BMW is planning to roll out a series of hydrogen-powered production cars by the end of the decade – but the UK risks lagging behind.
Speaking at a hydrogen tech summit ahead of the Tokyo motor show today (Tuesday), BMW’s general manager for hydrogen technology, Dr Juergen Guldner, said he would like to see the UK government ‘get behind’ hydrogen fuel by backing a filling station network.
Currently the UK has only 12 hydrogen filling stations – this actually dropped last year when Shell shut three, citing a lack of confidence in the fuels.
Shell had planned to expand its three sites – previously located at Cobham, Gatwick and Beaconsfield – throughout Britain, saying in early 2020 that it was working to open three more by the end of 2021. The sites never opened, though, as Shell felt hydrogen fuel cell cars failed to appeal to the public.
By comparison, in Japan there are already 164 operational hydrogen filling stations with plans to expand this to 1,000 by 2030.
Meanwhile, in Europe there are plans to ensure all major highways have access to hydrogen filling stations along with towns with more than 100,000 residents.
Dr Guldner told Car Dealer: ‘I think the UK government actually does have a role, at least in including hydrogen in its mobility strategy.
‘When the UK government has a hydrogen strategy, there will be a lot of industry players that are willing to invest, that are willing to build a hydrogen economy, from production to pipeline transport, all the way to mobility and stations. But I think it’s lacking a little bit of public support.’
Dr Guldner said the UK was for a long time ‘on par’ with Europe when it came to hydrogen plans, but that is not the case any more.
He added: ‘Just make sure you’re not falling behind. I’m not going to advise the UK government, or the UK society, on what to do, but just make sure you don’t get left behind.’
BMW believes hydrogen cars should be developed alongside its electric car plans and has a working iX5 hydrogen fuel cell development car that has been fully tested in a variety of environments.
‘Hydrogen cars are electric cars, it’s simply that the fuel that runs them is different,’ said Dr Guldner.
‘Where we are with hydrogen cars right now is where we were with electric cars 10 years ago.
‘We will have a production ready hydrogen car on sale by the end of the decade and after that we will roll it out to several other models.’
The iX5 has a hydrogen fuel tank that holds 6kg and can be refuelled in three to four minutes. It has 395bhp and a range of 500km.
The car converts hydrogen into electricity to power its battery and motors with the only bi-product from the tailoipe being water.
Dr Guldner explained that because hydrogen cars only require smaller batteries they use 90% less raw materials than an EV and are considerably lighter.
He also said he thinks the delay to the 2030 ban in the UK could actually be a good chance to get the UK public on board with hydrogen.
‘It is a good opportunity to introduce hydrogen, because there’s a lot of situations, for example, in the big cities like London, where it really will be difficult to get 100% electric charging into each and every parking spot,’ he told Car Dealer.
‘This delay [to the 2030 ban] should be complemented with some rethinking of the hydrogen strategy in the UK, because I know that the hydrogen stations that are there at the moment are closing because there’s not enough business.’
BMW has been working closely with Toyota on its hydrogen plans for the last decade and the firms said real hydrogen adoption will be driven by the commercial vehicle sector.
Experts from both car manufacturers are convinced that when HGVs and other commercial vehicles take up the technology with vigour, that demand will make hydrogen filling stations more profitable and in turn drive demand for the technology across the automotive industry.