BMW Prototype with Hydrogen Fuel Cell – First Drive

Test Drives | July 2nd, 2015 by 27
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BMW first started with hydrogen powered cars with the Hydrogen 7 in 2005, a 7 Series powered by a V12 fueled by liquid hydrogen stored in a cryogenic tank, though BMW first started making hydrogen fuel cells in 1999. This was actually a pretty large success, with many celebrities, like Jay Leno buying them. While not a commercial success, it got the word out that hydrogen cars are a viable option for the future, and that in itself is a success.

BMW has now created another FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle) hydrogen powered vehicle, a demonstration vehicle to test out new technologies. The vehicle is based on a BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo and uses a 245hp electric motor and high-voltage battery, similar to the ones used in BMW’s eDrive and i Division plug-in hybrids. A tunnel tank, used to store hydrogen, is mounted in between the two axles.

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BMW uses a 700 bar CGH2 storage vessel or a 350 bar BMW patented cryogenic pressure storage vessel. The cryogenic tank allows BMW to store gaseous hydrogen at low temperatures at 350 bar pressure, with an operating range of 500km (310 miles), giving a smaller tank similar range to a gasoline powered vehicle. Much of these technologies are results of the continued partnership between BMW and Toyota. It is worth nothing that even before the development on the 5 Series GT hydrogen fuel cell started, BMW has developed an i8 hydrogen fuel cell car which was used for internal testing at the secret facility in Miramas, France.


Some of the main benefits for this FCEV hydrogen fuel cell technology are the size and range. Pure EVs are usually quite small, to conserve weight and be aerodynamic, but hydrogen powered cars don’t have to be. They can be big luxury cars like the 5er GT, because the hydrogen fuel cell can be refilled in minutes at a station, so conservation isn’t absolutely necessary, though it is desired. Also, because hydrogen fuel cells can be refilled so quickly and they last so long, a hydrogen powered car makes for a fine long distance machine. No need to stop every 80 miles to charge for three hours, just stop at the closest station that sells hydrogen fuel and fill up like you would a gasoline car. This is also beneficial to BMW i models, which could use a bit of help in the range department.


BMW Prototype Hydrogen Fuel Cell – First Drive

The interior of the 5 Series GT prototype is almost identical with the production series car, the only things that give it away are a red emergency stop button which cuts off the entire system, if needed. There is also a revised speedometer specific to the functionality of a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle. The cylindrical tank housing the hydrogen takes the entire central tunnel of the car, so a lot of retrofitting had to be done to this 5 Series GT prototype. In line with the lightweight construction philosophy, the prototype also feature several carbon fiber parts, like the roof, the lift gate in the rear and the wheels (a combination of carbon fiber and aluminum).

The 160 kilogram tank is made of aluminum reinforced with steel and wrapped with a carbon fiber reinforced plastic. A radiation shield is also wrapped around the tank, and the tank’s end caps are welded aluminum castings. Thanks to a life expectancy of up to 350 bar internal pressure and an elaborate insulation surrounding the actual tank, the -210 to -230 degrees Celsius stored hydrogen can remain in the tank for a long time, even several weeks after it has been refilled. This is lot colder than the 700-bar system’s -40C temperature.



BMW also demonstrated the refilling process which is as simple as in a conventional car: open the fuel filler flap, remove a small cap, align the hydrogen hose and push forward until it locks. The system now checks automatically if the connection is absolutely airtight and the insulated hose is cleaned by a thrice-run pump before the actual fueling begins. The prototype comes with a 7.1 kilogram tank which took less than five minutes to refill. The 237 kWh of energy stored will give you 500km (310 miles) driving range.


Just like an electric car, the hydrogen fuel cell prototype is silent upon starting, but after a few minutes the first noises can be heard inside the cabin, an indication that the fuel cell system has kicked in. BMW says that the louder than usual noises heard in the prototype are normal for the stage of this development and a future production car will address that. The car operates with a two-speed hydraulic automatic transmission which shifts at around 80-90 km/h. There is a slight hissing sound during heavy acceleration and we’re told it’s from a pump passing hydrogen and air through the fuel cells stack.

