Volkswagen and Audi have been putting most of their eggs into the battery-electric basket, despite a few hydrogen-powered concepts in the past. But it wants to diversify, and VAG's next big move is a new fuel-cell patent deal with one of the most auto-focused hydrogen propulsion companies around.

Audi has inked a deal with Ballard Power Systems that grants the automaker rights to the Canada-based company's patented proton exchange membrane fuel-cell tech in a deal that Ballard says is worth upwards of $80 million. That particular breed of technology is the clincher, since it allows the fuel cells to operate at a lower temperature – right around the same as internal combustion engines.

The terms of the deal are two fold: Ballard will transfer its fuel cell IP to the Volkswagen Group for $50 million to start, with the remaining cash received in 2016, and will extend its engineering contract services with VAG through 2019, with an option to extend until 2021.

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You've already seen the extent of Ballard's work with Volkswagen and Audi in the past. It provided the underlying technology for the Audi A7 Sportback H-Tron Quattro, Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen HyMotion and its Passat HyMotion sibling. None of those are destined to go on sale anytime soon, but with Toyota and Hyundai both throwing massive investments at hydrogen, VW is showing that it is in the game, while covering its ass in the process.