The work of Jürgen Guldner is one of the long haul. His division has been experimenting with hydrogen and the associated fuel cells for fifteen years, but so far a production BMW has not emerged. With an emphasis on so far.

Earlier this year, BMW showed a new hydrogen-based study model, the i Hydrogen Next. Like many other brands, BMW has been experimenting with fuel cells and hydrogen cars for almost 15 years. But where you can now buy these cars at Hyundai and Toyota, the Germans are still looking at the cat from the tree.

The i Hydrogen Next was, according to project leader Jürgen Guldner, primarily intended to announce the latest generation of the BMW fuel cell. "It has twice as much power. That is why we have put the new powertrain in a large SUV to show that our customers will have real freedom of choice in the near future."

"We aim at all markets that support hydrogen"

In Germany, a true hydrogen offensive was recently announced. However, a future BMW with fuel cell will not be developed specifically for the home market.

"We are aiming at all markets that support hydrogen as fuel, or that will do so in the coming years. Germany has indeed planned to play a pioneering role in Europe. Elsewhere in the world, Japan is already a long way off, just like South Korea and of course California, which currently has the largest number of hydrogen filling stations and cars, as well as China, which is by far the largest growth market in the coming years and which will certainly play a significant role in hydrogen. ", says Guldner.

According to Guldner, this also offers possibilities to build a number of test specimens of the i Hydrogen Next based on the BMW X5.

"There will certainly be a test fleet, even though I cannot give details about it yet. We are not making any statements at this time about a possible production version, whether or not in a limited edition. It is just too early for that," says Guldner.

The fuel cell is located at the location of the combustion engine. (Photo: BMW)

'A tough job to make fuel cells cheaper'

The biggest problem is the cost price of the fuel cell, since it is still too high to come up with a production model. For example, the Hyundai and Toyota hydrogen cars cost at least 80,000 euros in the Netherlands.

"We are working hard to bring cars with a fuel cell at the same price level as regular electric cars with a comparable range. On the other hand, you have to at least partly include the development costs in the end product, so that the first generation of a new technology is always slightly more expensive" , the BMW man said.

In addition, Guldner points out the as yet insufficient infrastructure for refueling hydrogen. He notes that building it, even though it requires a relatively high investment, is not a higher math. In addition, existing stations would do well to include hydrogen.

"When existing gas stations run less on fossil fuels, they still have to switch to charging stations and hydrogen. That is unavoidable. Moreover, the rest of the infrastructure - such as the shop, restaurant and toilets - has already been paid off, making existing stations the ideal candidate for hydrogen pumps. "


The pros and cons of a hydrogen car

'Ideal solution for buses and trucks'

Yet not everyone is convinced of the usefulness of a fuel cell, especially in passenger cars. "For buses and trucks in particular, hydrogen will soon be an ideal solution, because otherwise you will need a load of batteries to help a 40-toner at a respectable operating radius. I am not even talking about the loading times that such an electric mastodon That is why heavy vehicles are the first to switch to hydrogen, "says Guldner.

As far as he is concerned, a fuel cell is particularly interesting for those who want to be able to travel a great distance electrically and yet want the flexibility to have the full range again after a short pit stop. That does not mean that hydrogen cars will play a greater role within BMW in the future than plug-in hybrid vehicles or fully electric cars

"Prefer to consider the X5 Hydrogen as one of our solutions for the future. By 2023, the counter at BMW must be on 25 electrified models of different types. In the second half of the next decade, hydrogen will be added to offer our customers all options. We have not yet decided what type of vehicle can hit the top. We especially want to be ready when the infrastructure is far enough away that driving on hydrogen can be a worry-free experience, "says Guldner.

After 2030, hydrogen will become commonplace, Guldner thinks. (Photo: AutoWeek)

The full interview was in the special AutoWeek 2020 edition