BMW Gets A New Hydrogen Powered Twist For EV Charging — But Why?

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Can you guess what’s different about this sporty new BMW plug-in hybrid EV? Three guesses! If you guessed hydrogen, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. That little white power cord is connected to a charging station run by a hydrogen fuel cell.

Fans of battery-powered EVs generally don’t see much of a future in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, at least not in the area of street legal passenger cars. Nevertheless, the new charging station indicates that there may be a way for batteries and hydrogen to coexist peacefully in the sparkling green low carbon economy of the future.

Say what?

Hydrogen Fuel Cells And Battery EVs, Perfect Together?

Yes, what. The fuel cell company is UK-based AFC Energy, and the new EV charging system is the result of a 10-year R&D program.

AFC is pitching the system under the trademarked name CH2ARGE. The idea is to break open a charging bottleneck that could occur as EVs hit the mass market in force.

AFC crunched up the window and came up with this:

…the UK government has stated that 50% of new car sales will be EVs by 2030 which will see nine million EVs on the road. B y 2040, 100% of new car sales are planned to be EVs leading to the entirety of the UK’s fleet of 36 million cars becoming EVs.

The way AFC sees it, if all these cars are charged from the grid, fossil-powered electricity may have to come into play. The company cites a UK National Grid estimate of an 8-gigawatt increase in electricity generation required to fill the growing need for EV charging. Based on that estimate, AFC draws this scenario:

…if one in 10 of the EVs is being recharged simultaneously the UK’s future fleet of 36 million cars would have a peak demand surge of 25. 7 GW based on an average EV battery of 57 kWh. This maximum peak demand equates to approximately half the UK current generational requirement and is the equivalent of 7.9 new nuclear power stations or 17,100 wind turbines.


In addition, AFC foresees trouble ahead for sports facilities, shopping malls, supermarkets and other large venues with large parking facilities:

…a scenario where 25% of vehicles are EVs and half plug in to charge while at the venue would require 11.5MW of electricity generation. Extensive investment in new power stations and upgrade of the distribution network would be required unless these demands are met through localised power generation.

That may be giving EV drivers a little less credit than they deserve. After all, if you know you’re heading for a crush of hundreds of other cars in a parking lot you may want to charge up before you get there.

On the other hand, the convenience of on-site EV charging is a major selling point. Large venues that want to stay ahead of the competition will be looking for ways to enable on-site charging for as many cars as possible.

What About Renewable Hydrogen?

When you put it that way, this is beginning to make sense. CleanTechnica has previously noted that in the EU, stakeholders in the renewable power-to-gas field are looking at the existing fossil gas infrastructure as a way to transport and store hydrogen without having to build extensive new infrastructure (power-to-gas refers to using wind or solar energy to “split” hydrogen from water).

AFC is already beginning to deploy its fuel cells on an industrial scale through an EU-supported fuel cell project called PowerUp. That project is more or less the upside-down version of power-to-gas. It is designed to reclaim untreated industrial waste H2 to produce electricity and water.

The CH2ARGE system consists of a AFC’s small scale alkaline fuel cell connected to an inverter, which the the company describes as similar to ones at Toyota’s EV research center. The rest sounds simple enough:

The inverter transfers energy created by the fuel cell to a charger. The system is supported by a 48V battery pack to assist with peak power demands. The solution can also be tailored for both on and off grid applications and scale up as required.

The system used for the i8 demo was built to provide level 1, 2, or 3 charging for two EV s at the same time.

The company also makes it clear that renewable H2 is part of the business strategy, along with energy storage and load shifting:

The AFC Energy fuel cell can be deployed as part of a “hydrogen battery” scheme. When grid demand is low, excess power generated from renewable sources, such as wind or solar, can be diverted to a water electrolyser for hydrogen generation.

The produced hydrogen can then be stored and optimally released to our fuel cells at periods of peak demand (with higher tariffs), to support grid power requirements, when required.

What About BMW?

The BMW i8 hybrid is the first ever car to be charged on AFC’s new system, which is a perfect fit for the company’s “The future is yours to drive” slogan.

Back in 2016 some of us at CleanTechnica were among those eagerly anticipating an all-electric version of the i8. That doesn’t seem to have materialized yet. Nevertheless, the 2017 iteration of the i8 certainly made an impression. Here’s an observation from our editor:

Of all the cars I’ve driven, I’ve never had so many expressions of exclamation from people on the street as I did when driving the “normal” BMW i8 around town.

For 100% electric mobility you’ll have to move over to the i3 series.

On the other hand, the i8 series has a decent battery range (for a hybrid), so you can at least do most if not all of your daily shopping, errands, and commute on a zero emission basis before heading out to the open road.

What About The USA?

The EU is a hotspot for power-to-gas R&D, and the renewable H2 marketplace is also heating up here in the US. CleanTechnica is reaching out to the H2 community for some insights into the prospect of hydrogen-powered EV charging in the US, so stay tuned for more on that score.

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Photo (cropped) via BMW.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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