When the driver pushes on the acceleration, the system tells the fuel cell stack to push hydrogen onto an anode plate, where each hydrogen atom is broken into protons and electrons. The protons migrate through polymer cell membranes to reach the positively charged cathode. Next, they react with oxygen creating water steam. Talk about high-tech here!


With the help of air and hydrogen fed through the fuel cell, the system produces energy which is stored in an accumulator. The lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 1kWh is enough to add to the torque and propulsion.

The core fuel cell stacks are a Toyota technology, with BMW supplying the new hydrogen tank, electric drive train and high voltage battery. A fuel cell stack should last around 5,000 hours or  200,000 km (125,000 miles). BMW says 200 to 400 cell-stacks can be fitted in the stack, depending on the power you want to achieve.

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BMW let us take the prototype through a closed-off track where we had the chance to test it through various driving modes and loads. Despite its large size, the 5 GT prototype felt agile with power immediately available upon pressing the pedal; it reminded us of the i3 driving style, but more dynamic. For quick acceleration, the car uses the rear electric motor with 160 kW (214 hp) to deliver promptly the power needed to the rear wheels. This is the next generation electric motor,  basically an improvement over the current i3 motor.

When running at low loads the fuel cell is 65 efficient efficient in turning the hydrogen fuel into forward motion. Under heavy load, that drops to 45 percent, a little better than a diesel engine. A petrol engine is about 36 percent efficient.

The 5 Series GT Hydrogen Fuel Cell can still hit 100 km/h (62 mph) from stationary in 8.4 seconds.



Now, hydrogen stations aren’t the most common things out there. We know this. It’s very rare that you’d see one in your average American town, as they mostly reside in big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. However, the infrastructure is growing and quite rapidly. Countries like the US, Germany, China, South Korea and Japan are all accelerating their growth of automotive hydrogen fuel cell infrastructures. Japan is heavily investing in infrastructure as the country gears up for the 2020 Olympic Games where they aim to emphasize the progress of hydrogen fuel cell, a strategy that will highlight the independence from conventional fuel resources. Germany currently has 50 hydrogen filling stations, by 2023 the goal is to have at least 400.

BMW and Toyota’s aim is to have an initial group of approved components by the year 2020, though FCEV vehicles depend on the development of a hydrogen fuel structure. So hopefully, within the next few years, hydrogen fill-up stations will be far more common.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is also a must for our future. As our natural resources start to dry up, hydrogen becomes the best resource for sustainable energy, in not only the automobile industry but for everything. Electricity is very difficult to harness cleanly otherwise, as things like solar power and windmills can only do so much. But hydrogen is infinitely renewable, easy and fast, and most importantly, clean. Hydrogen fuel cells leave zero emissions behind, as the only byproduct of a hydrogen fuel cell is water.


It just makes so much sense for BMW to pursue such technologies. Using hydrogen fuel cells to power electric motors gives BMWs the kind of power and performance their customers are used to with incredible efficiency and no charge times. It’s also the cleanest form of energy we can use and is the most abundant source of energy in our known universe. While pure battery-powered electric vehicles are primarily used for city driving and short distances, the fuel cell technology provides the ideal solution for customers looking for a high driving range with zero emissions. The technology is also aimed at cars larger in size, like those 5 Series and above models.

BMW utilizing FCEV technology is a slam dunk and one that will hopefully come to our streets quite soon.

Here is a quick video we filmed with the car on the track:

27 responses to “BMW Prototype with Hydrogen Fuel Cell – First Drive”

  1. Tommolog says:

    I’m certainly not against BMW exploring all avenues of alternative energy, but lets hope the engineers over in Munich can talk sense into the program managers and explain to them why Hydrogen is really a dead end (for now at least). Hydrogen isn’t a clean fuel source – it’s is very energy intensive to produce.

