BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt has suggested that hydrogen fuel cell technology is feasible for endurance racing and hasn’t ruled out a future Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The German manufacturer, which had undertaken a feasibility study for a hydrogen-powered race car several years ago, has since largely shifted to electric powertrain development, most notably with its entry into the ABB FIA Formula E Championship beginning later this year.
While full-electric cars at Le Mans appear to be some years away, Marquardt believes hydrogen could soon be on the horizon.
“We did a concept study to check is it possible, is it feasible or not? We came to the conclusion, from our point of view, with constraints, it’s feasible,” he said.
“Looking at where the future goes, for sure, with regards to endurance racing, in our point of view, that would be a technology that you can definitely consider for a race application.
“With time going on, maybe it’s something that could [be possible]… Even with prototype, something we could look at in the future.”
The ACO, which has long had aspirations of introducing hydrogen-powered cars, is understood to be open to new technologies for its subsequent set of LMP1 regulations, which will likely be launched in the mid 2020s.
Several groups, including Green GT, have revealed fuel cell concepts, although none have yet to come to fruition in a full race environment.
The Green GT H2, originally announced as a Garage 56 entry for 2013, completed the first-ever hydrogen-powered lap of Le Mans in 2016.
Battery-Electric Still “Quite Far Away” for Endurance Racing
While traction continues to be made in the electric racing front, Marquardt believes it’s unlikely to be an ideal platform for endurance racing, at least in the short-term.
“Honestly speaking, battery-electric, running for 24 hours or whatever, I would say it’s still quite far away from becoming a reality,” he said.
“Even with quick charging and everything, I think all of the improvements that are clearly made and have big steps.
“When you look at a racing environment, when you talk about a few seconds or minutes for a pit stop, if anything, you’re still quite far away from that.”
Marquardt has raised questions over the feasibility of ‘hot swapping’ batteries during pit stops, a concept that Don Panoz’s GT-EV prototype was set to employ in its bid for a Garage 56 slot.
“High-voltage handling is something you have to do very carefully and very safely,” said Marquardt, who holds a degree in aerospace engineering.
“‘Hot swapping’ high-voltage components, I would say, is still something where you’d have to say, ‘Does that work?’ And what is the message you relay to the people outside?
“Do you want to ask people in five years from now to hot-swap the battery on their car?
“There’s still a lot of thought and brains going into infrastructure for charging of electric vehicles once they become [mainstream]. There’s a lot of questions that need to be asked.”