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BMW’s pilot fleet of hydrogen-powered cars is on the road

A hydrogen-powered X5? Oh, the huge manatee!

Published: 02 Mar 2023

BMW is starting the public access phase of its plan to persist with hydrogen fuel cells, readying a “pilot fleet that will go into service this year.”

The car that’ll be putting in the aforementioned service is the iX5 Hydrogen, a gigantic land yacht that is to efficiency what a teenager is to honesty*. Even so, the iX5 manages more than 300 miles between refills, taking on 6kg of compressed hydrogen at a time. Doesn’t sound like much, but remember that hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe, so carrying 6kg of it in the space allowed means compressing it to 700 bar – more than 10,000PSI, or about the pressure you’d get if you were 4.3 miles underneath the ocean’s surface.

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As a side note, this part of the ocean is called the Hadal zone. As in Hades. As in hell. Which means that getting 6kg of hydrogen to fit in a fuel tank (the iX5 actually has a pair of tanks) is kind of like getting a metric tonne of feathers to fit in a suitcase.

In any case, the fuel cells that use the hydrogen are good for a constant 168bhp, while the onboard lithium battery can deliver 228bhp for a combined peak output of (you guessed it) of 396bhp. Obviously, there are pretty severe time limits on how long the small lithium battery can deliver such power, but then there are also pretty severe legal limits on how long you can deploy that sort of power yourself.

The cells actually come from Toyota, one of just a handful of players still persisting with hydrogen (although for how much longer is anyone’s guess). Helpfully enough, it partnered with BMW about a decade ago to provide fuel cells for H2-powered Beemers.

Built at BMW’s Research and Innovation Centre in Munich, the iX5 Hydrogens will comprise a “fleet of less than 100 vehicles” internationally, earmarked “for demonstration and trial purposes for various target groups". So, probably not at Summernats or Santa Pod, then.

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And probably not here, either – we’ve already gone over how hydrogen is less efficient than battery power, how the infrastructure isn’t there for hydrogen but we already have an electricity grid, and every other argument that just seems to invite... well, more arguments. Unless hydrogen producers, fuel-cell builders and those in charge of gas infrastructure find a way to make hydrogen much more efficient to refine and use, pilot programmes like these stand a very real chance of being grounded.

*Not having a dig at you young ’uns; just remembering what we were like

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