Faizan Agha, manager of advanced product development for Hyundai Canada, accompanies Black Press reporter Tom Fletcher on a test drive in the prototype Hyundai Nexo hydrogen fuel cell sport utility. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

Hydrogen vehicles entering zero-emission auto market in B.C.

B.C. getting its first hydrogen filling stations in Victoria, Metro Vancouver

Hydrogen fuel cells have powered transit buses, forklifts and other industrial vehicles for years, and they are now emerging as an alternative to conventional hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles for city drivers.

There are about 3,000 hydrogen-fuelled passenger vehicles on the road, mostly in Japan, California, Germany and France. And B.C. intends to lead the way for Canada, as it has done with electric cars.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall hosted a demonstration of electric and fuel-cell vehicles at the B.C. legislature this week. Mungall announced that in addition to more electric charging stations, the province will start a hydrogen fuel network this year with two public retail stations in Metro Vancouver and one in Greater Victoria.

There were two hydrogen vehicles on display, a Toyota Mirai sedan that has been on the market for a couple of years, and a prototype Hyundai Nexo sport utility that I took for a spin along the Victoria waterfront.

Smooth and silent as a conventional electric, the Nexo accelerates rapidly and offers high-tech features like retracting door handles and a power display that illustrates the operation of the hydrogen fuel cell stack.

A pressurized hydrogen fuel tank at the back feeds the fuel cell, producing electricity without combustion. The only exhaust is water vapour, as the hydrogen is re-combined with oxygen to re-create the water it was extracted from.

Faizan Agha, manager of advanced product development for Hyundai Canada, says fuel cell vehicles have two key advantages over plug-in electric. They fuel as quickly as a gasoline vehicle, and their range is more than 600 km, three times that of an electric car that takes 16 hours or more to charge from a standard home plug-in.

Currently, hydrogen vehicles are more expensive to build than mass-market gasoline and diesel cars, but less expensive than battery-powered cars. With the range and portability of fuel, they may be better suited for rural and remote locations, where larger stationary fuel cells are used as clean energy generators in areas off the power grid.

Mungall said the B.C. government is continuing to develop its network of electric vehicle charging stations, doubling the number of fast-charging stations to 64 sites.

The province leads Canada in electric vehicle adoption, thanks in part to point-of-sale rebates of up to $5,000 for the purchase or lease of a new battery electric or plug-in hybrid, and up to $6,000 for a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

The B.C. Scrap-it program offers up to an additional $6,000 rebate for taking an old vehicle off the road and replacing it with an electric or fuel cell car.

BC legislatureElectric vehicles

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