From £37,2208
Fuel cell-powered 5 Series GT concept previews a revolutionary storage and refuelling system which could pave the way for hydrogen to become the alternative fuel of choice

Our Verdict

BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo

The 5 Series Gran Turismo is an interesting concept, but the execution is flawed

  • First Drive

    BMW 5 Series GT Fuel Cell concept review

    Fuel cell-powered 5 Series GT concept previews a revolutionary storage and refuelling system which could pave the way for hydrogen to become the alternative fue
  • First Drive

    BMW 520d Gran Turismo

    The BMW 520d GT represents the new entry point in the Gran Turimso range, slashing £9000 from the list price

What is it?

This is BMW’s latest hydrogen-powered concept vehicle. It is based on the 5GT and is powered by the latest-generation fuel cell stack, which is being co-developed with Toyota.

More importantly, this concept also features a new type of hydrogen storage tank. BMW has patented the technology and says it is now confident that not only is this new storage method the way of the future but also that a ‘hydrogen economy’ is the only way that Europe can disengage from fossil fuels over the medium term.

BMW has long experimented with vehicles powered by hydrogen, with its first experimental model dating back to 1984.

If you have a good memory, you might recall the ’Hydrogen 7’, based on the V12 7 Series and built in very limited numbers until 2007.

The car used a relatively conventional internal combustion engine, which, partly thanks to BMW’s Valvetronic valve intake system, could run on both petrol and hydrogen.

Since then, BMW and its hydrogen research went relatively quiet. The arrival of the first serious battery-powered production cars and scepticism about the likelihood of a ‘hydrogen economy’ has, in recent years, put hydrogen fuel cell cars on the back foot.

In 2013, BMW and Toyota signed a strategic collaboration on the development of hydrogen fuel cell drivetrains. This, BMW says, "provided fresh momentum for the development of FCEV drive technology".

BMW says its big breakthrough with this new prototype is in the hydrogen fuel tank and refuelling technology.

What's it like?

While this concept fuel cell car looks like a standard BMW 5GT both inside and out, it is very different under the skin.

Changes were made to the car’s structure, mainly in terms of crash safety for the fitting of the hydrogen tank and because the tank is bolted into the car as an integral part of the structure.

Under the bonnet sits the fuel cell stack. Fully dressed with all the ancillary components, it’s about the size of a conventional big V8. The core fuel cell stacks are a Toyota technology, with BMW supplying the new hydrogen tank, electric drive train and high voltage battery.

When running under a relatively low load the fuel cell is 65% efficient in turning the hydrogen fuel into forward motion. That’s far better than any internal combustion engine.

Under heavy load, however, the efficiency drops to 45%, which is slightly better than a typical turbodiesel engine.

The rear wheels are driven by a 199bhp electric motor via a new two-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. A very small 1kWh battery sits above the rear axle.

The new storage tank is a huge multilayer construction. At its core is an aluminium pressure vessel which in turn is wrapped with a continuous carbonfibre-reinforced plastic filament.

This wrapped layer is around 5cm think. Around that is a radiation shield, and between that and an aluminium casing forming the outside skin, there is cavity containing a vacuum. The tank’s end caps are aluminium castings welded into place.

Seen in isolation, the new tank looks like a noseless missile of the type you see hanging from the wings of jet fighters.

The key advance of this 5GT is BMW’s newly patented method of refuelling and storing the hydrogen fuel. They call the tank a ‘cryogenic pressure vessel’, which is designed to be filled with hydrogen cooled to –220deg C.

Super-cooling allows the tank to hold some 7.1kg of hydrogen, compared with just 2.3kg at the ambient temperature. BMW’s engineers say that 7.1kg of hydrogen equates to a real-world range of around 434 miles. The refuelling also takes around five minutes. A today’s hydrogen prices, that’s around £50.

Although this was an early engineering car, it felt tight and ran seamlessly. It’s relatively swift and the handling and ride is improved over that of the standard production model, probably because bolting the tank into the structure has improved the body stiffness. As you might expect, the car was also impressively refined.

One thing that struck most forcefully while driving was how difficult it will be for BMW's engineers to install any sort of individual character into any future fuel cell-powered executive car. Electrically driven vehicles can all be remarkably similar in the way they drive, which is smoothly, quietly and briskly.

Should I buy one?

You can’t. BMW and Toyota say they hope to have the full components set for a mass-production-capable car ready by 2020. By then the hydrogen refuelling network should be more advanced, especially in countries such as Japan and Korea.

Germany is also working to install a hydrogen network along its most heavily used routes. You get the sense that BMW and Toyota expect the argument for hydrogen power to have become dominant by then, as hopes for battery vehicles fizzle out.

Batteries, say fuel cell enthusiasts, will always be expensive, have a limited lifespan and, crucially, suffer extended recharging times. There’s also an argument that batteries are not particularly environmentally friendly.

