BMW has plans to enter 24 Hours of Le Mans with a hydrogen-electric race car. BMW hopes that a prototype car, built for an endurance race like Le Mans, will help push the technology forward and into a form that’s more consumer friendly.
For BMW, and other manufacturers interested in creating clean-fuel cars, there are a handful of advantages to hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered cars over that of a standard battery-powered electric car. For instance, there are no worries around range as a car can simply be refuelled with water in a very similar way to filling a petrol or diesel tank.
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The trouble is, fuel cells don’t deliver quite the same level of performance as an all-electric car. BMW’s more recent hydrogen-electric effort was a tweaked version of its i8. Offering up 232 bhp, 0-60 mph in six seconds and a top speed of 124 mph, it may sound impressive for a road car, but compared to its hybrid-electric counterpart it just can’t keep up. Comparing that to the levels of race cars present at 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Porsche 919 Hybrid can put out 900 bhp, hit 0-60 in around 2 seconds and has a top speed of 208 mph – clearly, BMW has its work cut out.
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Thankfully, BMW doesn’t have plans to drop a hydrogen-electric car into 24 Hours of Le Mans this year or next. In fact, it’s likely something to come much further down the line. “It would be a technology to consider for a race application in endurance racing and is something we could look at in the future from a prototype point of view,” explained Jens Marquardt, BMW Motorsport Director, in an interview with Motorsport.
“We did a concept study to check if it is possible or not, and we came to the conclusion that with a few constraints, it is feasible.”
BMW hopes that it’ll be able to occupy the experimental Garage 56 slot of Le Mans when it decides it’s time to really make use of the technology. “At some stage, fuel-cell technology will be relevant to the road, but the timing of when it is going to happen is something we will have to see.”
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BMW has been speaking to Le Mans organisers, the ACO, about introducing alternative power to the endurance race and the ongoing discussions seem to be pointing towards a 2024 window. “We have our sights set on other engines for 2024,” ACO president Pierre Fillon explained. “I’m probably not the only one who doesn’t believe in battery-powered systems as the ultimate and comprehensive solution.
“We have a clear goal: from 2024 it should be possible to drive completely CO2-neutral at Le Mans – and that is only possible with certain technologies.”
Obviously, it’s always going to be hard to sell car fanatics on the idea of truly clean and energy-efficient propulsion, but embracing emissions-free racing at an event as big as 24 Hours of Le Mans will go a long way to pushing automotive technologies towards going green. At least BMW is already pushing towards a cleaner future with its plans to join Formula E next year.