BMW Begins On-Road Hydrogen Car Trials

BMW has begun testing near standard production vehicles converted to hydrogen fuel cell powertrains on public roads in Europe.

The trials aim to explore the technology’s advantages and challenges in real-world driving situations in everyday traffic. Prototypes of the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT will be used to assess how effectively drive train, model-specific chassis technology and vehicle electronics systems work together under these conditions.

The testing program is expected to pave the way for the BMW to present a small-series model with this sustainable drive technology, developed on the basis of the BMW X5, in late 2022. Extensive field testing of these vehicles is hoped to provide practical experience in the use of this sustainable drive technology.

The automaker says hydrogen fuel cell technology has the long-term potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems and battery-electric vehicles within its flexible drive train strategy. It views fuel cells as an attractive alternative to BEVs, especially for customers who do not have their own access to electric charging infrastructure or who frequently drive long distances.

Chief advantages include the familiarity of an ICE vehicle with a hydrogen tank that can be filled within three to four minutes with a fuel that ensures a range of several hundred miles in all weather conditions. The hydrogen needed to supply the fuel cell is stored in two 700-bar tanks made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, which together hold six kilograms of hydrogen.

The field test vehicles use fuel cells from the product development cooperation with the Toyota Motor Corporation. The individual cells come from Toyota, while the fuel cell stack and complete drive system are original BMW Group developments. The complete drive system combines hydrogen fuel cell technology with fifth-generation BMW eDrive technology, already deployed in the BMW iX3.

The fuel cell delivers an electrical output of 125 kW/167bhp. An electric converter located below the fuel cell adjusts its voltage to that of the electric motor, which powers the vehicle. Energy stored in a performance buffer battery is also used for dynamic acceleration maneuvers and short bursts of speed for overtaking. As a result, the system delivers a combined output of 275 kW/370bhp that matches the most powerful six-cylinder in-line gasoline engine currently used in BMW models.

Frank Weber, member of the board of management of BMW responsible for development, said: “Hydrogen fuel cell technology can be an attractive option for sustainable drive trains – especially in larger vehicle classes. That is why road testing of near-standard vehicles with a hydrogen fuel cell drive train is an important milestone in our research and development efforts.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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