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BMW working on hydrogen fuel cell technology

By raccars Published

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BMW is readying a hydrogen fuel cell powered 5 Series, aiming for production in 2020.

Hydrogen is found more abundantly in the universe than any other chemical element. There's a compelling case for using hydrogen to solve the world's fossil fuel problems, as once converted by a fuel cell into electric power it can be used to power vehicles without producing any exhaust emissions.

It's also much easier to store than other forms of electrical energy, so that hydrogen fuel cell cars offer greater range than other EVs. However at this stage it's not a practical alternative to fossil fuel and plug-in or hybrid EVs because of a serious lack of refuelling points. Of the 8,000 refilling stations in the UK, only five offer hydrogen. Fortunately that situation is changing and a number of countries - including the UK - are planning to extend hydrogen's reach dramatically within the next few years.

BMW and Toyota

BMW doesn't intend to be left behind in this next technological advancement. The Munich engineers have been working on adapting hydrogen as an automotive fuel for about 30 years now, and have been working on fuel cells for the last 15. Finally the firm claims to have created a viable production model which it hopes will be on the road by 2020. BMW is sharing resources with Toyota on this project, which bodes well as the Japanese company already has a hydrogen-fuelled car in production, the Mirai.

5 Series GT fuel cell prototype

Thus far, BMW has a working prototype in the form of a [5 Series GT](http://www.raccars.co.uk/used-bmw/5 Series/), using a Toyota-sourced fuel cell stack with a BMW hydrogen tank, fuel cell housing, high voltage battery and electric drive. Other components are a mixture of BMW and Toyota. The 5cm thick hydrogen tank is made of plastic reinforced with carbon fibre and cased in aluminium, which apparently means it's as safe as a combustion fuel tank and is even bulletproof.

Housed where the prop shaft should sit in the rear wheel drive 5 Series GT, it feeds a fuel cell stacked under the bonnet, which also takes in oxygen through the front of the car. The electricity generated by this chemical reaction feeds an electric motor, which produces about 199bhp to drive the rear wheels, assisted by a little 1kWh battery.

BMW has had to overcome the limitations of using an existing production car in creating its hydrogen-fuelled prototype, whereas Toyota created the Mirai from the ground up to be powered by hydrogen. However the German firm is likely to be working on an all new model to house its hydrogen technology and its very different space requirements, just as it did with the i3 electric car. Not only has BMW had to alter the structure of the 5 Series GT in order to incorporate the hydrogen components, but it has also had to make adjustments to adhere to crash testing regulations.

Smooth ride

Those who have driven one have been very impressed by the driving dynamics of the 5 Series GT FCEV, which emits a low kind of buzz rather than the near-silence of other EVs. The powertrain includes a two gear twin clutch automatic transmission with the gear change being noticeable but not intrusive.

BMW has also been experimenting with new hydrogen refuelling technology using cryogenic storage, meaning that the tank can be recharged within three or four minutes and more fuel can be stored in a smaller space. The tank holds about 7.1kg of hydrogen which, at a price of about £7.60 per kg, means that you'll get a 440 mile range for just over £50.

The cryogenic technology requires its own refuelling system, only one of which is available so far, at a Total station in Munich. However, BMW is planning to offer buyers the choice of either standard or cryogenic hydrogen technology.

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