Why has hydrogen car start-up NamX ditched fuel cells for H2 internal combustion engines?
By Sourced Externally
December 14, 2023
For the past 18 months, the Paris-based company has billed its ‘HUV’ model as an H2-powered electric vehicle
Hydrogen car start-up NamX says it has made a “strategic move” to use an H2 V8 internal combustion engines (ICE) for its first vehicle, having previously been marketing its “Hydrogen Utility Vehicle” (HUV) as a fuel-cell electric model.
The Paris-based company says it has chosen ICE technology because fuel cells “rely on rare earth metals”, and combustion engines are “a proven and time-tested technology that has benefited from decades of investment and continuous enhancements” — even though there are currently no road vehicles with hydrogen engines on the market.
“Internal Combustion Engines ensure greater stability and predictability when it comes to production costs, shielding the company and its customers from the price fluctuations associated with the supply of rare minerals,” NamX said in a statement.
“Hydrogen combustion engines also boast higher robustness and versatility compared to fuel cells, as they eliminate the need for high-purity H2, which entails regular replacement of air and hydrogen filters and can accommodate lower-quality, cheaper hydrogen.”
Filters are needed in hydrogen electric vehicles to keep the fuel cells clean, which can be easily damaged by particulates. Toyota recommends that its Mirai fuel-cell car has its ion filters replaced every 35,000 miles (56,000km).
The company adds: “The decision to opt for a conventional engine allows NAMX to leverage the existing and wide-ranging automotive repair & maintenance network, with easy and cheap access to spare parts. This ensures a longer and more cost-effective lifecycle for NAMX vehicles compared to its electric counterparts. Consequently, the life-time value of the HUV is considerably expanded for each stakeholder involved.”
The 6.2-litre four-stroke V8 engine will be supplied by Solution F, a subsidiary of the GCK group, NamX says. According to the GCK website, combustion within its engine “generates only water vapour and a small quantity of nitrogen oxides [NOx]”. NOx emissions are harmful to human health and can act as indirect greenhouse gases; fuel cells emit zero NOx.
However, NamX — which stands for New Automotive and Mobility Exploration — has not addressed the main drawback with internal combustion engines, which is that they are highly inefficient, generally making use of only about 20-40% of the energy contained within their fuel, with most of the energy lost as heat.
By comparison, current fuel cells utilise 40-60% of the energy contained within hydrogen.
This inefficiency would inevitably make hydrogen ICE cars more expensive to run than fuel-cell models, as they would require more H2 to travel the same distance.
According to recent research by Hydrogen Insight, H2 fuel is now so expensive in California — one of the largest markets for hydrogen cars — that a Toyota Mirai is now 14 times more expensive to run than a comparable Tesla EV.
NamX’s 30-year-old founder and CEO, Faouzi Annajah, added: “Our choice of Hydrogen ICE technology is a significant leap forward in both design and engineering.
“We now look forward to introducing our rolling HUV prototype equipped with a V8 hydrogen combustion engine in the coming 12 months.”
The NamX HUV was unveiled to the public in May last year, and attracted attention due its six removable hydrogen storage capsules that the company says can be delivered to the user, effectively enabling an equivalent of home charging.
NamX is currently taking orders on its website for two versions of the “2022 HUV”, the 300-horsepower €75,000 ($80,700) GT model and the 500-horsepower €95,000 GTH, both of which can be pre-ordered for €1,000 for delivery in Q4 2026.
Both models have a stated range of 800km, with the GT travelling from 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds , and the GTH in 4.3 seconds — however, judging by the 2022 date of these vehicles, these statistics are more likely to be for the earlier fuel-cell versions.
According to start-up tracking website Tracxn, NAMX is “unfunded”, with no institutional or angel investors and no funding rounds to date.
Earlier this year, fellow Paris-based luxury hydrogen automaker Hopium put the development of its only vehicle, the €120,000 Machina car, on the backburner in an apparent bid to generate income in the short term from its fuel-cell technology — and is now fighting for its survival.