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BMW iX5 runs on hydrogen fuel cell; company building 100 pilot vehicles.

BMW Embracing Hydrogen, Again

BMW is producing 100 iX5 hydrogen fuel-cell-powered utility vehicles to take advantage of Europe’s renewed build-out of hydrogen.

BMW is among a handful of companies that continue to pursue hydrogen-powered passenger cars. The German automaker this week demonstrated its latest batch of test vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

The reasons BMW, as well as Hyundai and Toyota, continue to develop hydrogen-powered electric vehicles is that they view hydrogen as a better fuel for trucks and SUVs than batteries. And with the European Union and the U.S., as well as China, building out hydrogen production and distribution hubs, the refueling infrastructure to support hydrogen-powered vehicles could be forthcoming.

BMW’s iX5 combines fuel cells made by Toyota with the company’s existing iX EV powertrain, plus a 2.0-kWh lithium-ion battery. The advantage of hydrogen is in the refueling.

Fuel-cell cars are powered by compressed hydrogen gas that feeds into an onboard fuel cell “stack” that transforms the fuel’s chemical energy into electrical energy. This electricity then powers the car’s electric motors. Refueling time is comparable to refilling a tank with gasoline. The heavier a vehicle is, the less efficient a battery is and the more effective a hydrogen stack is.

In the case of the iX5, the hydrogen stack produces 395 hp with 16 lbs. (7.3 kg) of hydrogen on board, giving the vehicle a range of 310 miles (499 km).

BMW will produce 100 iX5s and keep them in a demonstration fleet. They are built at BMW’s R&D center, known as The Fiz.

The automaker has been experimenting with hydrogen vehicles going back to the 1990s, putting hydrogen fuel cells in 7-Series sedans. But there has been scant interest in investing in hydrogen infrastructure either by automakers or governments outside of small markets such as Iceland and Norway.

But Russia’s war on Ukraine and the resulting disruption to energy markets has given the EU countries dependent on Russian oil and gas some resolve to build out a hydrogen economy.

Germany has about 100 hydrogen refueling stations at present. Billions are being invested in developing hydrogen distribution with an emphasis on generating “green” hydrogen made from wind and solar energy. China is building the world’s largest green energy production facility.

“Hydrogen is a versatile energy source that has a key role to play in the energy transition process and therefore in climate protection. After all, it is one of the most efficient ways of storing and transporting renewable energies,” says Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG.

Most of the interest in hydrogen to power vehicles is in commercial trucks, including semi-tractor trailers. But BMW and Toyota, to name two, believe the time is almost upon us where passenger cars can take advantage of the hydrogen hubs being developed for trucking and stationary power.



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