As automakers continue to embrace electrification, tough questions remain in regard to charging infrastructure and how the energy used to power electric vehicles is generated. BMW is looking to answer some of these with the iX5 Hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV), which is slated to debut at IAA Munich next month, where visitors will be able to experience it in motion. Initially revealed in concept form as the BMW i Hydrogen Next back in 2019, the preceding two years have seen the idea advance towards small-scale production for road testing, and BMW says the potential model will be used for demonstration and testing purpose starting at the end of next year.
“With its high-performance fuel cell and optimised power battery, the BMW iX5 Hydrogen’s drive system is unique in the world,”explained Juergen Guldner, head of BMW Group Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology and Vehicle Projects. “With this, we are forging new paths for sustainable driving pleasure.”
The iX5 Hydrogen Expands BMW’s locally emissions-free driving efforts by using hydrogen fuel cells to develop the electricity for its electric motors (eDrive units). The iX5 Hydrogen’s drivetrain was unveiled last year, and is relatively simple in its architecture: dual floor-mounted 700-bar (more than 10,000 psi) hydrogen tanks made of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) hold approximately six kilograms (thirteen pounds) of hydrogen. An onboard hydrogen fuel-cell transforms the hydrogen into electricity, with water vapor as the only byproduct. The electricity is stored in a battery, which powers dual fifth-generation eDrive units sourced from the iX with system output of 374 horsepower—directly in line with the B58 turbocharged six-cylinder of the X5 xDrive40i. The fuel cell design comes courtesy of Toyota, which initiated production of its second-generation Mirai FCEV during December of 2020. The Mirai was upgraded from using the same platform as the Toyota Prius to riding on underpinnings shared with the Lexus LS and LFA.
In addition to partially answering the question of where and how electricity is being generated, the iX5 Hydrogen’s drivetrain also addresses the problem with EV range and the time it takes to get a full charge. “Filling up the hydrogen tanks only takes three to four minutes—so there are no limits on using the BMW iX5 Hydrogen for long distances, with just a few, short stops in-between,” added Guldner.
There are, of course, a number of important caveats which accompany using hydrogen as a power source for electric vehicles. In addition to the inherent problems of sitting on top of two 10,000-psi tanks, hydrogen is really only an emissions-free energy source if it is produced using renewable energy, and infrastructure, not only to make it, but also in the form of filling stations, remains lacking, especially in terms of automotive scale.
The BMW iX5 Hydrogen is fitted with a host of model-specific aesthetic treatments including BMW i Blue trim inside and out, 3D-printed trim and other pieces, and aerodynamic wheels wrapped in Pirelli FSC-certified tires. BMW i Blue trim is found on the inner edges of the kidney grille, on the outer portion of the rear diffusor, and on the wheels in the form of inserts, in addition to various interior places. Mesh pieces for the kidney grille, diffusor, and various other air vents are manufactured using 3D printing, or what BMW refers to as additive manufacturing. These mesh inserts have a unique design that BMW claims would not be possible to produce without the use of 3D printing. The aforementioned aerodynamic wheels are designed to cut through the air with minimal resistance, and wear a set of Pirelli FSC-certified tires made of natural rubber. The interior is also home to model-specific treatments including door sills and instrument panel trim which display a hydrogen fuel cell badge.
The public can get a first look at the BMW iX5 Hydrogen at IAA Munich, Europe’s premier auto show, next month. The new Hydrogen FCEV will be available for rides along BMW’s blue lane, which connects the main exhibition center with other venues, along with other new BMW vehicles.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]