Audi is turning its attention back to hydrogen fuel cells as EV optimism gets a dose of reality

Audi is hedging its electrification bets, according to a new report that it is restarting its h-tron hydrogen fuel cell program.

According to Autocar, Audi is still planning to bring up to a dozen battery-electric vehicles to market by 2025, but chairman Bram Schot confirmed that the brand’s sixth-generation hydrogen fuel cell-powered prototype will also be introduced later this year and that small numbers of the pilot production for its planned Audi FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) could be leased to consumers as soon as 2021.

Concerns are growing about the ability of raw material suppliers and battery manufacturers to meet increased demand for lithium-ion cells as more established automakers and EV startups enter the electric car market (and battery-powered personal electronic devices continue to proliferate). Production of Audi’s own e-tron SUV has been slowed by battery supply issues.

“We really want to speed it up,” Schot said. “We are going to put more priority into hydrogen fuel cells—more money, more capacity of people and more confidence.”

Audi h-tron side profile

Despite concerns about battery supplies, the latest version of Audi’s fuel cell system is actually a hybrid that combines a fuel cell with a rechargeable 35-40 kWh battery, good for about 90 miles of range on its own.

Last year, Audi and Hyundai announced that the two firms were jointly developing technology for FCEVs. Hyundai currently sells the limited production fuel cell-powered Nexo SUV. Schot did not give a precise timeline for when Audi will produce FCEVs in volume, but he said that could take place by the latter part of the 2020s.

In addition to potential battery supply woes for manufacturers, and the ever-present issue of EV range, consumer concerns about long charging times and poor cold weather battery performance are slowing the acceptance of electric vehicles. One can refuel a hydrogen powered FCEV faster than you can recharge BEV batteries.

When Audi revealed the h-tron concept vehicle in 2016, it claimed a range of up to 373 miles with a refueling time of only four minutes. That’s less time than it takes to fuel up many gasoline and diesel vehicles and a fraction of the time it takes to recharge a BEV. The issue, of course, is getting the fueling infrastructure in place for such powertrains to be feasible in the real world.

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