Hydrogen-electric Land Rover Defender to start testing in 2021

Jaguar Land Rover will start testing a Land Rover Defender prototype powered by a hydrogen-electric powertrain in late 2021, the automaker said on Tuesday.

The move is purely about developing and evaluating the technology and doesn’t necessarily indicate that a hydrogen-fueled Jaguar or Land Rover is coming to showrooms anytime soon, though the automaker has hinted in the past that hydrogen has a role to play in its move to have a zero-emission option across its lineup by 2030, and only zero-emission vehicles in its lineup by 2036.

Jaguar Land Rover is developing a hydrogen-electric powertrain that relies on a fuel-cell to combine hydrogen and oxygen in a process that generates electricity and only leaves water as a byproduct. The generated electricity is used to power electric motors driving the wheels, as well as charge a relatively small battery that can also help power the electric motors during high-load situations.

Compared to simpler battery-electric cars, hydrogen-electric cars have minimal loss of range in extreme temperatures. They also have refueling times similar to gas and diesel cars, though actually finding a fuel station that supplies hydrogen is largely impossible in the United States (and most other countries) at present outside of a few spots in California and Hawaii.

The hydrogen-electric Defender prototype is part of the United Kingdom government-funded Project ZEUS (zero and low-emission vehicles in urban society) stimulus program for the automotive industry focused on green technology, which was first announced in mid-2020.

To date, Jaguar Land Rover has primarily focused on plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles when it comes to alternative powertrains. The automaker is beginning to experiment with fuel cells at a time when some rivals are moving away from the technology.

Mercedes-Benz said last year that it would end fuel-cell development for passenger cars, shifting to commercial vehicle applications instead. BMW plans to launch a production version of the X5-based i Hydrogen Next concept in 2022, but it will be built in low volumes. BMW has said a mass-market hydrogen model wouldn’t be ready until the second half of the decade at the earliest, and then only if market conditions were favorable.

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Only Honda, Hyundai and Toyota currently sell hydrogen-electric cars in the U.S., though sales are limited due to the aforementioned lack of fueling infrastructure.

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