BMW Begins Road Tests of Hydrogen Fuel Cell X5

An electric BMW sport utility is on the way in the form of the iX, and a hydrogen fuel-cell BMW is now on the way as well. This week the automaker began road tests of the BMW i Hydrogen Next, and the company plans to offer it relatively soon, in 2022.

The testing that began this week will aim to tune the software controlling the car’s driving and operating functions, the automaker said, following static tests of the fuel cell system and hydrogen tanks. BMW is also aiming to get practical experience using this drivetrain in real-world conditions.

The i Hydrogen Next (why didn’t they just call it the H5?) will pair BMW’s eDrive technology already rolled out in vehicles like the iX3 with a hydrogen fuel cell technology developed along with Toyota—one of the other major players in this field. So the vehicle itself is largely based around architecture and technology borrowed from existing vehicles, rather than being a model developed entirely from scratch, which suits the model’s planned small-series production volume.

The SUV promises 374 hp—the same as the most powerful inline-six gas engine in the automaker’s lineup, as BMW points out.

“The energy stored in the performance buffer battery is generated in a particularly efficient way during driving by recovering energy from coasting overrun and braking phases,” the automaker says. “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. Its precisely controlled reaction with oxygen in the fuel cell generates electricity, while water vapor is the only emission produced by the drive train.”

BMW has been experimenting with hydrogen fuel cell technology for decades, so this is not an entirely new direction per se, even though it might surprise some enthusiasts of the marque especially now that EVs are going mainstream. But BMW’s efforts in this field are still a few rungs below Toyota and Honda, which have already fielded hydrogen fuel cell cars.

“Hydrogen fuel cell technology can be an attractive option for sustainable drive trains – especially in larger vehicle classes,” says Frank Weber, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Development. “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.”

BMW indicates that it believes hydrogen fuel cell drivetrains could become an attractive alternative to EVs, but with a planned small-series production it’s not quite going all-in, unlike Toyota and a few other automakers that have marketed unique sedan designs for years. BMW’s own experience dates back quite a bit further, but it’s clear that its priorities are now aimed more at electric vehicles.

Will hydrogen fuel cell cars take off in this decade, or is this destined to be a niche technology? Let us know in the comments below.

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