BMW is developing a complex powertrain that blends fuel cell and hybrid technology, allowing a car be carbon neutral in urban traffic.
The system works by having a conventional gasoline engine powering the front wheels, while a small fuel cell sends power via capacitors in the transmission tunnel to an electric motor positioned at the rear axle. In electric mode, the car drives the rear wheels, but is front-wheel drive when the gasoline engine is engaged. The systems can work in tandem to deliver bursts of acceleration, but the technology’s fate depends on when the necessary hydrogen infrastructure is implemented in urban centers.
If the hybrid-hydrogen powertrain does get off the ground, expect it to make an appearance sometime in 2014, in both the next-generation MINI Cooper and the upcoming front-drive BMW. Currently, BMW is testing a 1 Series hatchback, which has been converted to a front-drive platform, with this hydrogen fuel cell setup – proving that it can work in a small vehicle.