Hydrogen or batteries? This is the million-dollar question when it comes to alternative energy vehicles. Thanks, in part, to the overwhelming success of Tesla Motors’ Model S, many people now believe the future of alternative energy vehicles belongs to battery electric vehicles (BEVs). And it may.
However, there are a number of automotive companies — including luxury vehicle behemoth, BMW — that think the future of automotives is more diverse because of the inherent drawbacks of BEVs. Specifically, because BEVs take a long time to recharge, BMW believes that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) will be more suited for longer-distance trips.
As a result of this belief, BMW partnered with Toyota to develop the Hydrogen 7, which BMW calls the “world’s first production-ready hydrogen vehicle.” Moreover, BMW is also rumored to be developing a new supercar: an i8-based hydrogen FCV.
The Hydrogen 7
As of this writing, the Hydrogen 7 is still in the test phase, so there’s not a lot of official information on the vehicle. Still, Green Car Reports states that the Hydrogen 7, which is based on BMW’s 5 Series Gran Turismo, uses Toyota’s fuel-cell technology and features high-pressure tanks, a battery pack that’s a tad bigger than 1 kilowatt-hour, a 242 horsepower electric motor, and a fuel-cell stack. All together, this gives the car a range of approximately 310 miles, and it can be refueled in minutes. More importantly, BMW hopes to be able to offer the Hydrogen 7 to customers “sometime after 2020,” according to Matthias Klietz, BMW’s head of powertrain research.
Additionally, Car and Driver tested the Hydrogen 7 on the track and reports that thanks to the instant torque — courtesy of the electric powertrain — the Hydrogen 7 feels faster than its horsepower rating implies, and the Hydrogen 7 is remarkably refined. Consequently, Car and Driver believes that BMW’s statement — that the car will be production ready around 2020 — is entirely possible.
The i8 Hydrogen FCV
Unlike the Hydrogen 7, the i8-based hydrogen FCV was built in 2012, before BMW and Toyota joined forces on hydrogen vehicles. However, BBC’s Top Gear reports that this prototype was presented at BMW’s 2015 “Group Innovation Days” in France, and features a tunnel tank that can store hydrogen at 350-bar pressure, has an estimated range of over 300 miles, can go zero to 62 miles per hour in six seconds, and has a top speed of over 124 miles per hour.
Further, it can refuel in minutes, is assumed to be made of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials, is powered by an all-electric 272 horsepower powertrain, and looks to enjoy the impressive styling of BMW’s i8 hybrid supercar. Of course, as of this writing, the i8 FCV is nothing more than a prototype. But, that doesn’t mean BMW won’t eventually slate it for production if FCVs take off.
Hurdles to overcome
BMW acknowledges that there are significant challenges to widespread FCV adoption, including price and the lack of a hydrogen-fueling infrastructure. However, BMW doesn’t see these problems as impossible to overcome. BMW argues that FCVs are a necessary compliment to cars like its i3 electric and i8 hybrid vehicles, and states in a press report, “Since fuel cell electric vehicles are particularly suited to longer-distance trips, they are the ideal complement to the BMW i models, and to the future plug-in hybrid production models from the BMW brand, which will be based on the already proven eDrive technology. … In the long run, hydrogen fuel cell drive will become an integral part of BMW’s Efficient Dynamics programme, adding to the diversity of the BMW Group’s powertrain portfolio.”
Further, Kleitz stated that BMW expects FCVs to have an “established presence” around 2025 to 2030. Plus, BMW is actively pursing ways to help speed up the establishment of a hydrogen-fueling infrastructure. If BMW is correct, and if testing of its Hydrogen 7 goes well, the question really becomes: Will BMW’s next supercar be hydrogen-powered?