BMW i8's future revealed by hydrogen fuel cell research car

BMW‘s i8 hybrid sports car is futuristic in its own right, but this striking prototype takes things a step further. During a technology preview the firm demonstrated this i8-based hydrogen fuel cell research vehicle, showcasing powertrain tech that it plans to roll out on the roads during the next decade.

Using the standard i8’s body and carbonfibre construction as a base, the unnamed prototype throws out the existing rear-mounted 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine and replaces it with a hydrogen fuel cell stack. It’s reportedly the same powertrain we sampled in the 5-Series GT FCEV, generating 242bhp. The hydrogen is held in a cryogenic storage tank where the electric motor batteries usually sit.

The prototype also sports a dramatically altered bodyshell and a completely unique rear-end, which is added purely for aerodynamic purposes after extensive wind tunnel testing. It’s not known whether or not the styling provides a preview for i8s of the future, but there’s no doubt aerodynamic efficiency will play a huge role in future BMW styling.

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Unusually, the two-door prototype was built back in 2012, but has been kept hidden from prying eyes and only used a top secret locations. The length of its existence show’s how far BMW’s fuel cell technology has come, which is evident in a recent confirmation that BMW will begin large-scale production of a hydrogen car by 2020. The firm’s forward-thinking ‘i’ brand, which includes the i3 and i8, will be the most likely launchpad for any fuel-cell model.

The electric and range-extending i3’s production cycle means a next generation model will be planned around this time, so it’s not out of the question that this will be the first available with the hydrogen powertrain. But the performance on offer could also see a production hydrogen i8 in the years to come after.

BMW has an engineering alliance with Toyota, which is why the hydrogen fuel cell stack demonstrated in both the reseach vehicle and the 5 Series GT FCEV is also shared with the new Toyota Mirai, itself claiming to be the world’s first commercially available hydrogen car. 

Read our review of the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer eDrive prototype…

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