While battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are fast growing in popularity, BMW is developing an alternative powertrain system for its emissions-free mobility roll-out. The project, called BMW i Hydrogen NEXT is based on fuel cell technology, which it’s developing in collaboration with Toyota. Both firms have been developing this tech since 2013.
“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” said Klaus Fröhlich, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Research and Development
For those not in the know, a hydrogen fuel cell car generates electricity by means of a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen from ambient air. The byproduct or emission from this reaction is a substance called H20, known also as water. The energy created is then channeled to a motor which drives the car.
The fuel cell system is able to generate up to 125kW of electricity just from the chemical reaction alone. There’s also an electric converter located underneath the fuel cell which adapts the voltage level to that of both the electric powertrain and peak power battery, which is fed by kinetic energy recuperated via braking and power from the fuel cell itself.
BMW says the peak power battery is there to give the system more power when accelerating or overtaking. They claim a total system output of 275kW with both the fuel cell and battery in action. The hydrogen is kept in a pair of 700 bar tanks that can together hold six kilograms of hydrogen, which can be refueled in just 3 to 4 minutes. “This guarantees a long range regardless of the weather conditions,” notes Jürgen Guldner, VP of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology and Vehicle Projects.
However, the Bavarians highlighted the lack of hydrogen filling stations Europe-wide and competitive pricing for hydrogen as the two major factors in adoption.
The i Hydrogen NEXT concept is based on the current X5 and will go into small-series production in 2022 as a pilot program for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with plans to offer a production variant after 2025. So don’t expect to see them anytime soon.