    The Motley Fool had a nice write up recently on why hydrogen isn’t the “wonder fuel” that many are trying to sell it as. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Despite support from these major corporations there are two very
    fundamental reasons why hydrogen fuel cells will lose to battery
    electric as the technology of tomorrow.

    The cost of building a hydrogen infrastructure to replace petroleum
    and natural gas would be an estimated $200 trillion. Compare this to the cost of a smart electric grid, $338 billion to $476 billion, which
    would impart $1.4 trillion to $2 trillion in economic benefits.

    Updating our aging electrical grid is something that America will
    need to do anyway to keep our lights on and economy running. In the
    process we can help expand the existing infrastructure to accommodate electric cars which cost $0.75/gallon equivalent to fuel, as opposed to $4.5/gallon equivalent of hydrogen, which the department of energy believes may drop as low as $3.75/gallon equivalent by 2020.

    This brings me to the second fundamental problem with fuel cells —
    the fuel. Hydrogen is not an energy source but a store of energy, much like a battery. Today 96% of hydrogen is made from natural gas, in a process that is 72% efficient. Hydrogen can be made from water in a process called electrolysis — which is 70% efficient. However, because it is the smallest, lightest, and least dense element hydrogen must be compressed to be stored. When one considers the energy losses of creating hydrogen (say from wind or solar powered electrolysis) then compressed into a vehicle’s fuel tank, it will never be as efficient, nor as cheap, as taking that electricity and putting it straight into a battery.

    The bottom line is that EVs, such as Tesla’s Model S, will always
    have the upper hand over fuel cells due to higher efficiency and lower fueling costs. Throw in the lack of hydrogen infrastructure and more expensive price tag to build said infrastructure and it becomes clear that hydrogen fuel cells have a very limited future, if any.”

    • Chris Llana says:

      I agree with everything Tom said. Also, I like the idea of charging an electric car battery at home overnight a lot better than driving to a filling station for a tank of expensive hydrogen that will dissipate with time if I don’t use it.

    • iDriver says:

      Could not agree more with Tom’s strong arguments.

      It is truly sad to see that BMW is diverting so much attention to hydrogen cars that contradict the BMW i mission of sustainable mobility in so many ways. The only ones benefiting from hydrogen cars are the fossil fuel and especially fracking industry – they see the “hydrogen economy” as their last chance to recover and avoid all of their assets being stranded soon.

      While several other car brands are proudly announcing progress on BEVs in terms of range, like the Nissan Leaf concept with 500+ km and Volkswagen announcing a 300+ km car, Audi having confirmed a 500+ km Q6, BMW remains silent on further BEV development and turns its attention to hydrogen together with Toyota (not sure how many BMW customers want to buy Toyota-co-developed cars anyway – I certainly don’t want a fracking car!).

      I am especially disappointed in reading this article as it is flawed in its argumentation around benefits of hydrogen cars.

      Hydrogen cars do not have “great performance” and refuelling does not happen as fast and swift as pretended in the article – that is supported by real life users’ feedback (see

      That is also why last year Audi made its A7 h-tron concept a hybrid with hydrogen and a 8.8 kWh battery to get more power when needed – but then you are basically building an overly complex and expensive car just for the sake of being able to put some hydrogen in it.

      Progress on both battery technology and charging infrastructure is ignored in the article.

      An EV with 300 miles of range will actually require much less time spent charging by the driver than filling up the hydrogen car featured in the article. Such an EV will charge overnight at home in 95+% of the cases. Only during longer road trips will the driver have to spend time to charge, using fast chargers along the highway. A hydrogen car cannot be filled up when parked at home or at destination so it ALWAYS requires the consumer to spend time driving up to the hydrogen station (which will be quite a drive for at least another 10 years) and then fill it up. Germany btw currently has only 18 public hydrogen filling stations and plans to have 50 by the end of the year.

