Although still in its ‘concept’ phase, the new BMW Hydrogen 7, which is based on their current 7-Series executive sedan, offers a nice perspective on the way the German car manufacturer envisions the future of mobility. Still equipped with a huge internal combustion engine in order to still be an ‘ultimate driver’s machine’, the luxury sedan is now powered by hydrogen: a sort of fuel that, while extremely difficult to store, offers an adequate energy density and, what’s even more important, can be produced just about everywhere if there is water, electricity and, well, some extremely complicated machinery to make it a real fuel.
Still think that liquid hydrogen-fuelled cars are a vaporware or, in the best case scenario, a thing of the oh-so-distant future?
Well, you may want to think twice because yesterday, on March 12, 2006, at the 17th NHA Annual Hydrogen Conference at the Long Beach Convention Center in California, the German car manufacturer BMW has presented its practical yet daring masterpiece, the bi-fueled 7 series model called Hydrogen 7.
The device presented is a V12 liquid-hydrogen engine and a storage tank that can be installed into a production vehicle to make it possible to run on both regular gasoline and much more futuristic liquid hydrogen.
BMW experiments with different types of engines running on alternative fuel for the last couple of years.
In this particular case, the alternative fuel in question is hydrogen.
As far as I understand the research is undertaken under the umbrella of the EU-promoted HyICE project that currently involves almost a dozen of partners representing the automotive industry, Volvo Technology and BMW Group, and the academic community, including the German University of the Federal Armed Forces.
While most current designs involve electrochemical conversion of the liquefied gas in a heavy and expensive fuel-cell, BMW’s approach is more traditional: the fuel burns in an internal combustion engine (ICE,) which is modified in such a way as to ensure higher compression ratio for the faster- (and hotter-) burning liquid hydrogen.
The German company presented to the public its experimental BMW H2R vehicle built around a hydrogen-powered 6.0-liter 285hp V12 engine two years ago, in 2004.
The company says that the engine can run on either gasoline or super-cooled liquid hydrogen stored at a constant temperature of -253 Celsius. To keep the fuel from boiling-off, the storage tank is insulated using about seventy layers of ‘aluminum-coated synthetic foil’ put under vacuum between two thick walls.
It is still not clear, how much power will feature the new engine and what kind of price can be set for such a rare ‘hybrid’ vehicle.
See also: Cadillac Escalade Hybrid SUV