BMW gave up on hot hydrogen ‘years ago’

BMW says it abandoned hot hydrogen technology “years ago” when it proved that the combination of hydrogen as a fuel and internal combustion engines was not suitable for the needs of passenger vehicles.

Talk with GoAuto during the recent prototype test BMW iX5, hydrogen fuel cell vehicleBMW Group Hydrogen Technology and Vehicle Project Managing Director Dr Juergen Guldner said that while the technology can be adapted to other applications, as recently demonstrated by Toyota – it made no sense in passenger vehicle applications.

“We actually started with hydrogen combustion with a project called Hydrogen 7 almost 20 years ago, and we stopped it because of the lack of efficiency,” he explained.

“Basically, with the X5 Hydrogen FCEV, we manage to travel about 500 km from a full tank. If I put a combustion engine in the same car with the same tank, I wouldn’t even reach 300 km. That’s the difference between a product we can sell and a product we can’t sell.

“After 500 km, and with a refueling time of three to four minutes, I think people will consider switching to hydrogen. So it makes sense.”

Efficiency issues were highlighted during the recent test of the hydrogen-powered Toyota HiAce Commuter in Melbourne. The vehicle, powered by a slightly modified 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 combustion engine, only managed 120kW and 354Nm, compared to 305kW and 650Nm for its petrol counterpart.

In addition, the model’s limited range (around 200 km) is much lower than that of the petrol HiAce Commuter, which manages to travel almost 600 km per tank.

But Dr Guldner says that doesn’t mean the technology isn’t without merit. In some applications, he says, H2-ICE technology could prove a cost-effective way to convert commercial fleets to cleaner energy sources.

“The story is a little different for trucks than it is for racing,” he said.

“In these applications, you need power, and a combustion engine can deliver more consistent power than a fuel cell in the space you have in the engine bay. That’s why Toyota does it for racing.”

“There are also trucks with a hydrogen combustion engine, and in this case the difference in efficiency is not as great because the passenger car engine is used more dynamically.

“A truck is constantly moving, and the efficiency of a combustion engine is best when you’re moving at a constant speed.”

As BMW, Toyota and others have stated, the future of transportation will be multifaceted depending on the applications.

It is very likely that we will see smaller commuter cars powered by electric batteries, larger passenger vehicles using hydrogen fuel cell technology, and commercial vehicles using a mix of combustion engine types, potentially within decades.

In this sense, hydrogen is only part of the solution for the future, not the miracle solution we all hope for.

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