      Knowing the cost of a hydrogen station ($3-4 million) is about 20 times that of a Tesla supercharger station, and factoring in that many more hydrogen stations would be required (basically several in every town/village), one can see that this makes no sense at all.

      DC fast charging is also rapidly evolving – with 100/150 kW CCS chargers being tested (Tesla has 125 kW and is planning to increase it further). The Audi R8 e-tron already features DC fast charging up to 150 kW and Audi is pointing to this becoming available in the near future. That will remove arguments of “long charging times” for EVs. Especially when doing road trips, taking a break to charge and have lunch or a drink is much more conveniently combined with EV charging happening in parallel rather than filling up the car with hydrogen first and then going for a drink.

      Finally, I wonder whether BMW has the courage to provide any real cost indication (ie not subsidised prices like in case of the Mirai) for this hydrogen vehicle? Toyota has openly admitted that their fuel cell stack (which is in the 5 GT hydrogen as per the article) alone costs $ 50K. Add to that the cost of the BMW cryogenic tank. BMW should be able to make an i5 BEV for the combined cost of those two elements if they get their act together.

      • CDspeed says:

        I too have been questioning the mission of BMW-i, I love my i3, but how can they produce one electric hatchback, and have no Tesla competitors on the way from a brand that was supposedly “born electric”. Two out of three”i” cars still use gas, and now they’re showing us hydrogen that will keep us paying at the pump, and servicing complex powertrains. Audi has said they’ll show an all electric 310 mile per charge crossover at Frankfurt this year that is production intent, not a concept. And yet BMW is going to sit until 2020 with the i3 which will soon be obsolete compared to the Chevy Bolt, and 2nd gen Nissan Leaf? It’s strange that the best electric sports sedan is the Model S, and there’s no sign of anything from BMW who is famous for their sport sedans.

    • Tom says:

      How can you judge BMW for developing alternative technologies? Seriously, what is your problem with that? This is an american forum, do you really think, that in the next 5 or 10 years people in this country will change their minds? Look at the streets, as long as you can see so many old crap Hondas, using gasoline with bad emissions, (don’t forget all the big american trucks with their 6,xxx l engines), every alternative is better than that. EVs will not take over in this short period of time so why don’t add something else?
      And why do you think BMW is completely focussing on that? How could you know that they are not working on better batteries as well? Isn’t it possible that they can do two directions at the same time? I assume they do a lot more than just these both directions, they have to be prepared for everything, and when it comes to innovations they are always on pole position…

  2. Kaisuke971 says:

    It would be nice to see this on the i5 :)
    But yeah as Tommolog is saying the problem is that we don’t make enough Hydrogen and this is very expensive to produce actually… It seems that we’d better use what we have here to produce more electricity…

  3. CDspeed says:

    There is also the problem of high performance driving, hydrogen cars are not capable of being the ultimate driving machine, here is a little evidence.

    • Horatiu B. says:

      This one wasn’t bad, pretty quick also

      • CDspeed says:

        0 to 62 in 8.4……….yeah that’s quick for a Prius, but they won’t sell many 5-Series cars that are that slow.

        • philip d says:

          That’s gen 2 Volt speed. And the 2016 Volt I can charge in my garage and will actually own it in a couple of months for half the price that this FCV that may or may not be made some time in the future.

          • danwat1234 says:

            Yup or in my case, wanting to get a 1st gen Volt for even less. Not quite as fast or EV range but it has the looks.

        • danwat1234 says:

          I’d expect better from a 214Hp or 245HP electric motor. 245HP in the 2nd paragraph, 214HP mentioned later on. Anyway, I’d expect better. Bolt does 0-60 in 7 seconds or less with 200HP. Guess this BMW is a pig.

