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BMW will produce hydrogen cars? Yes, but… – DW – 09/01/2022

German automaker BMW started producing hydrogen cars? Such a conclusion suggests itself from reports that at the concern’s plant in Munich, in the presence of the Prime Minister of Bavaria, Markus Söder, on August 31, the mass production of fuel cell systems for the BMW iX5 Hydrogen model was launched.

This model has been developed since 2015 on the basis of the SUV (SUV) BMW X5, since the summer of 2021 it has been successfully tested on German roads, and in winter in Sweden near the Arctic Circle. And now they have invited a distinguished guest on the occasion of the launch of the conveyor.

Is hydrogen just for trucks?

All right, but not really. Let’s start with the fact that Bavarian politicians are always willing to visit the company “Bavarian Motor Works” (Bayerische Motoren Werke), known throughout the world by the abbreviation BMW. So this fact alone cannot be considered a criterion for the significance of an event. In addition, the hydrogen theme is now in big fashion, and it is beneficial for the head of a large technologically advanced federal state to once again confirm a keen interest in innovation in the field of H2. Moreover, the authorities of Bavaria have allocated almost 500 million euros for the creation research center in the field of hydrogen and for the construction of hydrogen filling stations, which Markus Söder did not fail to mention.

08/31/2022.  BMW CEO Oliver Zipse and Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder launch fuel cell production
08/31/2022. The head of BMW O. Zipse and the Prime Minister of Bavaria M. Söder launch the production of fuel cellsPhoto: HARRY ZDERA/BMW

The automaker, in turn, is interested in demonstrating that his experiment enjoys political support. After all, this is really an experiment. At the headquarters of other German automakers – Volkswagen with its subsidiaries Audi and Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, a subsidiary of the Stellantis Opel concern, the European branch of Ford – they consider hydrogen cars to be an unpromising direction for the development of the automotive industry, and therefore, as part of the decarbonization of vehicles, they rely on electric vehicles.

Another thing is trucks. It is widely believed that in this segment it is better to move away from diesel (or gasoline) towards hydrogen, especially for large tonnages, since long-distance transportation may require excessively large and, most importantly, too heavy batteries, and besides, they will take too long to charge on the way. However, in the industry there are convinced electric truck advocates.

The hydrogen car is another variant of the electric car

Be that as it may, no one in Germany except BMW is going to produce H2 passenger cars now, although Mercedes-Benz and Audi experimented in this area at one time. And the Bavarian Motor Works themselves are quite successfully switching to the production of electric vehicles and, by 2030 at the latest, intend to equip half of their products exclusively with electric motors.

But at the same time, BMW Chairman Oliver Zipse still does not want to completely abandon other technical options. “For us, hydrogen-powered vehicles are the ideal technology to intelligently complement battery-electric vehicles and thus complete the EV solution package,” the CEO said at a gala event on August 31.

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So we are still talking about electromobility, only about its other variety? Yes, because in fact, hydrogen cars are also electric vehicles. Only in them, the operation of the electric motor is provided not by a battery recharged from the network, but by a battery that receives electricity from fuel cells in which it is generated – without harmful emissions into the atmosphere – during a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.

Small series that won’t even go on sale

Actually, the production of ready-made fuel cell systems has now begun in Munich. At the same time, BMW receives a key component, the fuel cells themselves, from the Japanese corporation Toyota, with which it has been cooperating in this area since 2013. And Toyota, we recall, is already releasing the second generation of the world’s most famous model of the Mirai hydrogen car. According to the newspaper Handelsblatt, global sales of this model amounted to 6,000 units last year.

BMW’s series production will be even more modest at less than 100 units, dpa news agency reported. So the Bavarian Prime Minister participated in Munich in the launch of a small series. The experimental nature of the start of the production of hydrogen cars is also emphasized by the fact that they will not even go on sale or on lease, but will be transferred to selected motorists in Germany, France, the USA, Japan, South Korea and China for testing under normal conditions.

This is what the BMW iX5 Hydrogen looks like
This is how the BMW iX5 Hydrogen looks “inside”. Left – fuel cell systemPhoto: BMW

However, Oliver Zipse has already stated that BMW management is actively thinking about the second generation of hydrogen cars. And Pieter Nota, who is responsible for sales and customer relations on the board of the concern, in an interview with the Nikkei agency said that the launch of the future H2 car into mass production and sale is scheduled for 2025.

It is very significant that he made such a specific statement in an interview with journalists from Japan. Munich clearly assumes that the best chances for hydrogen cars will have in this country and in general in Asia. So, China has a plan to bring the number of hydrogen cars on its roads to 1 million units, the dpa agency indicates.

Hydrogen car: arguments for and against

In Germany, which became the world leader in the introduction of hydrogen trains, both motorists and experts in the automotive industry are skeptical about passenger hydrogen cars. For example, Prof. Stefan Bratzel, director of the research institute Center of Automotive Management (CAM) in Bergisch Gladbach, considers “the high energy consumption in hydrogen production” to be the strongest argument against this technology.

Indeed, from the point of view of reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and protecting the climate, it makes sense to use only green hydrogenproduced from water by electrolysis using a large amount of electricity from renewable sources. What happens, the expert argues: first, spend electricity on the production of hydrogen, and then, in the car, again convert H2 into electricity? Wouldn’t the losses be too great?

Hydrogen refueling in the Bavarian city of Erlangen
Hydrogen refueling in the Bavarian city of ErlangenPhoto: Daniel Vogl/dpa/picture alliance

Another weighty argument “against”: in the whole of Germany, H2 is still available only at about 100 gas stations. But there are also arguments in favor. Hydrogen is an excellent reservoir of surplus green electricity, it can be imported through pipelines and tankers from around the world, for example, from Canada, as just mentioned the visiting delegation of the German government agreed. And for motorists, the big advantage is that you can fill up a tank (or two tanks, like the BMW iX5 Hydrogen) in a matter of minutes. And yet, they add to the concern, this technology may be especially in demand in the largest and heaviest SUVs.

So the start of small-scale production of H2-cars at the BMW plant in Munich will only add fuel to the fire of discussions about their prospects. More precisely: give them hydrogen.

See also:

Eco-trains are being tested in Germany

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