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BMW gave up on hot hydrogen ‘years ago’

Efficiency of hydrogen combustion engines unsuitable for passenger vehicles, says BMW

8 Jul 2024

BMW says it gave up on hot hydrogen technology ‘years ago’ when it proved the combination of hydrogen fuel and internal combustion engines was unsuitable for the needs of passenger vehicles.


Speaking with GoAuto at the recent prototype drive of the BMW iX5 Hydrogen FCEV, BMW Group general project manager of hydrogen technology and vehicle project Dr Juergen Guldner said although the technology may be suitable for other applications – such as that demonstrated recently by Toyota – it did not make sense in passenger vehicle applications.


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


“Basically, with the X5 Hydrogen FCEV we get around 500km from a fill. If I put a combustion engine in the same car with the same tank, I wouldn’t even get 300km. That is the difference between a product we can sell, and a product we cannot sell.


“At the 500km mark, and with a refuelling time of three- to four minutes, I think people will consider making the move to hydrogen – so, it is relevant.”


Efficiency concerns were a point noted at the recent drive of Toyota’s hydrogen-powered HiAce Commuter in Melbourne. That vehicle, fitted with a lightly modified twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 combustion engine, achieved just 120kW and 354Nm against the 305kW and 650Nm of its petrol sibling.


Further, the model’s limited range (of approximately 200km) fell well short of the petrol-powered HiAce Commuter which manages around close to 600km per fill.


But Dr Guldner says that doesn’t mean the technology is not without merit. In certain applications he said H2-ICE technology may prove to be a cost-effective means of converting commercial fleets to cleaner energy sources.


“The story is a little bit different for trucks, and for racing,” he stated.


“You need power (in these applications), and a combustion engine can deliver more constant power than a fuel cell in the space that you have (available) in the engine compartment. That’s why Toyota is doing it for racing.


“There are also hydrogen combustion engine trucks, and in that instance the efficiency difference is not as high because the passenger car engine is being used more dynamically.


“A truck runs constantly, and the efficiency of a combustion engine is better when you run at a constant speed.”


As BMW, Toyota and others have stated, the future of transportation is one that will become multifaceted according to application.


It is highly likely we will see smaller commuter cars being battery electric powered, larger passenger vehicles using hydrogen fuel cell technology, and commercial vehicles using a mixture of combustion engine types, potentially for decades to come.


In that sense, hydrogen is only part of the solution moving forward, and not the silver bullet we might all be hoping for.

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