The German brand first put out details of its hydrogen powertrain back in March 2020 when it was mooting it for use in what was then called the iNEXT – an SUV to be offered in both battery and fuel cell electric (FCEV) form.
Now, BMW boss Oliver Zipse has announced that the Group has started “small-scale production of fuel cells… demonstrating the technical maturity of this type of drive system and underscoring its potential for the future”. It’s all part of BMW’s ‘Power of Choice’ strategy, which sees the company putting its eggs in several baskets instead of focussing on battery electric, like most other brands are.
Oliver Zipse said: “As a versatile energy source, hydrogen has a key role to play on the road to climate neutrality. And it will also gain substantially in importance as far as personal mobility is concerned. We think hydrogen-powered vehicles are ideally placed technologically to fit alongside battery-electric vehicles and complete the electric mobility picture.”
The powertrain itself is destined for use in the BMW iX5 Hydrogen and brings the Group’s experience in developing fuel cells to the road. Along the way, BMW has managed to increase the fuel cell’s continuous power output whilst shaving weight from it.
In terms of numbers, it stacks up well against internal combustion and battery electric counterparts. Continuous output – which is the power the fuel cell can sustain indefinitely – sits at 168bhp, whilst an on-board battery is charged by the system to provide a maximum output of 369bhp, albeit this can only be sustained for shorter bursts. BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive tech delivers the system’s power to the wheels.
Two hydrogen tanks hold six kilos of the stuff at 700 bar which should enable a range of over 350 miles.
Whilst the powertrain’s final setup is very much derived from BMW’s in-house engineering expertise, the fuel cells themselves, which are combined to create a fuel cell stack, come from Toyota – BMW’s long-term partner in hydrogen technology development (find out how a fuel cell works). From here, however, BMW has developed a proper fuel cell production line at its Munich plant making it one of the few manufacturers to have established such a facility.
As we’ve said in the past, don’t go thinking that you’ll be able to buy an iX5 Hydrogen any time soon, let alone use it in the real world. In the UK at least, hydrogen filling stations are few and far between. Other issues, such as where hydrogen is derived from, need to be ironed out to ensure that so-called ‘blue hydrogen’ – derived from the petrochemical industry – isn’t treated as allowed to be greenwashed into climate-friendly option. It’s also important that people are aware of hydrogen’s comparative inefficiency compared to battery electric, standing at around 30 per cent vs over 70 per cent respectively.
Still, when derived from the right sources, hydrogen definitely has a place in a zero carbon future, so BMW’s progress is good news.
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