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Hydrogen to hit the highway: new BMW i8 fuel cell unveiled

Published: 02 July 2015

Fuel-cell powered BMW i8 revealed
► Test mule for hydrogen drive system
► BMW claims 300-mile range

As part of BMW’s continued push towards hydrogen fuel cell-powered production models, the German manufacturer has revealed this striking-looking BMW i8 fuel-cell prototype test vehicle at a technical preview event.

Apart from the latest hydrogen tech under its bodywork, that new, square-cut coachwork itself could provide a few clues as to how BMW’s future i models might look.

What sort of powertrain drives this sci-fi prototype?

The Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) system converts hydrogen, stored below 150 degrees C in a cryogenic tank centrally mounted in the car, into electric power and water vapour. A high-voltage battery then stores the resultant electrical energy. In the case of the i8 test mule, it’s fed to a solitary rear-mounted electric motor which BMW claims to offer an instantaneous power delivery.

BMW is concurrently demonstrating a hydrogen fuel cell-powered 5-series GT prototype, in which the motor produces the equivalent of 242bhp and with a claimed operating range of more than 300 miles.

Is this the end of the combustion engine?

Certainly not. BMW says this technology will run alongside its continuously developing TwinPower turbo engines as a variant, rather than a replacement. Encouraging news for petrolheads. 

The BMW Group has been playing with hydrogen fuel cell systems for more than 15 years, and in 2013 teamed up with Toyota to pool resources towards the aim of readying components for a mainstream production FCEV by 2020, although with the caveat that ‘the successful introduction of FCEVs is dependent on the development of a hydrogen infrastructure in the markets concerned.’

Over the long term, BMW plans to offer FCEV models under its ‘eDrive’ banner and as part of its i cars series.

Whilst no official specifications have been released, BMW claims that filling up the hydrogen tank will take 'approximately' the same time as refuelling a petrol/diesel engine and customers will be able to expect a range of 300 miles or greater. 

BMW i8 gets revamped exterior look to coincide with new fuel cell

By Matt Bell

Former digital intern at CAR

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