Hydrogen car brings future to metro area

Posted 10/28/08

Green tech in a car became the star of a news conference for a car dealership in Highlands Ranch. On Oct. 22, gearheads and green geeks alike were …

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Hydrogen car brings future to metro area


Green tech in a car became the star of a news conference for a car dealership in Highlands Ranch.

On Oct. 22, gearheads and green geeks alike were shown the BMW Hydrogen 7, a 7-series sedan with a second fuel tank for liquid hydrogen held at -418 degrees Fahrenheit.

The machine handles like a 7 series, complete with the odd shifting that is an acquired taste.

Switching from gasoline to hydrogen emits a tiny, tinny click that can be heard in the passenger compartment, if no one is talking.

Liquid hydrogen burns in an internal combustion engine.

Hydrogen fuel cells use compressed hydrogen gas to make electricity.

The H7 has 260 horsepower and loses a little pep since it runs dual-fueled.

But it is a sweet ride that is not available at any price.

BMW is not selling the car.

Twenty of the cars are touring the United States, another 80 are in Europe, in the hands of celebrities and opinion makers from Woody Harrelson to David Power of J.D. Power and Associates.

Two additional hydrogen-only cars are in the United States for testing.

The car was part of a preopening event for Schomp BMW, which should open Nov 4.

Jim Ryan, who works with BMW on developing the technology, said the technology is in its infancy, but should grow in the coming years.

“Gas, diesel, compressed natural gas, propane and electric cars — they all run on fossil fuel, assuming the electricity is generated by coal or natural gas,” Ryan said. “And they are not zero-emission vehicles.”

The H7 runs on hydrogen obtained from cracking water molecules with electricity.

When the car runs, water vapor comes out of the tail pipe. As the H7 sat on the concrete apron outside of Schomp BMW, a small puddle developed under the car, smaller than the puddles made by condensation from a car’s air conditioning.

Water is not readily available in the American West, and Ryan had a less than waterwise answer for using a valuable resource as fuel.

“Well, it goes back into the water cycle as vapor,” he said.

He compared that to the greenness of battery life in existing electric or hybrid electric cars.

“Battery technology is struggling for long ranges,” Ryan said. “Most go at most 100 miles, and the Tesla can make it 200 miles, but at 30 mph. The transmissions for dual fuel are a complex technology.”

Ryan even invoked a name most automotive people don’t: Peak Oil.

“We’ve been burning fossil fuels for 110 years,” Ryan said. “Experts think we have used about half of the fossil fuels. Think in terms of 500 years. How long will it take us to burn the next half? It won’t be 500 years, but will it be 75 or 100 years before we run out of oil?”

Hydrogen, along with long-range electric cars using renewable and cleaner energy from the grid are the answer, Ryan said. Hydrogen has a large public perception problem, he said.

“Hydrogen has a safety perception issue,” Ryan said. “When I say hydrogen, what do you think of?”

A slide came up on the wall behind him: “May 6, 1931. The Hindenburg.”

The Hindenburg was an airship that crashed in New Jersey and caught fire while maneuvering for landing.

Hydrogen is lighter than air. The Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, so when a small fire started, the airship burned quickly.

“It wasn’t an explosion,” Ryan said. “Experts believe it was the material that caused it to burn so fast. The Germans didn’t have nonflammable material for it.”

In a car, the fuel must be kept at an ultralow temperature. The H7 vents a tiny amount out to do this.

Ryan estimated that owners who filled the tank, but left the car sitting for three weeks would lose the tank in that time to the venting. Because of that feature, the H7 should not be garaged.

BMW will also bring out a hybrid electric diesel X6 next year, and BMW owned Mini will have a plug-in electric car in the next production year.

“It’s about time,” dealership owner Lisa Schomp said. “Americans have to lead the way, and we haven’t done that. We have to get up and do something about our dependency on oil.”

Schomp said that starting the technology in up-market cars will speed its transition to the average car.

Schomp BMW is at 1190 S. Plum Valley Lane, off Lucent Boulevard between County Line Road and C-470.


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