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BMW “Looking Into” Hydrogen Racing; Prefers Fuel Cells

BMW evaluating hydrogen racing, but with fuel cell technology as key technical aspect…

Photo: BMW

BMW is ‘looking into the possibilities’ of introducing hydrogen technology into its motorsport efforts, although the use of fuel cells would be a critical component of any program.

BMW M CEO Franciscus van Meel told Sportscar365 that the German manufacturer does not believe in the concept of hydrogen combustion engines and will instead look to incorporate fuel cell technologies into any hydrogen-based racing programs.

While BMW is part of the technical working group that is seeking to shape the Hydrogen class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans that was delayed to 2027 last year, its approach notably puts it at odds with Toyota and Alpine.

Those two brands have both presented concept cars that feature a combustion engine that runs on hydrogen.

By contrast, the ACO’s own effort to promote hydrogen in racing have revolved around fuel cells, with both the currently active LMP3-based H24 prototype and the H24EVO that was unveiled last year making use of that technology.

The ACO has stated that it plans to accept both forms of technology into its planned Hydrogen class that could debut as early as 2027.

“If there’s a solution in hydrogen racing, what we do not want to do is to make combustion engines with hydrogen, because then you still have emissions,” Van Meel told Sportscar365.

“So we’re actually looking more into fuel cell hydrogen racing cars. But actually it’s still a challenge, because you need huge tanks and it actually does not fit the current LMDh silhouettes.

“We’re more towards the H2 project side, because if you look at series production cars, you’re also looking at fuel stacks and models, not at combustion engines. Because BMW had a 7-series with a hydrogen combustion engine [in 2005].

“When you start burning things in a combustion engine, you produce emissions. But with the fuel cells, it’s just water coming out of the tailpipes. For local emissions, that’s obviously easier.”

Fuel cell technology has been a key factor of hydrogen development in BMW’s road car fleet. Most recently, it introduced a pilot fleet of BMW iX5 hydrogen SUVs in Europe.

Notably, BMW has sought cooperation with Toyota on this project, which provides the individual fuel cells for the car.

Van Meel pointed out that hydrogen research is part of a strategy of split priorities for BMW, with the marque not willing to dismiss any propulsion technology in favor of the other.

To that end, it has pursued electrification, as seen in its now-defunct Formula E effort, while also building the BMW M Hybrid V8 for use in the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“Of course, we also look into racing about the possibilities but also the challenges that there are,” van Meel said. “Because we need to make sure that we are still focused on what we do.

“But on the other hand, we don’t want to miss out anything. So I think we are one of the companies that actually does look into hydrogen, but not with the purpose to start with that tomorrow.

“It’s more the purpose of seeing if there are possibilities for the future or not. And it’s a big challenge. It sounds easy, but actually it’s not.

“And at the same time, we’re looking at pure electric cars as well. And also at pure electric racing. And we also see a lot of opportunities there.

“So actually, in racing, it’s like in series production cars. You have to look at all the different drivetrains. You should not give up one. And you should look at all the different possibilities all the time to be at the front of the game.”

Davey Euwema is Sportscar365's European Editor. Based in The Netherlands, Euwema covers the FIA World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series and Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, among other series.

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