  4. Maks Blavatniy says:

    Until we get a battery 300wh per kg with 20 -30min. recharging (or tesla’s battery with mass production of carbon fiber body) I think the better solution in co2 emissions,efficiency and small weight is 20 Kw/h high perfomance battery with small 40-50 kw direct fuel cell working with synthetic fuel -Dimethyl ether -DME without reforming (45% efficiency). We take co2 and hydrogen and with solar energy in one step in one reactor there will be methanol and then DME (liquid at 4-5 bar) at 70%-80 efficiency . Small weight, co2 neutral, mostly powered by battery, hight speed refueling, no crazy 700 bar or cryogenic super tech!

  5. tarena1991 says:

    dear lord why haven’t they killed the 5 Series GT yet

  6. wraithnot says:

    This article has many, many erroneous or extremely misleading statements. Here are just a few:

    “Pure EVs are usually quite small, to conserve weight and be aerodynamic, but hydrogen powered cars don’t have to be.”

    According to InsideEVs, the best selling pure EV in the US is the Tesla Model S- the Model S is not small.

    “Also, because hydrogen fuel cells can be refilled so quickly and they
    last so long, a hydrogen powered car makes for a fine long distance
    machine. No need to stop every 80 miles to charge for three hours, just
    stop at the closest station that sells hydrogen fuel and fill up like
    you would a gasoline car.”

    Once again, the best selling pure EV in the US doesn’t need to “stop every 80 miles”. And no modern EV with DC fast charging capability requires 3 hours to charge. According to the US department of energy, there are “12 hydrogen stations in the United States Excluding private stations” so finding the “closest station that sells hydrogen fuel” is going to be pretty challenging if you drive outside of a few select metro areas.

    “Hydrogen fuel cell technology is also a must for our future. As our
    natural resources start to dry up, hydrogen becomes the best resource
    for sustainable energy, in not only the automobile industry but for
    everything. Electricity is very difficult to harness cleanly otherwise,
    as things like solar power and windmills can only do so much.”

    Since you can’t mine gaseous hydrogen on planet earth, you have to make it using some other energy source. If you make it from renewable electricity, you will waste the majority of that electricity when you generate the hydrogen by electrolysis, compress it (or lose even more energy when you liquify it), and then turn it back into electricity in the fuel cell.

    The solar panels on our roof do a fine job of charging both our BMW i3 BEV and our Model S. And when the sun is shining and we’re not home, we sell the excess power to our utility and buy it back cheaper at night to charge the cars. If we augment our solar array with stationary energy storage, we wouldn’t even have sell the excess power to the grid and buy it back later. So no, hydrogen fuel technology is definitely not a “must for our future”

    • Horatiu B. says:

      Maybe so, but so far the Tesla S is in minority. Most of the EVs do 80 miles. Will that change in the future? Of course, but then again hydrogen tech could change as well.

      • wraithnot says:

        According to the numbers at InsideEVs, roughly 11,600 Model S’s have been sold in the US this year. That represents about a third of all pure EVs sold in the US this year. Ignoring the best selling example of something that by itself represents a third of the market (and growing) is pretty short sighted.

        I also noticed that you didn’t even bother to address all the other points I raised.

        Finally, you appear to admit that EVs will improve in the future. Perhaps because multiple manufacturers have already announced new 200+ mile EVs will be produced in the next two years. Did BMW happen to mention exactly when you can go down to a showroom and purchase the car you tested? If so, did they say how much it will cost? Or how much the hydrogen to fuel it will cost?

        • Horatiu B. says:

          Sorry, was typing from my phone, I’ll write a rebuttal to those when I get back on my laptop.

          • philip d says:

            This argument has been had thousands of times. To distill it down the only current advantage FCVs have is fueling time.

            Not fueling convenience, since there are very few stations unlike the tens of thousands of L1, L2, DC fast chargers and Tesla Superchargers already in place.

            Not fueling infrastructure costs since new hydrogen fueling stations cost between $1 million to $2 million vs. $100,000 for a 120 kw Tesla Supercharger station.

