The new Land Rover Defender can do most things already but soon it will have a new trick up its sleeve. It will be able to produce its own electricity.
Turning the reborn 4x4 into a 21st-century mobile electricity generating station involves giving it something that was invented in the 19th century: a fuel cell. Then as now, this uses a chemical reaction to make electricity out of hydrogen and oxygen. The waste product of this process is H2O – just water.
It sounds like the perfect energy solution at a time when we increasingly need lots of electricity to power our vehicles. Jaguar Land Rover obviously thinks the idea is more than just a load of hot air by confirming that it is developing its first fuel-cell concept vehicle.
It is based on the new Land Rover Defender and begins testing this year. The company says it is a step on its journey to achieve zero tailpipe emissions by 2036 and net-zero carbon emissions across all operations by 2039. Any production version is likely still a way off, and meantime hybrids and battery-electric vehicles will continue to steer the company’s electrification strategy, says JLR.
But ultimately fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV) are thought to have a huge future, with one forecast saying there will be 10 million of them on the world’s roads by 2030, with 10,000 refuelling stations worldwide. That is in great contrast to today when there are only a couple of FCEVs currently on sale in the UK, from Toyota and long-time hydrogen champions Hyundai, and only a smattering of hydrogen filling stations, which largely exist to meet the need of commercial vehicles and buses.
Advantages of making electricity by electrolysis include high energy density, rapid refuelling potentially using the current filling station network, and most important for drivers, longer range. There is also nothing to plug in. All you have to do is occasionally top up with hydrogen (under very high pressure) so the cell can go on generating electricity to power the motors. Excess power is stored in batteries – but crucially far fewer of them than a plug-in electric vehicle needs. This is in turn should allow designers to make cars that are smaller and lighter.
JLR says the Defender fuel cell concept, called Project Zeus, will be tested to see how a hydrogen powertrain can be optimised to deliver the performance and capability expected by a Defender owner: including towing and off-road ability.
Jaguar Land Rover’s hydrogen head Ralph Clague tells us: “We know hydrogen has a role to play in the future powertrain mix across the whole transport industry.” He said a production version would “offer another zero tailpipe emission solution for the specific capabilities and requirements of Jaguar Land Rover vehicles.”