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275kW BMW X5 FCEV starts real world testing

BMW says hydrogen is an ‘attractive alternative’ to battery EVs and hybrids

18 Jun 2021

BMW IS trialling hydrogen as the potential “fuel of tomorrow” with the aim of offering a low-volume fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) based on its X5 SUV as early as late 2022.


As a result, the ‘i Hydrogen NEXT’ has officially started its everyday, real-world testing and trials in Europe which will continue through to next year with BMW reportedly examining the efficiency of the powertrain in real-life conditions.


According to the brand, the test program “will pave the way for the BMW Group 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 will provide practical experience in the use of this sustainable drive technology,” it said in a statement.


BMW Australia told GoAuto that it was closely watching the trials and given acceptance by the local market in conjunction with the necessary infrastructure, would welcome such as vehicle to its Australian range. However, a spokesman said this could be some time away.


The i Hydrogen NEXT uses fuel cells courtesy of the product development cooperation between BMW and the Toyota Motor Corporation with previous efforts yielding Z4/Supra twins. 


The individual cells come from Toyota, while the fuel cell stack and complete drive system are original BMW Group developments. 


BMW and Toyota’s co-operation commenced in 2013 and aims to optimise the everyday practicality and scalability of hydrogen fuel-cell technology for use in each company’s respective production vehicles through the intensive exchange of experience.


The BMW trial mirrors a similar “real-life” test program starting later this year by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). 


The British company now has a single Defender FCEV ready for trial under the brand’s Project Zeus program announced earlier this year and said it wants zero emissions from all its models by 2036, promoting FCEVs alongside its battery-electric, program believing both have a place in the market.


JLR ambitiously announced that it forecasts there will be 10 million FCEVs on global roads by 2030 supported by 10,000 hydrogen refuelling stations.


BMW has not been as bold, saying that FCEV technology “has the long-term potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems and battery-electric vehicles within the BMW Group’s flexible drive train strategy”.


“It could become an attractive alternative to battery-electric drive trains – especially for customers who do not have their own access to electric charging infrastructure or who frequently drive long distances,” a spokesperson said.


According to BMW board member responsible for development Frank Weber, “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 drivetrain is an important milestone in our research and development efforts,” he said.


A central element of the i Hydrogen NEXT road tests now underway is the fine-tuning of the software that controls all of the driving and operating functions. 


“The fuel cell system, hydrogen tanks, performance buffer battery and central vehicle control unit have all previously been tested individually and together in hundreds of test runs conducted on test benches,” the spokesperson said. 


“This functional testing is now being followed with field testing on the roads. 


“The intensive program, which is conducted under everyday conditions, with thousands of kilometres driven in real traffic situations, helps development engineers validate the efficiency, safety, convenience and reliability of all components.” 


Similar to the fuel tank of a conventional combustion-engine model, the hydrogen tank of the i Hydrogen NEXT can also be filled within three to four minutes and allows for “a range of several hundred kilometres in all weather conditions”.


The fuel cell generates an electrical output of 125kW while an electric converter located below the cell adjusts its voltage to that of the electric motor, which then powers the vehicle.


The system delivers an maximum output of 275kW, which BMW says “corresponds exactly to that of the most powerful six-cylinder in-line petrol engine currently used in BMW models – thereby guaranteeing the driving dynamics the brand is known for”.


Hydrogen needed to supply the fuel cell is stored in two 700-bar (10,153psi) tanks made of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), which together hold six kilograms of hydrogen. 


BMW said its precisely-controlled reaction with oxygen in the fuel cell generates electricity, while water vapour is the only emission produced by the drivetrain.

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