Home TechnologyCars The BMW iX5 Hydrogen production has begun, but don’t expect to see this fuel-cell SUV in dealerships soon

The BMW iX5 Hydrogen production has begun, but don’t expect to see this fuel-cell SUV in dealerships soon

Familiar shape hides a lot of new tech

by George Mensah
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BMW has begun production of its latest electric vehicle, the iX5 Hydrogen, which is not the typical EV. The electric SUV, as the name implies, is based on hydrogen fuel-cell technology, which uses gas to generate electricity, which powers the motor in its BEV cousin. Previously a test bed, small-series production of the iX5 Hydrogen has begun.

Without the bold branding on the wrap, you’d be forgiven for not noticing the iX5 Hydrogen was any different from BMW’s regular X5 SUV. The FCEV’s familiarity is part of its allure. According to BMW, one benefit of the new drivetrain is that it will fit into a standard X5.

Under the hood, however, things differ from the gas-powered X5. Under the hood is the fuel-cell system, which takes hydrogen gas, combines it with oxygen and converts it to electricity with only pure water as a byproduct. Two hydrogen gas cylinders, one running longitudinally down the center of the SUV and the other at right angles under the rear seats, hold approximately 6 liters of hydrogen gas.

I then transferred the electrical power from the fuel cell to a rear electric motor, which drives the rear wheels. It’s topped by a lithium-ion battery: at only 2.5 kWh, it’s a fraction of the battery inside the iX SUV, but it’s only meant to supply boost power, hold energy generated by regenerative braking, and store excess power-generated by the fuel-cell system.

The fuel cell generates 125 kW in total (170 horsepower). The electric motor generates 275 kW with the help of the 150 kW power battery. BMW claims it is sufficient for a 0-60 mph time of around 7 seconds.

Perhaps BMW claims the configuration is adequate for a range of around 310 miles. That’s comparable to a good BEV SUV, but with much faster refueling times. In fact, you could refuel in 5 minutes, which is less than the time to charge a fully electric car with a powerful DC fast charger.

The disadvantage, of course, is actually locating that hydrogen pump. Access to gaseous fuel has long been one of the most significant barriers to FCEV adoption. There are 100 stations in Germany, but only 89 in the United States. This has limited the appeal and market availability of fuel-cell-powered vehicles.

Simultaneously, there are ongoing concerns about how environmentally friendly hydrogen is. Only about 30% of hydrogen fuel in Germany, for example, is derived from renewable sources. The vast majority of people worldwide produce using grid electricity.

Both issues are being addressed. BMW emphasizes the Biden administration’s investment in alternative energy in the United States, as well as other hydrogen initiatives in over 40 countries. The Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation, which is currently being negotiated in Europe, may include mandatory hydrogen infrastructure; BMW expects we will complete it by the end of January 2023.

Although a few BMW iX5 Hydrogen SUVs are being produced — using individual fuel cells supplied by Toyota but assembled into a stack by BMW using the automaker’s own processes and technologies — hydrogen as we expected fuel to primarily interest non-passenger vehicles. Instead, BMW suggests it makes the most sense for larger vehicles such as medium- to heavy-duty trucks, as well as the marine and aviation sectors. Toyota has already revealed its plans for an FCEV truck.

Despite this, and acknowledging that battery-electric vehicles will undoubtedly lead in the mainstream, BMW believes FCEVs have a place. After all, if the infrastructure is being built for trucks, there’s no reason it can’t also be used for passenger vehicles like the iX5 Hydrogen, according to the automaker.

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According to BMW, the results of the small-series production that began today will be used as technology demonstrators in select regions beginning in spring 2023. It is unknown I will build how many. Depending on the reception and strengths of the technology, series production of the first model could begin in the mid-decade, with a potential full portfolio of BMW FCEVs beginning in the 2030s.

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