks lying horizontally on its chassis for ease of transportation, a massive transformation has taken place since the first viewing.

The hydrogen tanks have now been elevated to their operational vertical position behind the cab, with the cradle that holds them becoming an integral part of the aerodynamics of the entire unit.

The truck aligns with NZ Post’s goal of being fully carbon neutral from 2030

The aesthetics of the vehicle are completed with NZ Post’s smart new royal blue livery and its sign-written curtainsider body proudly welcoming the hydrogen-powered truck to its fleet.

NZ Post is the first company in the country to invest in the cutting-edge technology of FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles) and was proud to unveil the first of five Hyundai XCIENT heavy-duty trucks soon to hit our roads, making New Zealand the third country in the world after Korea and Switzerland to do so.

The unveiling took place at the NZ Post’s Auckland Operations Centre at Highbrook. Andy Sinclair, Hyundai New Zealand’s CEO says he’s delighted that NZ Post, which is so committed to leading the way in sustainability, is the first to invest in this zero-emission transport technology and that Kiwis should keep an eye out for the XCIENT, as it might be their parcel in the back, travelling without the environmental impact of diesel and in a remarkably quieter manner.

Most functions can be accessed from the steering wheel

NZ Post CEO David Walsh said that taking ownership of a hydrogen truck is an exciting milestone: "NZ Post and we are very proud to be leading the way by putting the country’s first hydrogen truck into commercial operation."

He went on to say that sustainability is "a big deal for all of us at NZ Post and we see hydrogen technology as one way to contribute to reducing our emissions within New Zealand’s road-freight sector. Investing in hydrogen fuel cell technology aligns perfectly with our company’s goal of being a fully carbon neutral business from 2030."

The truck is about to undergo a validation process in which it will be tested in different configurations, first as a truck only, then as a truck and trailer combination on several routes in order to determine the best-operating routes for the technology.Currently, there are no high-capacity hydrogen refuelling stations in New Zealand, so until they come into operation in 2023, the truck will be fuelled using green hydrogen supplied by BOC.

Once the commercial infrastructure is in place next year, this truck’s ideal first operational route is likely to be Auckland–Hamilton–Auckland–Whangarei.

Leading the way in sustainability

The hydrogen tanks sit in a vertical stack behind the cab

Hyundai Motor Company vice-president and head of commercial vehicle global new business development group, Seungmin Lee, spoke passionately about Hyundai’s commitment to bringing fuel cell technology to New Zealand when he said, "XCIENT Fuel Cell is a present-day reality, not a mere future drawing board project.

"It’s the world’s first, mass-produced fuel cell electric heavy-duty truck, which has recorded a cumulated range of four million kilometres until now, with 47 trucks running in Switzerland. With the start of commercial operation of our XCIENT fuel cell trucks,

I hope New Zealand will lead the way in sustainability," he says. Having introduced the world’s first mass-produced fuel-cell electric passenger vehicle, the ix35, and the second-generation fuel cell electric vehicle, the NEXO, Hyundai is now leveraging decades of experience, world-leading fuel-cell technology, and mass-production capability to advance hydrogen in the commercial vehicle sector with the XCIENT Fuel Cell.

How the technology works

The truck in its original form just after arriving in NZ

The electric traction motor with a max power of 350kW and max torque of 2237Nm is powered by two 90kW fuel cell stacks supported by a 72kWh (630-volt) lithium polymer battery.

The electricity generated from the fuel cell stacks power the electric traction motor and recharges the high voltage battery.

This is a result of an electrochemical reaction, which involves hydrogen gas and oxygen from the ambient air; the only by-product of this reaction is water vapour.

Essentially, power is created through an electrochemical reaction inside a fuel cell of which up to 400 can be stacked. Apparently, one cell can produce up to one volt of electricity.
Each cell when described as a sandwich, on one side of a fuel cell, hydrogen gas (H2-two atoms) is fed through a negatively charged anode, which separates the gas into two separate hydrogen atoms, enabling the two now individual negatively-charged atoms to pass through a catalyst (sandwich filling) or more correctly called a polymer electrolyte membrane or proton exchange membrane (PEM).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the sandwich, ambient air (containing oxygen) is fed into the positively charged cathode side.

The movement of the negatively charged hydrogen atoms through the PEM to the cathode side creates a small electrical charge, which when collected from all is used to run the Hyundai XCIENT’s 350kW electric traction motor.

And, of course, the spent hydrogen after being used has combined with the oxygen, giving us what we all know as water.

NZ Post CEO David Walsh, energy and resources minister Megan Woods, Hyundai NZ CEO Andy Sinclair

The event was attended by energy and resources minister Megan Woods who, when offered a trip around the block in the XCIENT, joked that she’d like to drive it.

However, Ms Woods gladly settled for a ride in the passenger’s seat, driven by the best-dressed truck driver you’d ever be likely to see, Grant Doull, Hyundai NZ national manager for hydrogen and eco commercial vehicles.

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