BMW gives hydrogen technology another chance

January 25, 2013 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
BMW Group and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) have signed a technology exchange agreement. The contract gives BMW access to Toyota's fuel cell technology. In exchange, the Bavarians share their expertise in lightweight technology with their Japanese counterpart.

With the move, BMW starts another run-up to tap the potential of hydrogen as an energy source for mobility. Earlier, the company had developed a system in which hydrogen was used as fuel for otherwise rather conventional powertrains. The company however halted these research activities in 2009. Now BMW and TMC agreed to share their technologies and to jointly develop a fundamental fuel-cell vehicle system, including not only a fuel cell stack and system, but also a hydrogen tank, motor and battery, aiming for completion in 2020. In addition, they plan to jointly develop standards for the hydrogen infrastructure necessary for the popularization of fuel cell vehicles.

With the move, BMW admits that its hydrogen activities ended in a dead-end street. The company's previous approach had the advantage that the gasoline engines could be used almost without modification. Hydrogen-driven internal combustion engines have the same advantage as fuel-cell powered vehicles: They do not emit any exhaust gases; the combustion process generates just water. Nevertheless it proved to be difficult to develop the high-pressure tanks required. Fuel cells use hydrogen to generate electricity which in turn can be used to drive electric motors in a car.

While BMW lost time with its unsuccessful research activities, competitor Daimler pressed ahead with the development of fuel-cell powered electric vehicles. Other manufacturers such as Opel Hyundai are also about to enter the home stretch with fuel cell designs. These vehicles have roughly the same advantages as battery-electric driven vehicles but without the disadvantage of a very short driving range. In this context, Daimler researchers said a driving range of 500 km and more for a fuel-cell powered vehicle could be realistic.

BMW and TMC also announced that they will commence collaborative research on lithium-air batteries, a post-lithium-battery solution. In detail, they plan to develop a lithium-air battery which will offer an energy density greatly exceeding that of current lithium-ion batteries This agreement marks the