In 2022, BMW will reveal a 374-hp hydrogen-powered X5-based SUV

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No matter how fun and tailpipe-emission-free EVs may be, it’s hard to ignore that the currently available lithium-based batteries are heavy, bulky, and not great for the environment once you look at their whole lifecycle. When the equivalent volume of gasoline packs at least 50 times more energy, even an electric drivetrain’s extreme efficiency can’t compensate for the limitations of the cells themselves, not to mention the dead weight the vehicle carries at all times.

That being said, hydrogen fuel cell technology is far from the point where it’s viable as a competitor to battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), mostly because the infrastructure is not yet there to support the technology. And even when hydrogen gets to a point where it is produced in sufficient quantities to be priced competitively, BMW’s R&D boss Klaus Fröhlic argues that “it will then be used primarily in applications that cannot be directly electrified, such as long-distance heavy duty transport.” There’s already evidence of this happening in the rail and marine industries, among other fields where fuel cells are used in a hybrid application.

BMW, however, is not giving up on the idea of keeping fuel cells “a candidate for the fourth pillar of its powertrain portfolio in the long term.” The company announced that very soon we will see a hydrogen-powered system in a new SUV based on the X5.

The Bavarians presented their first hydrogen prototypes as early as in 2000. Fifteen 750hLs were made, with the V-12s producing 201 horsepower when burning hydrogen. Back then, fuel cells were only used to power the on-board electronics system.

In 2005, BMW followed up with 100 Hydrogen 7s based on the 760i, offering 256 horsepower and 125-miles of pure hydrogen range, for a combined 400 using the remaining 19.5 gallons of gasoline. These Chris Bangle-designed innovation specials were then leased to selected high-profile friends of BMW.

Fifteen years and quite a few fuel cell concepts later, BMW partner Toyota is selling the rather attractive second-generation of its Mirai hydrogen car, while BMW promises its pilot program involving X5-based fuel cell vehicles in 2022.

BMW Hydrogen Powertrain

And while most of us would rather drive the i8-based fuel cell prototype pictured above, it’s worth looking at what BMW will jam into a few of its “mid-size” SUVs when 2022 arrives:

The BMW i Hydrogen NEXT comes with a 125-kW fuel cell system, fed from a pair of 10,152-psi (700 bar) tanks holding 13.2-pounds of hydrogen in total. Refueling these tanks will take “three to four minutes”, while BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive unit (debuting in the BMW iX3) boosts total system output of 275 kW (374 hp).

No word on range yet, but this hybrid powertrain will see limited use in 2022, followed by a series production fuel cell in the second half of this decade, at the earliest. By then, more of us should be able to ride on hydrogen-powered buses, trams, trains, and perhaps even boats, while driving cars like the battery-electric BMW i4.

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