            Not fuel distribution since hydrogen will need to be and always will have to be carried in tankers or pipelines vs. power grids that can already handle the fuel needs for EVs into the near future.

            Not fueling costs, since EVs are multiple times cheaper to operate per mile even in the regions of the country with the highest electricity rates.

            Fuel cell stacks aren’t cheaper to produce than batteries.

            Fuel cell powertrains aren’t more powerful than EV powertrains.

            Fuel cell powertrains will never be more efficient than EVs.

            The argument for leftover hydrogen that is used as stationary energy storage being used for vehicles is moot since large, more affordable, more durable batteries are beginning to be used for stationary power storage as well.

            So again, currently HFCVs fill up faster even though there is hardly anywhere to do so. If that is your primary consideration for a vehicle purchase then by all means ignore all the disadvantages listed above and drive a fuel cell vehicle.

            As far as future predicting battery technology and charging technology will advance just like fuel cell technology. So you have to ask yourself, when EVs are able to charge at the same rate as gas cars can fill up then what’s the point of having HFCVs if they will always be less efficient than EVs? If batteries drop to $50 a kWh, have higher energy density and a smaller volume so they can be used in bigger vehicles like trucks then what’s the point of having a HFCV?

        • philip d says:

          Exactly. Tesla will have the Model 3 which is a $35,000 200+ mile range EV available in a few years with hundreds of Supercharger locations to charge from if you aren’t charging it in your garage. The BMW FCV, not so much. And you can bet the Model 3 will cost less and sure as hell won’t take 8.4 seconds to get to 60.

        • Horatiu B. says:

          I honestly think it’s too early to judge the hydrogen technology. It’s still about 6-7 years out and lots of things can change i.e. infrastructure. BMW said it will CURRENTLY costs about $50 to refuel a hydrogen car that will go for about 300 miles. The cost is expected to go down.

          Is this the future? Honestly, no one knows yet, but there come a time when large SUVs will be hydrogen powered and will have impressive range. That’s a business case that makes sense now the most, versus another small EV.

          • wraithnot says:

            “That’s a business case that makes sense now the most, versus another small SUV”

            Perhaps that’s why Tesla’s upcoming Model X is a large 7-passenger SUV with over 200 miles of range. And that is scheduled to start deliveries in two or three months rather than 6-7 years. They already have over 19,000 reservations for the Model X. I imagine Audi, Porsche, etc. will get into the game as well once they start losing sales to the model X.

            And while I agree that it is too early to judge the economics of a hydrogen economy, it is not too early to judge the chemistry and physics involved in generating hydrogen from other energy sources and then running hydrogen through a fuel cell. Existing batteries already have a higher “round trip” efficiency for charging and discharging than a theoretically perfect fuel cell can convert chemical energy in hydrogen gas to electrical energy. Thus if you start from the same energy source, a car running on hydrogen will always be less efficient than a car that gets its energy through an electrical plug.

          • danwat1234 says:

            But in 7 years we’ll be down to $100 per KWh probably so a 100KWh pack is $10K, for 300-350 miles EPA range or so. Might as well go pure EV.

  7. danwat1234 says:

    237KWh to go 310 miles.. that is 0.7645KWh per mile, or 44MPGe (33.7KWh/0.7645KWh)! About the same as a 2004 Prius!
    I am kind of shocked BMW’s system is that inefficient. Is it because of the energy required to keep the hydrogen in the thank so cold? Hyundai, Toyota and I think Honda have production Hydrogen cars out that I think get better efficiency than this.

    Regardless, pure electric vehicles is where it’s at. As Elon said, the question about batteries will go away in a few years. They will have enough density increase and cost reduction.

  8. […] BMW Prototype with Hydrogen Fuel Cell – First Drive […]

  9. […] Furthermore, in 2015, BMW showed the world the eDrive Hydrogen Fuel Cell prototype, based on a modified i8 chassis, and an F07 5 Series GT equipped with a fuel cell electric powertrain. […]

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