BMW showcased a proof-of-concept green hydrogen mobility ecosystem at a conference in Johannesburg, alongside partners Anglo American Platinum and Sasol.

BMW iX5 Hydrogen

Each company will provide a unique part of the value chain that showcases its capabilities in this new emerging economy.

Used for the pilot is a fleet of BMW iX5 hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in Johannesburg as part of the company’s world tour that started in Belgium in February 2023.

It has been tested in extreme temperatures in the United Arab Emirates and Sweden, with stops in France, South Korea, Tokyo, the US and, of course, Germany.

The iX5 hydrogen first made an appearance at the Festival of Motoring in Johannesburg in August 2023. Following that, all three companies announced a collaboration at the 2023 South Africa Green Hydrogen Summit in Cape Town.

BMW’s proof of concept comes four months after Toyota introduced its hydrogen ecosystem at the Smarter Mobility Africa summit with Sasol and Air Products, the first manufacturer in South Africa to do so.

At its Hydrogen Tech Days event taking place between 14 and 16 February, the BMW Group emphasised its support for the global expansion of both hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in equal measure.

Thilosh Moodally, GM for group communications and external affairs at BMW Group South Africa, said: It is our assertion that the investment needed to develop both infrastructures is less than that required for blanket expansion of electric charging infrastructure.

Speaking at the Johannesburg event, Dr Juergen Guldner, general programme manager of hydrogen technology at the BMW Group in Munich, says a hydrogen car is an electric car.

“You get all the advantages of electric driving: the great acceleration the silent ride, emission-free because the exhaust is water, but we can refuel it in just three to four minutes at a fuelling station. It’s basically the best of both worlds,” says Guldner.

One of the biggest challenges with electricity is that you can’t store it for long periods, adds Guldner. Hydrogen as a gas can be stored for longer periods of time, can be transported over longer distances, and as gas through pipelines or in liquid form, he says.

At the end of the day, our customers decide which kind of powertrain and car they want to drive, he says. “We want to offer a suitable technology to everybody, and hydrogen is interesting to people who don’t have electric charging at home or at work.”

There’s a ton of opportunity to transport energy and make hydrogen a transport medium for renewable energy in the future, says Guldner.

In a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined to generate electricity, heat, and water, using platinum as a catalyst.

Prakashim Moodliar, head of projects at Anglo American Platinum, says its platinum group metals will play a strategic role in enabling a new industrial sector in the country, and globally.

Anglo American’s multifaceted approach to decarbonise focuses on renewable energy, hydrogen generation and utilisation and energy storage, supported by improving its energy efficiencies, says Moodliar.

The company launched the world’s largest hydrogen-powered mine haul at the Mogalakwena Mine in Limpopo in 2022. The hybrid prototype used 2MW of hydrogen fuel cells to carry a 290-tonne payload, which ran for over a year to showcase a fully integrated green hydrogen system.

“This partnership between Anglo American Platinum, BMW and Sasol is one of our flagship green mobility demonstration projects. Seeing the car in front of you [iX5 hydrogen] shows that we can demonstrate a commercial, viable solution.”

Moodliar says: We are working with local government and stakeholders to harness renewable energy sources while supporting the Just Energy Transition.

Dries Swanepoel, principal specialist for green hydrogen at Sasol, says hydrogen mobility presents a genuine opportunity for South Africa to decarbonise, particularly in the hard-to-abate and hard-to-electrify heavy-duty transport sector.

“Developing the infrastructure and going to market for hydrogen fuel mobility solutions is a key pillar of the South African government’s green hydrogen economy strategy, says Swanepoel.

“This has the potential to lower carbon emissions, unlock investment, create jobs and drive the demand for critical metals and raw materials,” he says.

The company produced its first green hydrogen at its Sasolburg operations in June 2023, which now produces 150kg of green hydrogen per day.

According to Swanepoel, once construction at its 69MW wind farm is complete in the Eastern Cape, Sasol will have sufficient renewable power to produce green hydrogen at a commercial scale; a first in South Africa.

As for cost per kilogramme for hydrogen, Swanepoel cited prices between $12 to $14 per kg in Europe, while the US was offering around $18 to $20 per kg at the pump, which is now $36 per kg.

If you look at studies that’s been done, and total cost of ownership, there’s a belief that to be on a comparative basis today, the pump price for hydrogen should sit anything between $7 to $10 per kg,” says Swanepoel.

First drive and refuelling the iX5

At the event, the media were given a brief opportunity to drive the BMW iX5 hydrogen briefly around Waterfall and Midrand.

The vehicle is based on the X5, which has a total of 295kW of power and is fitted with 6kg hydrogen tanks. The range is around 500km, while the top speed is 185km/h, and it can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6 seconds.

The iX5 drives just like an EV; it is quiet. BMW included its ‘Iconic Sounds’, created by Hans Zimmer for sport mode, among other sounds.

The drive included a refuelling stop at BMW’s head quarters in Midrand. The mobile station was set up by Sasol and the dispensing technology was provided by Air Products.

Their refuelling is dependent on things like temperature and pressure in the tank, and the delivery pressure that gets into the vehicle.

BMW cannot confirm when the iX5 hydrogen will go into production but will use information collected from its world tour to determine the outcome and next steps.