Fuel cell technology approaches in the passing lane

July 16, 2015 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Today, acceptance of the hydrogen fuel cell technology suffers from the lack of an adequate refuelling infrastructure. But the situation could improve faster than some critics expect. The HyFive project is about to establish a hydrogen filling station network across Europe. As part of the project, BMW now opened a hydrogen filling station in Munich, closing the last gap in the “hydrogen axis” Stuttgart (Germany) to Bozano (Italy).

Fuel cell vehicles (FCEV) share many advantages of battery electric vehicles (BEV): No local emission, powerful yet silent propulsion with maximum torque already at zero rpm, for example. In contrast to BEVs however, FCEVs can be refuelled at hydrogen filling stations in time comparable to the time a conventional car spends at the filling station. Plus, the driving range of FCEVs is almost comparable to gasoline vehicles whereas the range of battery-electric cars only satisfies modest claims. For these reasons, some carmakers like Daimler and Hyundai already have FCEVs in series production albeit at low quantities. A couple of years ago, BMW has joined the bandwagon; the Bavarians recently showed a demonstrator FCEV and announced that this technology will become an integral component of its Efficient Dynamics strategy.

Batteries, motor and power electronics of BMW's fuel cell-based powertrain are identical with the company's PHEV powertrain.

The new hydrogen filling station Munich is an innovation in that it offers two different technological approaches. One is the CGH2 technology; working with a pressure of 700 bar, it is standardised and can be deployed immediately. The other technology is called CCH2 and uses gasiform hydrogen at a pressure of just 350 bar but at very low temperatures. According to BMW it promises to offer 50% higher capacity which would translate into a higher driving range of more than 500 km. The downside: This technology is currently in a very early stage of development. BMW attaches importance to have both systems at its disposal; thus it can test both systems and their integration into vehicles.

BMW's CCH2 technology needs lower pressure than the standard CGH2 technology.

BMW considers the availability of an “initial” hydrogen filling station network to be realistic by 2020. Focus markets are Japan, USA, and here in particular California, as well as Europe. Here, the focus is on Germany, UK and Scandinavia. In contrast to Japan which does not have to