Audi has announced that it will intensify development of hydrogen fuel cell technology, a move driven by concerns over the sourcing of natural resources for battery production, as well as doubts over high expectations customers have for modern electric cars.

According to Autocar, company chairman Bram Schot said the automaker will re-establish its h-tron programme and make it the centre of competence for hydrogen fuel cell technology within the Volkswagen Group. “We really want to speed it up,” he said, adding “we are going to put more priority into hydrogen fuel cells – more money, more capacity of people and more confidence.”

Schot also confirmed that a new sixth-generation hydrogen fuel cell prototype will be revealed later this year, and that a small number of pilot production Audi FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle) model could be offered to customers as part of a lease programme by 2021.

The model will apparently be produced on a dedicated line at Audi’s Neckarsulm plant in Germany – a site that presently produces the A6, A7 and A8. “If this modality is here to stay, then you have to try to find the most effective and efficient way to drive electric. And then you come to hydrogen fuel cells,” said Schot.

At the debut of the h-tron fuel cell concept, Audi said the vehicle boasts a travel range of up to 600 km. But more impressively, the time required for a full “refuel” is just four minutes. Its electric propulsion system generates 550 Nm of torque, goes from 0-100 km/h in less than seven seconds, and has a top sped of 200 km/h. It also features a heat pump for the cabin and a solar roof (generates up to 320 watts) that adds 1,000 km to the total annual range.

The concept sure sounds promising, and the move to put more emphasis on fuel cell development is in line with Audi’s plan to introduce up to a dozen pure-electric battery vehicles by 2025. Some upsides to FCEVs include greater range while lessening the requirement for charging during long journeys and in cold weather.

Audi’s sixth-gen fuel cell system will also incorporate a battery that can be charged via a plug. Depending on the model, the battery capacity is rated at around 35 to 40 kWh, which is significantly less than the all-electric e-tron (95kWh). It is, however, sufficient for up to 150 km of range alone.

For now, it’s unclear when Audi’s FCEV models will make it to volume production, but Schot is confident that this could happen during the second half of the next decade. The new fuel cell technology is developed from a cross-licensing agreement with Hyundai, which already sells the Nexo SUV. In June 2018, Audi and Hyundai have announced that they will cooperate on fuel cell tech – the VW Group has already been working on fuel cell concepts for almost 20 years.