BMW gave notice this week that it is driving ahead with a luxury sedan that runs on hydrogen in a traditional internal combustion engine, saying it will be ready sooner than expected and showcasing a special engine and storage tanks at a U.S. conference on hydrogen.
BMW’s strategy is unique in the auto world in that other carmakers are focused on using hydrogen in fuel cells, which create electric power instead of burning fuel in an internal combustion engine.
The company said it would start serial production of a hydrogen-burning 7-Series executive car sooner than expected.
“We will present such a vehicle to the public in less than two years,” a spokesman said in Munich, Germany, where the company is headquartered.
BMW had said last year that its hydrogen cars, which emit only water vapor, would make their debut in 2010.
A few hundred to start
BMW intends to build a few hundred such cars at first. They will be able to switch between burning gasoline and hydrogen so that drivers will not be left stranded while the infrastructure to deliver hydrogen is built up.
Obstacles to hydrogen use in vehicles includes the lack of an infrastructure and the cost of extracting hydrogen from other compounds.
The ability to switch fuels requires two tanks and only the 7-Series will be large enough to offer the hydrogen package at first. BMW’s long-term goal is to offer hydrogen motors in all its cars.
BMW is also presenting a bifuel internal combustion engine and a hydrogen storage system this week at the National Hydrogen Association’s annual conference, held in Long Beach, Calif.
The engine and storage system are “pretty close to where we want to be,” David Buchko, a BMW North America spokesman, told MSNBC.com, and represent what “ultimately will go in the vehicles on the road.”
Fastest hydrogen car
BMW unveiled the world’s fastest hydrogen-powered car at the 2004 Paris Auto Show. Dubbed the H2R, it can exceed 185 miles per hour and goes 0-60 mph in around six seconds.
The company has had a test fleet of 15 hydrogen cars since 2001. The cars use liquid, instead of compressed hydrogen, because that provides a much longer driving range, Buchko said.
While BMW is developing fuel-cell driven cars as well, it says it is concentrating on the combustion engine because the sum total of its features and characteristics offers the largest number of advantages and benefits all in one.