Hydrogen Powered BMW Turns Heads at World Summit

By Lauren Kansley
Global Youth Reporter from South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, August 29, 2002 (ENS) The rising cost of fuel must have many people wishing that getting from point A to B was as easy as throwing a couple of liters of water in the tank. That dream might not that be so distant, judging by an exhibit attracting lots of attention outside the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg: BMW's '0 liter car.'

Powered by liquid hydrogen, 15 of these swanky BMW 750hL test vehicles have already covered a distance of 170,000 kilometers (105,633 miles) since their introduction in Berlin, Germany in May 2000. According to BMW's Director for Environmental Protection, Manfred Heller, the test vehicles are comparable to other models of the popular 7 Series.

"However, instead of harmful carbon dioxide, water is emitted. Our objective to preserve fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions can be achieved with clean energy if the hydrogen fuel is produced by means of renewable resources," Heller said.

Hydrogen fuel can be produced through electrolysis. In electrolysis, water comes into contact with energy and the water is split into its component parts, hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen created is stored, forming a source of pure hydrogen.

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BMW's hydrogen powered sedans toured the globe last year as part of the company's CleanEnergy WorldTour 2001. (Photo courtesy BMW)
But the electrolysis process requires a power source, and BMW is hoping for a renewable source. One possible solution was right under their noses - or should I say above their heads? The sun sends as much energy to the earth in an hour as mankind uses in a year. The sun's energy could be harnessed in solar power plants, for example, to produce liquid hydrogen for the BMW 750hL.

BMW engineer Albrecht Jungk warned it was unlikely that hydrogen enabled cars would be on the road any earlier than a decade from now.

"Ten years is the earliest estimation but because there is still a long way to go with discussions between other parties like Shell and BP," Jungk said. "It shouldn't be anytime soon."

Jungk added that since hydrogen was so expensive, it was making people opt between "clean or cheap."

"At the moment hydrogen is about four times more expensive than petrol," Jungk noted. "We cannot estimate whether the price will decrease in time since no one can predict the price of fuel."

Perhaps the question we should be asking, though, is should there be a price attached to our future generations' well being? In all probability the closest the youth of today will get to sampling one of these futuristic models will be on the backseat of one of our grandchildren's cars.