Water and electricity usually don't make a good mix, but BMW wants to prove otherwise with its i Hydrogen Next powertrain.
The German marque has started to test vehicles with a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain in everyday conditions in Europe. The aim of the prototypes is to show how the drivetrain works under real-life conditions.
The i Hydrogen Next uses electricity, just like in battery EVs, but converts hydrogen into electricity in a fuel cell, just like how fuel works in a internal combustion engine.
With the testing program, BMW could spawn a model line with "sustainable drive technology," developed on the building blocks of the X5 in late 2022.
"Hydrogen fuel cell technology has the long-term potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems, and battery electric vehicles (BEVs)" within the BMW’s drivetrains.
"It could become 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," BMW Development Board Member Frank Weber cited.
“Hydrogen fuel cell technology can be an attractive option for sustainable drivetrains, especially in larger vehicle classes,” Weber added. “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.”
Like the fuel tank of a conventional combustion-engine model, the hydrogen tank of the i Hydrogen Next can be filled within three to four minutes. With the tank topped up, it will promise a range of several hundred kilometers in all weather conditions, BMW said.
Energy is generated in the fuel cell, a chemical reaction between the hydrogen carried by the vehicle and oxygen from the air. This delivers an electrical output of 170hp, BMW said.
An electric converter located below the fuel cell adjusts its voltage to that of the electric motor to send power to the wheels.
A performance buffer battery stores some energy "for dynamic acceleration and short bursts of speed for overtaking." As a result, the system delivers a boost of 374hp, a number which BMW said matches that of its in-line six-cylinder engine currently used in its other models.
The buffer battery stores energy when the vehicle is coasting, or braking. The hydrogen needed to supply the fuel cell is stored in two 700-bar tanks made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), which together hold six kilograms of hydrogen.
The CFRP tanks precisely control the reaction of the oxygen mixing with the fuel cell, while water vapor is the only emission produced by the drivetrain.
The i Hydrogen Next uses fuel cells developed in collaboration with Toyota Motor Corporation. Toyota supplied the individual cells, while the fuel cell stack and complete drive system are original BMW.
As the collaboration started in 2013, it seeks to find the everyday practicality of hydrogen fuel cell technology in each company’s respective production vehicles.
Photos from BMW