BMW’s i8 hybrid sports car is futuristic in its own right, but this striking prototype takes things a step further. During a technology preview the firm demonstrated this i8-based hydrogen fuel cell research vehicle, showcasing powertrain tech that it says will hit the road in the next decade.

Using the standard i8’s body and carbonfibre construction as a base, the unnamed prototype throws out the existing rear-mounted 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine in place of a hydrogen fuel cell stack. It’s reportedly the same powertrain we sampled in the 5-Series GT FCEV, generating 242bhp. The hydrogen is held in a cryogenic storage tank where the electric motor’s batteries usually sit.

The prototype also sports a dramatically altered bodyshell and a unique rear-end, added purely for aerodynamic purposes after extensive wind tunnel testing. It’s not known whether this design will inspire i8s of the future, but there’s no doubt aerodynamic efficiency will play a huge role in future BMW styling.

Unusually, the two-door prototype was built back in 2012, but has been kept hidden from prying eyes and only used a top secret locations. The length of its existence show’s how far BMW’s fuel cell technology has come, evident in a recent confirmation that BMW will begin large-scale production of a hydrogen car by 2020. The firm’s forward-thinking ‘i’ brand, which includes the i3 and i8, will be the most likely launchpad for any fuel-cell model.

The electric and range-extending i3’s production cycle means a next generation model will be planned around this time, so it’s not out of the question that this will be the first with a hydrogen powertrain. But the performance on offer could also see a production hydrogen i8 in years to come.

BMW has an engineering alliance with Toyota, which is why the hydrogen fuel cell stack demonstrated in both the reseach vehicle and the 5 Series GT FCEV is also shared with the new Toyota Mirai, itself claiming to be the world’s first commercially available hydrogen car.