Besides electricity, the BMW Group is also building on hydrogen as the most environmentally friendly type of fuel for powering its vehicles of the future. The advantages of this technology are evident, but the question of where large quantities of “green hydrogen” are to come from has still not been resolved.
Jules Verne was not only a gifted writer – world-famous works such as “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” or “Around the World in 80 Days” were penned by him. The French author was also a visionary when it came to technology. Around 150 years ago, he already described H2O as our “coal of the future”: The energy of tomorrow would be water that had been separated by means of electric power. His foresight alone would have predestined the storyteller to become a BMW Group employee. But firstly, Verne did not possess the engineering expertise and, secondly, BMW had not yet been founded then.
The novelist was basically right: Alongside electric mobility, hydrogen, the lightest chemical element in the universe, is ideally suited to help us overcome our dependency on fossil fuels. Moreover, it is the ideal accumulator to accomplish the changeover to infinitely available but strongly fluctuating sun and wind energy. The applied principle is simple: The electricity generated with the help of regenerative energy sources is used to gain hydrogen from water. This way the energy can be stored. In order to release the energy, hydrogen is combined in the fuel cell with oxygen and turned into water vapour with the help of a catalyst.
The BMW Group has carried out research into hydrogen powered drive systems for decades now. Klaus Fröhlich, Chief Development Officer of the BMW AG, expects “various types of alternative drives to coexist alongside each other in future”. In the long term, the hydrogen fuel cell drive could become a fourth pillar in the BMW Group’s drive portfolio.
However, the practical realisation of Verne’s idea is not quite as simple as the theory. Hydrogen is only sustainable as an energy source if it is gained by means of regenerative electricity. And it has to be produced in large quantities in order to also be available for individual mobility as “green hydrogen”.
But there are also other obstacles to overcome. Above all, an extensive network of hydrogen filling stations must be established in order to improve the supply of hydrogen fuel. Until then, the BMW Group continues to work on improvements, for example, to reduce the cost of this visionary drive system.
The next milestone will be the small series of the BMW i Hydrogen NEXT, which is to be presented in 2022. The fuel cell concept featured by its drive system delivers up to 170 hp of electric energy alone through the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. For this purpose, two 700-bar tanks, together holding a total of six kilograms of hydrogen, are fitted inside the vehicle.
In order to be ideally prepared for the technological demands of the hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle by the second half of the decade, the BMW Group has also entered a cooperation with the Toyota Motor Corporation. Moreover, both companies are founding members of the Hydrogen Council, in which many leading companies in the sectors of energy, commerce and industry work jointly on this fuel of the future.