Future tech: BMW and hydrogen fuel cells

BMW hydrogen fuel cell drive technology.

As part of its research and development work in the area of drive technology, BMW has focused on the use of hydrogen as an energy source for more than 30 years. In 2006, the first luxury sedan for everyday use to be powered by a hydrogen combustion engine was unveiled – the Hydrogen 7. A constant stream of significant advances – in terms of energy efficiency, performance capability and everyday practicality – have been made with this technology, which converts hydrogen into power for an electric drive system, rather than burning it inside the engine.

The results of BMW’s activities in the field of hydrogen fuel cell drive systems was presented in driving demonstrations for the first time during BMW Group Innovation Days 2015. The demonstration vehicle, based on a 5 Series Gran Turismo, reveals a take on this form of propulsion in keeping with the brand’s profile and character. It combines locally emission-free mobility with sporting dynamics, excellent ride comfort and long-distance capability.

The prototype 5 GT has an electric motor that develops 245 hp, with integrated power electronics and high-voltage battery for interim energy storage. Developed as a variant of BMW’s eDrive technology for its i cars and plug-in hybrid models, the car stores hydrogen in the form of a tunnel tank between the front and rear axle. Cryogenic pressure vessel technology (CCH2) patented by the BMW Group for storing hydrogen at low temperature and 350 bar pressure delivers an operating range of over 500 km.

A strategic collaboration between BMW and Toyota, signed at the beginning of 2013, has provided fresh momentum for the development of fuel cell electric drive technology. The aim of the collaboration is to have an initial group of approved components ready by 2020. The two partners are supporting this process through jointly-created technological standards which make fuel cell-powered vehicles easier to use and help to increase their reach and numbers.

On another note, the hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) represents a pioneering concept focusing on locally emission-free mobility combined with hallmark BMW dynamics and a high level of energy efficiency. The hydrogen fuel cell drive system combines the benefits of BMW eDrive technology with a host of qualities familiar from conventional combustion engines, including all-electric, emission-free driving; instantaneous power delivery and impressive dynamics from the BMW i drivetrain; power electronics, high-voltage battery and intelligent energy management based on the BMW Group’s eDrive technology; long-distance capability with an operating range of more than 500; and fast and convenient refuelling in under five minutes.

Fuel cell technology makes an ideal addition to both the BMW i models and, in the future, the series-produced models from the BMW brand fitted with tried-and-tested eDrive technology. It converts the gaseous hydrogen contained in the storage tank into electric power and water vapour. The vehicle’s high-voltage battery serves as an energy storage unit and can therefore be considerably smaller – with a net capacity of around one kilowatt hour – than in battery-electric concepts. Storing hydrogen in a cryogenic pressure vessel can, depending on the type of vehicle, allow an operating range comparable with that of conventional vehicles powered by combustion engines. Filling up the hydrogen storage tank takes a similar amount of time as refuelling a gasoline or diesel tank.