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Adventurer Bertrand Piccard breaks world distance record for a hydrogen-powered vehicle

Hyundai has set expectations to stun by breaking the world distance record for a hydrogen-powered vehicle travelling on one tank of fuel. With balloonist and all-round adventurer, Bertrand Piccard, at the helm of a Hyundai Nexo, not only did the Hyundai set a new record, it could have gone further still.

Hyundai is at the leading edge of fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) technology with its Nexo FCEV on course to finish up the year with more units sold than any previous fuel cell-powered Hyundai. To prove just how viable hydrogen is as a fuel of the future, a Nexo FCEV driven by the first person to pilot a balloon around the globe, Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, has travelled 483 miles on one tank of hydrogen.

Whilst it wasn't exactly a voyage to seek out new life and new civilisations, on Monday 25th, Piccard set off from Sarreguemines in the north east of France near the border with Germany. Over the next day, he boldly went where an FCEV has probably gone before, finishing up in Paris at the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace in Le Bourget – a nod to Piccard's exploits not only in balloons, but also his world record, round-the-world flight in solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse. His command of a Starfleet vessel was strangely omitted from the official communications.

"With this adventure, we have proven that with clean technologies, we no longer need revolutionary experimental prototypes to break records. Everyone can now do it with standard zero-emission vehicles,” said Piccard. “A new era in performance is beginning, for the benefit of environmental protection.”

Along the way, and to fulfil the usual PR obligations, Piccard had a crew on rotation, with such dignitaries as S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, the French Minister of Economy and Finance and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg joining him in the passenger seat. Sadly, at no point were there any Geordis on board.

At 483 miles, Hyundai beat a record it set previously in an ix35 FCEV which orbited the M25 in an unbroken trip of over 6000 miles, during which time it travelled 400 miles on a single tank of gas. To us, the latest trip across France sounds much more bearable than circling the M25, which would inevitably mean never even getting close to warp factor one.

As well as the record itself, Hyundai provided data to show in detail some of the stats around the trip:

  • Thanks to the fact that FCEVs purify the air as they go along, on this trip the Nexo cleaned up the equivalent of the volume of air that 23 adults breathe per day.
  • Compared to an equivalent internal combustion SUV undertaking the same trip, 111.2kg of CO2 was saved from entering the atmosphere.
  • Impressively, at the end of the journey the Nexo still showed around 30 miles of range left, meaning that Hyundai has some room to improve its record should it wish to Klingon to it.


Whilst record-setting like this is good PR fodder, it is also useful proof that Hyundai's vision of a future where there is a mix of fuel types – including EVs, hybrids and hydrogen – is more than feasible. In fact, many commentators bemoan the lack of development of hydrogen vehicles which could piggy-back existing refuelling infrastructure and offer an ownership experience where the only significant difference to petrol or diesel is the fuel that people put in the tank.

Other brands such as Toyota, BMW and Audi are pursuing hydrogen, though, so whilst it lags behind battery power, it may still have its day.

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