BMW Starts Fuel Cell Systems Production For iX5 Hydrogen

Mobility Outlook Bureau
03 Sep 2022
10:00 AM
3 Min Read

The combination of fuel cells and the high-performance battery is set to enrich the company’s portfolio by adding a unique form of a drive system for the premium segment.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Drive System

BMW Group has recently inaugurated fuel cell system production at the company’s competence centre for hydrogen in Munich. This initiative augments the company's plan to enter the fuel cell space, starting with BMW iX5 Hydrogen cars that will be entering service worldwide from the end of this year for test and demonstration purposes. 

The combination of fuel cells and the high-performance battery is set to enrich the company’s portfolio by adding a unique form of a drive system for the premium segment. The BMW Group plays a visionary and pioneering role in this technology, intending to achieve a more diversified transition to zero-emission mobility.

“As a versatile energy source, hydrogen has a key role to play on the road to climate neutrality. And it will also gain substantially in importance as far as personal mobility is concerned. We think hydrogen-powered vehicles are ideally placed technologically to fit alongside battery-electric vehicles and complete the electric mobility picture,” said Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG. “By commencing small-scale production of fuel cells today, we are demonstrating the technical maturity of this type of drive system and underscoring its potential for the future,” he added.

“Our many years of research and development work have enabled us to get the very most out of hydrogen technology. We have managed to more than double the fuel cell’s continuous output in the second-generation fuel cell in the BMW iX5 Hydrogen, while weight and size have both decreased drastically,” Frank Weber, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Development, said.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Drive System by BMW

Thanks to these advances, the BMW Group leads the way in developing hydrogen technology and considers it to hold great promise for its next generation of vehicles.

Technological Expertise, High Standards  

The BMW Group will manufacture highly efficient fuel cell systems at its in-house competence centre for hydrogen. This technology is one of the core elements in the BMW iX5 Hydrogen and generates a high continuous output of 125 kW/170 hp. It teams up with an electric motor featuring fifth-generation BMW eDrive technology and a high-performance battery purpose developed for this vehicle to enable its powertrain to deliver 275 kW/374 hp. The development team incorporated the powerful drive system – comprising two hydrogen tanks, the fuel cell and the electric motor – into the existing BMW X5 platform for the small production run. The BMW iX5 Hydrogen already successfully demonstrated its everyday usability, even at very low temperatures, during the final round of winter testing in Sweden at the start of this year.

The testing results of this new small-scale series of cars are rooted in the BMW Group’s experience with hydrogen as a drive technology. Hydrogen-powered combustion engines had already been in use before the arrival of the fuel cell system. Efficiency considerations prompted the BMW Group to continue development work in this area from 2015 with the BMW 5 Series GT Hydrogen Cell based on fuel cell technology. Fuel cell technology has since been steadily refined by harnessing the company’s vast know-how in the field of conventional drive technologies and applying the exacting standards of overall efficiency it expects of all its vehicles.

Fuel Cell Production 

A chemical reaction occurs in the fuel cell between hydrogen from the tanks and oxygen from the air. Maintaining a steady supply of both elements to the fuel cell’s membrane is crucial for the drive system’s efficiency. Therefore, in addition to the technological equivalents of features found on combustion engines, such as charge air coolers, air filters, control units and sensors, the BMW Group also developed special hydrogen components for its new fuel cell system. These include the high-speed compressor with turbine and high-voltage coolant pump.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Drive System by BMW

The BMW Group sources the individual fuel cells required for manufacturing the BMW iX5 Hydrogen from the Toyota Motor Corporation. The two companies have enjoyed a partnership characterised by trust for many years and have collaborated on fuel cell drive systems since 2013. Fuel cell systems are manufactured in two main steps. The individual fuel cells are first assembled into a fuel cell stack. The next step involves fitting all the other components to produce a complete fuel cell system.

Stacking the fuel cells is a fully automated process. Once the individual components have been inspected for damage, the stack is compressed by a machine with a force of five tonnes and placed in a housing. The stack housing is manufactured in the light metal foundry at BMW Group Plant Landshut using a sand casting technique. For this, molten aluminium is poured into a mould made from compacted sand mixed with resin in a process specially designed for this small-series vehicle. The pressure plate, which delivers hydrogen and oxygen to the fuel cell stack, is made from cast plastic parts and light-alloy castings, also from the Landshut plant. The pressure plate forms a gas-tight and water-tight seal around the stack housing.

The final assembly of the fuel cell stacks includes a voltage test and extensive testing of the chemical reaction within the cells. Finally, all the different components are fitted together in the assembly area to produce the complete system. During this system assembly stage, further components are fitted, such as the compressor, the anode and cathode, the high-voltage coolant pump and the wiring harness.

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