BMW pushes hydrogen fuel network

A network of filling stations could be set up to deliver liquid hydrogen to power the cars of the future, according to research carried out by BMW.

The German car giant, which has developed an internal combustion engine that is powered by liquid hydrogen, said the clean fuel could be delivered to filling stations via existing gas pipelines, or even airships fitted with cryogenic tanks. It considers a refuelling network safely storing liquid hydrogen at -253 degrees C is viable.

Advances in hydrogen engine technology mean that vehicles powered by the clean fuel will begin to appear on our streets in the near future. However, refuelling is problematic because hydrogen must be kept under pressure as gas, or at a very low temperature, if it is to remain liquid.

BMW is seeking to lead the debate on hydrogen fuel technologies and infrastructures, and along with BP and Linde hosted a conference in London this week as part of its CleanEnergy World Tour.

The company believes hydrogen internal combustion engines will be more acceptable to motorists than the fuel cells favoured by most other companies, and is close to launching series production of the hydrogen or petrol-powered 745h.

Motorists could refill such vehicles with a three-minute automatic process that would involve ‘raining’ hydrogen droplets into the tank via a pressure-sealed coupling. Once in the tank, the rate of evaporation would be reduced by a refrigeration system using cold air produced as the liquid hydrogen is passed to the engine.

Meanwhile, hydrogen buses and refuelling stations could be running in London within the decade after the UK’s first energy partnership involving government, industry and academia was launched last week.

The Hydrogen Partnership is a project developed by the Greater London Authority which involves BMW, Ford and DaimlerChrysler. The Environment Agency, BP, British Gas, Merrill Lynch are also taking part. Evobus is to supply three hydrogen cell-powered buses as part of a worldwide trial in 2003.

the establishment of an infrastructure for hydrogen refuelling, setting target numbers for hydrogen vehicles, developing research and lobbying business and government are key goals for the organisations.

The committee will investigate interim technologies such as internal combustion engines, either dual-fuel or hydrogen only, in addition to fuel cells.

Prof Garel Rhys, director of Cardiff University’s Centre for Automotive Industry Research, believes that one option the Hydrogen Partnership could look at is the establishment of depots on the outskirts of London, where heavy trucks would offload their cargoes on to hydrogen-powered vehicles. Another alternative could be establishing hydrogen fuel points for fleet cars.

For the time being the partnership will simply promote dialogue, but should eventually produce and implement a full action plan to establish a ‘hydrogen economy’ in the capital.

The plan could be written in the next two to three years, though implementation could take a further five to 10 years before there are any visible effects.

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