A fuel cell stack should last around 5000 hours or 125,000 miles, while the hydrogen storage tank should last indefinitely. This concept is the best proof yet that hydrogen will win the alternative fuel race.

Read more:

BMW's hydrogen i8 research vehicle revealed

2015 BMW 2 Series Active Tourer eDrive review

Join the debate

Comments
9

1 July 2015
And how much will the fuel cell stack cost to replace at 125,000 miles?

2 July 2015
Musk was so right about how rubbish Hydrogen power is. £50 for 400 miles is about 55 miles to the gallon i.e. about the same as a standard diesel 5 series. Then the fuel stack goes at 125,000 making the car a worthless secondhand buy. And that's forgetting the possible £60,000 plus initial cost! And don't get me onto venting!
Over to you hydrogen fans boys

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 July 2015
I often see arguments for battery car, people dreaming of free charging or no cost running them. The dream is to get rid of the fuel cost we have to pay today, be it in gallons or liter. But as we have started to see, power companies setting up charging stations have started to ask for charging prices equal or even surpassing the gas prices. They say setting up charging stations along highways or cross country cost a lot and they want to cover the cost. One guesses that in cities they will be a bit cheaper but NEVER free. Tesla setting up charging stations for you to use for free is a result of them overcharging you when you buy their cars. And there is no grantee it will always be free.
So not matter what kind of fuel we use in the future, we will always pay. Charging at home is no grantee it will be cheaper. Governments/power companies will find a way to charge us. And no government will let you off that easy. They want their cut as always. Even if every one of us set up a solar charging station at home.

Dan

2 July 2015
Top tip - at night unplug your toaster and plug the car in. That way you pay the same price for the power. Do it after 12:00 on a timer and you'll get cheap rate, £0.02 a mile for a Leaf :- fact

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 July 2015
Top tip - at night unplug your toaster and plug the car in. That way you pay the same price for the power. Do it after 12:00 on a timer and you'll get cheap rate, £0.02 a mile for a Leaf :- fact

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 July 2015
Top tip - at night unplug your toaster and plug the car in. That way you pay the same price for the power. Do it after 12:00 on a timer and you'll get cheap rate, £0.02 a mile for a Leaf :- fact

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 July 2015
Top tip - at night unplug your toaster and plug the car in. That way you pay the same price for the power. Do it after 12:00 on a timer and you'll get cheap rate, £0.02 a mile for a Leaf :- fact

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

2 July 2015
...but consider the share space needed for electric cars while they top up. But petrol or diesel cars need say 5 - 10 minutes. At best an electric car 30 - 40. That implies far more space is needed for electric cars - while they're stopped and are being topped up. If we imagine 2 million electric cars on the road. Imagine how busy Petrol/Diesel stations tend to be. Imagine a comparable space where electric cars come to top up. Assume from cost point of view - clearly they will ask money for charging. And that there will be services offered like today for your car. Clearly service stations would need to have 3-4 times the space than is occupied by them today. And space especially in cities costs real lot. So I'm not entirely surprised that city planners - like the idea that an electric car can be topped up in 5 - 10 minutes like internal combustion engined car. But that's what hydrogen fuel cell cars essentially are - electric cars. The fuel cell supplying power to the electric engine, instead of the car having a stack of batteries.

2 July 2015
As the North sea gas fields were discovered and plans to exploit this resource were made to deliver Natural Gas to the home, I can image the terror this concept created. Methane - to the home - an explosive chemical that will wipe out streets as it explodes in homes and escapes from the distribution pipes. OMG that gas network will cost billions and then we have to buy new fires/central heating systems. Whats wrong with Coal - it much cheaper and we only need to heat the rooms we use - and now we have to heat the whole house! Today the same fears paralaise us with the thought of migrating to Hydrogen, both for household and transportation needs. Yes there are things that must be done and investment made. We will all adapt and one day wonder what all the fuss is about.

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Skoda-Karoq 2.0 TDI 4x4
    First Drive
    16 October 2017
    Diesel version of Skoda’s junior SUV is unobtrusive and undemanding, but we’d still go for the silkier petrol version of the Karoq
  • Audi Q7 e-tron
    First Drive
    16 October 2017
    Expensive and flawed but this understated diesel-electric Audi Q7 has a lot to offer
  • Citroën C3
    First Drive
    16 October 2017
    Is the third gen Citroën C3 ‘fresh and different’ enough to take on its supermini rivals? We spend six months with one to find out
  • BMW X3
    First Drive
    15 October 2017
    A satisfying rework of the X3 that usefully improves its handling, cabin finish, space and connectivity to make this BMW a class front-runner again
  • Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer
    First Drive
    13 October 2017
    Off-road estate is now bigger, more spacious and available with torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, but is it enough to make its German rivals anxious?