BMW gets a new hydrogen-powered twist for EV charging - but why?


Published on January 18, 2019 |
by Tina Casey

18 January 2019 by Tina Casey

Can you imagine what's different about this sporty new Plug-In Hybrid EV from BMW? Three guesses! If you suspect hydrogen, go out and buy a cigar. This small white power cord is connected to a charging station powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

Fans of battery-powered electric vehicles generally do not see a bright future in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, at least not in the area of ​​street-legal passenger cars. However, the new charging station indicates that batteries and hydrogen may possibly coexist peacefully in the glittering green low-carbon economy of the future.

Say what?

Hydrogen fuel cells and battery EVs - perfect together?

Yes what. The fuel cell company is AFC Energy, based in the United Kingdom. The new charging system for electric vehicles is the result of a ten-year research and development program.

AFC introduces the system under the brand name CH2ARGE. The idea is to break up a cargo bottleneck that could arise when electric vehicles enter the mass market.

AFC pinched the window and came to the following conclusion:

... The UK government has indicated that 50% of new car sales will be accounted for by EVs by 2030, while nine million electric vehicles will be on the road. By 2040, 100% of new car sales are expected to be made up of electric vehicles, resulting in the entire British fleet of 36 million vehicles becoming electric vehicles.

As AFC sees it, when all these cars are charged from the grid, fossil electricity may have to come into play. The company cites an estimate by the UK National Grid that electricity generation needs to be increased by 8 gigawatts to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles. Based on this estimate, AFC prefers this scenario:

... If one in ten electric vehicles is charged at the same time, the future fleet of 36 million cars in the UK would have a demand surge of 25 to 7 GW, based on an average electric vehicle battery of 57 kWh. This maximum demand peak is equivalent to about half of the current UK generation needs, equivalent to 7.9 new nuclear power plants or 17,100 wind turbines.


In addition, AFC faces problems for sports facilities, shopping malls, supermarkets and other large venues with large parking facilities:

... A scenario in which 25% of vehicles consist of electric vehicles and half of the charging process is charged on-site, which would require 11.5 MW of power. Extensive investment in new power plants and modernization of the distribution network would be required if these requirements are not met by localized power generation.

This could result in EV drivers getting slightly less credit than they earn. If you know that you drive in a parking lot to hundreds of other cars, you may want to recharge before you arrive there.

On the other hand, the convenience of on-site EV charging is an important selling point. Large venues that want to stay ahead of competitors are looking for ways to charge as many cars as possible on-site.

What about renewable hydrogen?

If you say so, that makes sense. Clean Technica It has already been noted that in the EU, renewable energy players on gas consider the existing fossil gas infrastructure as an option for transporting and storing hydrogen without having to build large new infrastructure (power-to-gas refers to the Use of wind or solar energy to "split" hydrogen from water).

AFC is already starting to deploy its fuel cells on an industrial scale through an EU-backed fuel cell project called PowerUp. This project is more or less the reverse version of power-to-gas. It is used to recover untreated industrial waste H2 to generate electricity and water.

The CH2ARGE system consists of a small AFC alkaline fuel cell connected to an inverter that the company calls similar to that used at the Toyota Research Center for Electrical Engineering. The rest just sounds like:

The inverter transmits the energy generated by the fuel cell to a charger. The system is powered by a 48V battery pack to meet peak power requirements. The solution can also be adapted for on- and off-grid applications and scaled as needed.

The system used for the i8 demo has been designed to charge two Tier 1, 2, or 3 EVs simultaneously.

The company also makes clear that renewable H2 is part of the business strategy in addition to energy storage and load shifting:

The AFC Energy fuel cell can be used as part of a hydrogen battery. At low grid demand, surplus electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind or sun can be channeled into a water electrolyzer for hydrogen production.

The generated hydrogen can then be stored and optimally delivered to our fuel cells in times of high demand (with higher tariffs) to meet the power needs of the electricity when needed.

What about BMW?

The BMW i8 Hybrid is the first car loaded with the new AFC system that fits perfectly with the slogan "The future belongs to you".

Back in 2016, some of us joined Clean Technica I eagerly awaited an all-electric version of the i8. That does not seem to have materialized yet. Nevertheless, the 2017 iteration of the i8 certainly made an impression. Here is an observation from our editor:

Of all the cars I've driven, I've never had so many exclamations from people on the street as driving the "normal" BMW i8 through the city.

For 100% electromobility you need to switch to the i3 series.

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

What about the US?

The EU is a hotspot for power-to-gas research and development. The market for renewable H2 technologies is also heating up in the USA. Clean Technica addresses the H2 community to gain some insight into the prospect of hydrogen EV charging in the US. Stay up to date.

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Photo (tailored) about BMW.

keywords: AFC Energy, BMW, renewable hydrogen

About the author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technologies, emerging materials, biofuels and water and wastewater issues. Tina's articles are frequently published on Reuters, Scientific American and many other websites. Illustrated views are their own. Follow her on Twitter @ TinaMCasey and Google+.