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BMW Hydrogen 7 Mono-Fuel Cleaner Than Air
BMW has long forwarded the view that hydrogen fuel cells are not the way to power a vehicle. It's not that this performance-oriented automaker has anything against these efficient electro-mechanical devices. In fact, it has experimented with them for some time as a way to provide high levels of power for a vehicle's array of electronic systems, not an insignificant challenge these days in vehicles equipped with multiple on-board computers and diverse electronic subsystems.
But from this Bavarian automaker's perspective that's just not how you motivate a vehicle, in the long-term or otherwise. If you're going to use hydrogen, it makes much more sense to utilize the internal combustion technology that's been perfected for well over a century.
This is not a singular view. Ford has devoted a lot of focus to hydrogen internal combustion technology and appears quite serious about developing a market for its hydrogen-powered shuttle buses. Mazda also champions hydrogen internal combustion through its dual-fuel hydrogen rotary RX8 RE sports car development program and concepts like the Premacy Hydrogen RE minivan.
BMW's efforts have resulted in the limited production Hydrogen 7 model that's been test driven now by a growing number of celebrities, political figures, and dignitaries of all types in many countries over the past two years. In all, BMW has already built nearly 100 examples of the Hydrogen 7 at the same plant where the conventional luxury sedan is manufactured in Dingolfing, Germany. Green Car editors have driven these hydrogen BMWs in Berlin and Los Angeles and have been left with very favorable impressions.
While BMW has for years been refining its dual-fuel (hydrogen/gasoline) technology in various models including the 7 Series, there apparently comes a time to step up to the real fuel of choice. That's hydrogen, of course, since plenty of gasoline fueled 7 Series sedans already ply the world's highways. BMW has now done this with its latest "mono fuel" Hydrogen 7 variant that's made to run exclusively on hydrogen fuel.
Optimized to run solely on hydrogen, the mono-fuel Hydrogen 7 uses the same base V-12 internal combustion engine as the dual-fuel variant, but with modifications that allow operation on hydrogen fuel. According to BMW, the result is a hydrogen sedan that achieves increased performance, extremely low emissions, greater range, and better efficiency compared to the bi-fuel iteration.
So, just how clean is this mono-fuel Hydrogen 7 variant? According to Argonne National Laboratory, one of the preeminent U.S. national labs charged with testing the car, it's "one of the lowest emitting combustion engine vehicles that have been manufactured," producing near-zero emissions and absolutely no CO2. Like the PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) models that first emerged some years back, the mono-fuel Hydrogen 7 turned out to run so cleanly its emissions challenged the limits of existing emission testing technology. Plus, not inconsequentially, Argonne points out that this vehicle's engine "actively cleans the air."
"Argonne's testing shows that the Hydrogen 7's 12-cylinder engine actually shows emissions levels that, for certain components such as non-methane organic gases (NMOG) and carbon monoxides (CO), are cleaner than the ambient air that comes into the car's engine," shares Thomas Wallner, the mechanical engineer in charge of the lab's hydrogen testing activities. Think atmospheric vacuum cleaner and you get the picture. It's not that this is an absolutely unique capability since gasoline internal combustion PZEVs are also capable of such feats in smog-ridden areas like L.A. on a bad day, but it is a rather pleasant attribute worth sharing.
BMW points out that its new Hydrogen 7 mono-fuel is not a prototype, but rather a "demonstration production vehicle." What this means, presumably, is that it should not be assumed this vehicle is one of a multitude of hand-built variants intended as a cautious foray into the world of hydrogen motoring, but rather a production quality - if not yet mass-production intent - sedan aimed squarely at exploring a potential market in real-world terms. It seems that's where we are with the most advanced hydrogen vehicles these days, as also demonstrated by GM's Equinox Fuel Cell and Honda's FCX Clarity.
At Green Car, we've seen this before. GM's EV1 PrEView drive and Ford's Ecostar demonstration programs in the early 1990s set out to prove the viability of battery electric vehicles before committing to limited test marketing. The Ecostar program faded away because of its use of a defunct "hot" sodium-sulfur battery, but the PrEView drive was a significant stepping stone toward the start of EV1 marketing. It may be that the EV1 production model was sadly short lived, but the reasons were understandable considering the extraordinarily high battery costs that simply could not be overcome. On a larger scale, the early alcohol fuel demonstration programs in the early 1990s proved the viability of flexible-fuel E85 ethanol vehicles and there are now more than six million of these production vehicles on the road.
The process will continue as similar large-scale demonstration programs of hundreds of plug-in hybrids emerge soon enough. With hydrogen vehicles, the timeline will likely be longer but the process no less important as automakers like BMW, GM, and Honda continue to expand their real-world demonstrations of hydrogen vehicles on the path to market introductions in the future.
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