BMW confirms committment to hydrogen cars alongside EVs

BMW has said that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) could become the fourth pillar of its drivetrain strategy as it revealed the first technical details of its new fuel cell system.

The premium car maker said that a single powertrain solution would not meet all customers’ requirements and hinted that its SUVs could be among the models to benefit most from hydrogen-derived power.

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However, it said that mainstream hydrogen-powered passenger vehicles were still some time away as the public infrastructure to support them was still insufficient.

Klaus Fröhlich, management board member for research and development at BMW,said: “We are convinced that various alternative powertrain systems will exist alongside one another in future, as there is no single solution that addresses the full spectrum of customers’ mobility requirements worldwide.

“The hydrogen fuel cell technology could quite feasibly become the fourth pillar of our powertrain portfolio in the long term. The upper-end models in our extremely popular X family would make particularly suitable candidates here.”

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How hydrogen fuel cell cars work

The German car maker outlined its plans to supplement petrol, diesel and electric drivetrains with FCEVs as it revealed more details of its BMW i Hydrogen NEXT project - a collaboration with Toyota.

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The fuel cell system generates up to 125kW of electric energy - equivalent to 168bhp - from the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The electric converter located underneath the fuel cell adapts the voltage level to that of both the electric powertrain and the peak power battery, which is fed by brake energy as well as the energy from the fuel cell.

The vehicle also accommodates a pair of tanks that can hold a total of six kilograms of hydrogen, which can be refilled in around four minutes and offer “a long range regardless of the weather conditions,” according to BMW.

The developmental drivetrain will be piloted in 2022 in a small series based on the current BMW X5 but a customer-ready vehicle will not appear until at least the second half of this decade.

Fröhlich said conditions had to be right before the company would offer a FCEV to the public, citing the need for a readily accessible Europe-wide network of hydrogen fuelling stations.

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He said: “In our view, hydrogen as energy carrier must first be produced in sufficient quantities at a competitive price using green electricity. Hydrogen will then be used primarily in applications that cannot be directly electrified, such as long-distance heavy duty transport.”

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