Accommodating combustion, electric, and hydrogen technologies, Neue Klasse cars will feature an all-new underfloor hydrogen storage solution.
BMW's newly-developed Neue Klasse platform will underpin all the brand's future models, ranging from electric cars to combustion models, and as has now been confirmed, hydrogen-electric cars too. But how can one platform accommodate all these different types of powertrains? Well, it's more that BMW will reinvent the way fuels like hydrogen are stored, developing a new series of small, parallel hydrogen tanks within the floor of the platform that will occupy the space traditionally housing an EV's battery.
CarBuzz discovered a patent for this system in August 2022, and now BMW's general program manager for hydrogen technology has confirmed the tech for future hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Speaking to Autoblog, Jurgen Guldner spoke of hydrogen integration for the platform. "We are working on being able to integrate hydrogen [into Neue Klasse]," he said, clarifying that it won't be ready when the platform first launches. "Not as of 2025, and probably only in the larger cars. We haven't finished yet, but it's a possibility," said Guldner.
He then explained how a new packaging solution would be key to the integration of hydrogen. BMW currently only has one hydrogen model, the iX5 Hydrogen, based on the standard BMW X5 SUV. In the iX5, two tanks are oriented in a T-shape in the center of the car, accommodating 13 pounds of hydrogen and enabling 310 miles of range. But this configuration isn't an intelligent packaging solution. "The idea is to have smaller tanks positioned next to each other that take up the space of an EV's battery pack. Smaller tanks, still cylindrical, but more of them, and then we're flexible," he says. That's precisely the configuration described in the aforementioned patent and visible in the patent sketches below.
BMW isn't rushing its hydrogen development, though, and wants to make sure the tech is perfect when it eventually launches. To that end, the development process of the iX5 Hydrogen has taken some time, but it is finally ready to be rolled out - at least in pilot program form.
Today, BMW announced the launch of a fleet of iX5 Hydrogens worldwide to test the propulsion technology's viability.
Less than 100 vehicles will be part of this fleet, and they won't all be located in one market. The US, for example, will only get five of these prototypes. In addition to these cars being run for testing purposes, they will also be used as demonstrators for media and various target groups.
While the US is able to sustain a relatively large EV population, not all countries can say the same. Some suffer from limited power supply and rolling blackouts that prevent charging, and vast distances that need to be traveled mean a typical BEV simply won't do. Places like Australia and South Africa will likely get a few test units, too, and will be the ultimate proving grounds for the technology fue to the incredibly hot climates in these countries.
"Hydrogen is a versatile energy source that has a key role to play in the energy transition process and therefore, in climate protection," states BMW CEO Oliver Zipse. "After all, it is one of the most efficient ways of storing and transporting renewable energies."
Zipse believes that hydrogen has the ability to accelerate transformation and carbon neutrality where traditional EVs simply won't. "Hydrogen is the missing piece in the jigsaw when it comes to emission-free mobility. One technology on its own will not be enough to enable climate-neutral mobility worldwide."
Comments from BMW sales chief Pieter Nota previously indicated BMW FCEVs would arrive in 2025, but Guldner's comments suggest that they will only follow after BMW introduces the first Neue Klasse electric model in 2025. Whether a full production run of the iX5 Hydrogen happens before then, however, is still a possibility.
BMW will likely need time to optimize the concept after the iX5 program has run its course. The details of the program are scarce, but it will probably run for a year, if not more. The biggest downside to hydrogen-electric ownership is the lack of infrastructure, which will change in the coming years.
California has set aside $2.9 billion to increase the number of EV charging and hydrogen filling stations, which is good news for BMW, Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda, who are at the forefront of hydrogen-electric powertrains.
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