Steane Klose | May 13, 2007

If you have read my previous post on the Toyota Prius hybrid being considered the ‘most satisfying car’ in a recent UK poll you will no-doubt have picked up on the fact that I’m not a big fan of the Prius, in fact I’m not a big fan of petrol-electric hybrids.

To me they are a perfectly timed ‘look at us we are green’ marketing exercise for Toyota. That aside, they are ugly, slow and expensive. Any fuel economy benefit would take years to recover given the extra you pay for your dose of ‘hybrid snake-oil’.

I fervently hope that less complicated energy systems lead us on the path away from petrol. Diesel is a great example as are bio-fuel powered engines provided the world doesn’t go crazy ripping out forests and planting corn. My personal favourite is Hydrogen. Not a hydrogen fuel cell but a combustion engine as we know them now that uses liquid hydrogen in place of liquid petroleum.

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BMW are leading the way in hydrogen-powered emissions-free vehicles and are just about to deliver eight of their Hydrogen 7 (hydrogen powered 7-series) cars to BMW UK. The delivery is part of BMW’s CleanEnergy program and the Hydrogen 7 cars will be used in normal day-to-day driving.

“Our EfficientDynamics programme has introduced energy-saving technologies that break through the 60 miles per gallon and one hundred and twenty grams per kilometre CO2 barriers, our new diesels are cleaner and greener than many of today’s hybrids, yet power and performance in all of our cars has improved.” Clean, green motoring can also be engaging and dynamic, and the new BMW Hydrogen 7 models epitomise that philosophy,” Said Jim O’Donnell, BMW UK’s managing director.

The BMW Hydrogen 7 cars are manufactured on the same production line as the standard 7-series sedans, they are not ‘concept’ style vehicles.The purpose of the Hydrogen 7 fleet is to raise the profile of Hydrogen as a viable alternative fuel. BMW hopes that making the Hydrogen 7 vehicles available on a short term loan basis to politicians, business leaders and celebrities that it will be recognized how ‘normal’ emissions free motoring can be.

“We hope that experiencing these cars in normal driving situations will encourage people to join the debate. Without doubt, it will take many years for a suitable infrastructure to develop that makes hydrogen power an easy option for the consumer, but all indications are hydrogen is the only genuine long-term sustainable power source for cars. Public hydrogen filling stations have been developed in Germany and California, and the presence of BMW Hydrogen 7 cars in the UK will undoubtedly bring the future closer for British drivers,” said Uwe Ellinghaus, BMW UK’s marketing director.

The BMW Hydrogen 7 is a current model 7-series sedan that uses a V12 engine manufactured to run on either petrol or hydrogen. When running on hydrogen the cars only emission is water vapour which means zero in the way of harmful emissions. The V12 engine produces a modest 194kw which is enough to move the large 7-series from 0-100km/h in 9.5 seconds.

With the push of a steering wheel mounted button the Hydrogen 7 will switch from running on hydrogen to running on petrol. This is achieved through the use of two fuel tanks, one being a 74-litre petrol tank and the other a hydrogen tank designed to hold 8kgs of compressed liquid hydrogen.

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Engine performance is unaffected by either type of fuel so the driver will not notice a deterioration in driveability or performance when switching between petrol and hydrogen. A hydrogen filling station has been set-up in Wembley to provide hydrogen for the BMW fleet.

It should be noted that the Hydrogen 7 cars are production ready vehicles and have gone through all of the usual testing and met the required BMW sign-off criteria for all of their production cars.

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BMW has chosen hydrogen for a number of reasons. Firstly the use of hydrogen as a fuel produces no emissions. As technology advances it is hoped that the production of hydrogen can also become emissions free when the production process is powered by wind, solar or alternative sources of energy. Admittedly the ability to produce hydrogen in sufficient quantities using renewable energy sources is some way off but that is exactly why BMW is keen to sow the hydrogen seed now.

Secondly, hydrogen is an infinite fuel source. There is obviously a long way to go but surely this makes more sense than electric vehicles, especially ones that plug into our coal fired power grid or overly complicated hybrids that still require the use of a fossil fuel burning engine.

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