BMW has launched a high-tech research and engineering centre in Oxnard, California to test the viability of its hydrogen models on the US market.
BMW wants to build a partnership with other car manufacturers in its bid to bring hydrogen-powered cars to the US market, BMW AG board member Burkhard Goeschel said in Los Angeles on Thursday.
“I would like to reassert our wish and our will to cooperate with others in the development of alternative power systems,” said Goeschel.
California has the most stringent standards for car emissions “anywhere in the world,” making it the “toughest test bed” for BMW’s next-generation cars, which hold the promise of one day emitting nothing but water, Goeschel said.
BMW brought a fleet of 10 750hL sedans, fitted with 12-cylinder engines that run on either petrol or liquid hydrogen, to California. The hydrogen is stored at sub-zero temperatures in 37-gallon (140-litre) tanks behind the rear seats. One tank provides a cruising range of about 217 miles (350 km), BMW said.
The company will now continue to test the cars, that can reach speeds of up to 141 mph (226 km/h), at its new research and engineering centre in Oxnard, California. The fleet has covered more than 80 000 miles (128 720 km) during tests already.
The cars also feature on-board fuel cells instead of traditional batteries that supply power for the stereo, air conditioner and other functions when the engine is off, the company said.
BMW and California state officials said engineering and economic challenges remain before the next-generation cars can be introduced to a mass market.
First, the burning of lubricants in the current hydrogen engines creates nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide, a “potential problem”, said Allan Lloyd, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, the state air quality regulator.
Britain’s BP Plc which produces 1 200 ton of hydrogen per day currently, is working with BMW on feasibility studies for a hydrogen-powered car.
“We are probably not going to see mass numbers in this decade,” Lloyd said of the hydrogen-powered vehicles. However, BMW hopes to introduce hydrogen-powered 7-Series models before then.
Cost is a more basic problem since liquid hydrogen remains more expensive to produce than gasoline and adoption of the new fuel standard would require the installation of a network of filling stations capable of pumping hydrogen at minus 418 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 250 degrees Celsius).
In addition, concerns about storing liquid hydrogen under high pressure have stymied its use in cars because of the risk of explosions and fire. A lack of a cheap and reliable means of producing hydrogen – and distributing it to consumers – has also hurt the marketing of such cars.