From direct water injection systems to hybrids and full hydrogen fuel cell powertrains, BMW is leaving no stone unturned it its search for increased efficiency and reduced pollution.

BMW has been testing the feasibility of hydrogen fuel cells as an eventual replacement for the internal combustion engine for 15 years and its latest prototype, unveiled this week, suggests that the company is as focused on speed and performance as it is on environmental well-being.

The company has taken its flagship i8 hybrid supercar and transformed it into a fuel cell sportscar. Currently capable of a top speed of just 124mph (200 km/h) the car can still accelerate to 100km in under six seconds although its range remains a secret.

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The company has been working on the car since 2012 and its carbon fiber body has been heavily modified to improve cooling and air circulation as well as cut weight. As such, the BMW ‘i’ brand which currently consists of a plug-in electric car (i3) and a plug-in hybrid (i8) is expected to become a fuel-cell range by the end of the decade.

However, the company is also planning to bring a more mass-market fuel cell car to market by 2020.

BMW also showcased a prototype 5 Series GT — a large four door coupé — that is powered by the same fuel cell technology used in the Toyota Mirai, the company’s first affordable fuel cell car.

Hybrid tech still in the picture

Issues surrounding hydrogen creation and fuelling infrastructure need to be addressed before fuel cells stand a chance of going mainstream so in the meantime BMW is also persevering with hybrid technology.

This year it launched its first BMW-branded hybrid, the X5 xDrive40e crossover, and it is now looking at bringing the same technology to its 3 Series sedan and its new 2 Series Active tourer which is aimed at young families. However, neither will become a reality unless they can add rather than detract from the driving experience—one of the principal pillars of the BMW brand.

One new technology that will be rolling out to production BMWs shortly is direct water injection. By spraying water into the cylinders ahead of the fuel, engine temperature falls considerably which has the knock-on effect of saving fuel while also increasing performance.

BMW claims the simple system can boost fuel economy by 8 per cent and up the power by 10 per cent.

And, best of all the system is self-replenishing. Water is extracted from the engine and from the air conditioning system and used for engine injection.