2014 LA Auto Show: Audi A7 Sportback H-tron Quattro is a Plug-in Hydrogen Hybrid

As we’ve said many times already this week, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles seem to be the darling of this year’s LA Auto Show, with multiple automaker debuting production and concept hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The Audi A7 H-Tron Quattro Concept combined hydrogen fuel cell technology with a plug-in hybrid.

The Audi A7 H-Tron Quattro Concept combined hydrogen fuel cell technology with a plug-in hybrid.

For the most part, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles being demonstrated by Toyota, Hyundai and Honda are being marketed as an alternative to battery electric cars and plug-in hybrids, with their creators saying that hydrogen fuel cell cars give all the benefits of a zero-emission electric car but without any of the drawbacks.

But one car being debuted at the LA Auto Show this year shows that there’s a middle-ground where plug-in technology and hydrogen fuel cell technology can coexist in a joyous union: the Audi A7 Sportback H-Tron Quattro Plug-in hybrid concept car.

The Audi A7 Sportback H-Tron Quatrro concept is based on the current generation Audi A7 Sportback, but features two electric motors — one for each axle — to provide all-electric all-wheel drive capabilities and a total power output of 170 kilowatts. It’s also reasonably quick, taking 7.9 seconds to reach 62 mph from standstill, with an electronically-limited top speed of 111.8 mph.

Much like the Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid, the A7 Sportback H-Tron Quattro concept features a 8.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which can be recharged from a standard charging socket in a few hours and can provide up to 31 miles of range in all-electric mode.

Drive on electric when you can, and hydrogen when you need to.

Drive on electric when you can, and hydrogen when you need to.

Unlike the Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid — which turns on its 1.4-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine when the battery pack is depleted — the A7 Sportback H-Tron Quattro concept switches on its hydrogen fuel cell stack to generate enough power to provide up to 310 miles of total range from a full tank of hydrogen at an energy efficiency of around 62 miles per kilogram of fuel.

As Audi points out, the normal operation of the hydrogen fuel cell stack  — which likes to be at around 80 degrees Celsius — puts a fairly high demand on the vehicle’s cooling system, but manages to operate at an efficiency level of around 60 percent. That’s far more efficient than a comparable gasoline engine would be for a similar power output.

What’s more, Audi says, the fuel cell stack can operate at temperatures as low as -28 degrees Celsius.

As we’ve pointed out several times this week, hydrogen-only vehicles do face some significant challenges on their way to mass-adoption, including the energy-intensive methods currently used to produce just 1 kilogram of hydrogen, a lack of refuelling infrastructure and a rather poor overall energy efficiency when compared to purely electric vehicles.

But Audi’s A7 Sportback H-Tron Quattro concept deftly demonstrates, a plug-in hybrid with a range-extending hydrogen fuel cell stack is by far the best use of hydrogen fuel cell technology since it combines the convenience of range-extending capabilities for longer-distance trips with the ease of use of a traditional plug-in car.

And if we’re honest, it’s the only hydrogen fuel cell car we think has a commercial chance.

Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • MEroller

    The fact that hydrogen is the smallest of all elements makes it so volatile that no known material is able to keep it confined in a small space for long – let alone at up to 700bar which I assume Audi also uses in this car. nnSo there is a real danger that the usual kind of usage of a range-extended plug-in vehicle will not be possible: Fill up the hydrogen tanks and then forget about them while driving on externally charged electrical power alone for months on end. Only to actually need the range extension from time, but with the hydrogen all but gone (diffused) from the tanks within a few weeks being left stranded somewhere along the way…nnSo this kind of range extender vehicle should only be filled up with hydrogen directly before range extension is actually needed.

    • Michael Thwaite

      Yep, I came to the exact same conclusion when considering H as a range extender – I’d use it two or three times in the life of the car only to have spent $100’s refuling every few months.

      • MEroller

        I had a short discussion today with a colleague who used to work in the development of hydrogen tanks and fuel systems. He said the high leakage was mainly a problem of cryongenic hydrogen tanks, so for liquified hydrogen. He said that for the carbon-fiber compressed hydrogen gas tanks pretty impermeable polymer barriers had been developed that should able to keep in the hydrogen for longer. I will post more on this when I find out more…

        • Michael Thwaite

          Please do, that could make a big difference – I’d much rather have a hydrogen range extender than result to an old clunky petrol engine.

  • I agree that only a plug-in FC vehicle has a chance at commercial success. “Fueling” up conveniently and cheaply in your own garage is hard to beat. http://carswithcords.blogspot.com/2014/11/audi-shows-plug-in-fuel-cell-hybrid-car.html

  • Martin

    I certainly like the concept that you can run it as an EV most of the time but you can fill up with Hydrogen for the long trips and to cover things like power cuts etc. Hydrogen from spare electricity ought to come down in price when renewables get to the point that there is spare electricity to make hydrogen. This point is already here at some places in the UK and it will become much more wide spread in the future at least across Europe. nnI’d sign up for one as soon as they start to make them for sale if it was in my price bracket. Being an Audi it might just be a bit too expensive for me but I’d certainly like to see them around.