2018 BMW i3
BMW i Vision Dynamics Concept Photo: Supplied

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Kez Casey | Jan, 30 2018 | 0 Comments

BMW’s head of powertrain development believes that hydrogen’s suitability as a future fuel may only be short lived, with advances in battery technology set to overtake the advantages offered by fuel cell vehicles

Speaking with TMR at the global launch of the new X2 in Portugal, BMW’s powertrain development chief, Wolfgang Stütz, was cautious about the long-term viability of hydrogen as a fuel source, claiming that advances in battery technology could see battery electric vehicles become viable as a primary source of production.

The complexities of using hydrogen as a fuel, including storage, and the need to turn the fuel into a source of energy - electricity - on board the vehicle are just some of the disadvantages weighing fuel cell electric vehicles (or FCEVs) down. Rapid refuelling times and a user experience closer to traditional internal combustion vehicles, however, make the technology an attractive option.

According to Stütz those advantages may only last a short time, with predicted advances in battery technology, both in terms of capacity and charge times, likely to see FCEV vehicles give way to battery electric vehicles, or BEVs.

“If the battery technology and the cost especially decrease, and the infrastructure for charging will be in a good way then I think there’s not a necessity to change to hydrogen,” Stutz explained. “Because in principle they use the same energy, they use electric energy and hydrogen is only the battery for the vehicle.”

Hydrogen as a fuel wasn’t completely ruled out though, with BMW keeping its options open for the time being including showing an FCEV version of the previous 5 Series GT at events throughout 2017, and working on refuelling solutions though its Designworks subsidiary, in partnership with Shell.

“It strongly depends on all these developments [battery capacity and charging times] but because nobody can give the exact answer, BMW is also working on hydrogen,” Stütz said.

“It’s clear you can not say ‘forget it, this concept doesn’t have a future’ we have to be on the train.”

Although Stütz was unable to supply a timeline for future battery developments, Wieland Bruch, spokesperson for BMW i was able to suggest a rough outline for how the e-mobility division might advance its battery technology.

“We can basically say that every ten years you have double the energy density," Bruch said. “When you follow how we launched the BMW i3 and what battery we have currently within the same dimension, that is already 50% [higher capacity] in five years, so that seems to be the right rule.”

BMW already has plans in place to introduce electric versions of the X3 SUV and Mini hatch, to join the range alongside the i3 EV and plug-in hybrid versions of the 3 Series, 5 Series, X5, and 7 Series.

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