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November 18, 2006
Hydrogen Isn't Green

BMW unveiled its new hydrogen-gasoline hybrid automobile, the Hydrogen 7, and the reviews thus far are less than stellar. If you want to drive an internal-combustion vehicle that only gets 17 miles to the gallon and have its fuel go bad in less than ten days, then the H-7 is the car for you:

And so, in creating the Hydrogen 7, BMW is announcing a future of putatively clean, full-throttle driving. The new car caters to the pleasing fantasy of customers spoiled by high-horsepower engines: That they can conform to ecological standards without making any sacrifices, burning "clean" fuel to their heart's content. Advertizing images display the Hydrogen 7 against a backdrop of wind turbines and solar panels.

But the image is one of deceit. Because the hydrogen dispensed at the new filling station is generated primarily from petroleum and natural gas, the new car puts about as much strain on the environment as a heavy truck with a diesel engine. Add the loss of environmental benefits involved in the production and transportation of the putatively clean fuel to the consumption of the car itself and you get an actual consumption corresponding to considerably more than 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of fossil fuel.

The environment isn't the only loser: Customers will also have to shell out a lot of money for their deceptive display of ecologically responsible driving. The current standard price for liquid hydrogen is 57 euro cents (0.73 US cents) per liter (0.3 gallons). And the price tag on a 100 kilometer (62 mile) drive in the Hydrogen 7, at a comfortable speed, is about €30 ($38).

The decision to base the H-7 on an internal-combustion engine, rather than an electric motor based on hydrogen fuel cells, causes most of the problems noted above. The hydrogen has to be stored at -253 degrees Celsius, or near absolute zero, and it has to be vented occasionally, making the tank technology very challenging. The 12-cylinder engine drinks hydrogen or gasoline in equally greedy measure, and the hydrogen will not last more than nine days in the tank without losing half of its ability to fuel the car.

Der Spiegel points out a problem noted by CQ readers in the past; the hydrogen car, like the fully electric car, doesn't really do much to save the environment. Hydrogen has to be produced using a lot of energy at some point, which means either a normal coal- or petroleum-burning plant or nuclear energy. Essentially, one trades the emissions at the tailpipe for emissions at the smokestack, and given the high efficiency of most internal-combustion engines and their anti-pollution systems, that's a bad trade.

BMW appears to have produced the worst of both worlds, thanks to its pandering to a muscle-car mentality. Fuel-cell cars use hydrogen much more efficiently and actually could prove cost-effective if the hydrogen could be produced from nuclear plants rather than oil refineries. It doesn't produce very dramatic power for the vehicle, however, and BMW apparently doesn't want to trade performance for economic or environmental benefits.

At least they picked their initial target market shrewdly. They plan to sell the first one hundred H-7s to "celebrities", the only people silly and rich enough to bother with the vehicle.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 18, 2006 7:43 AM

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» First, Let's Be Sure to Check if the Alternative Fuel Actually Helps the Environment from QT Monster's Place
Hydrogen fuel does not much help the environment, even if leftist environmentalists claim that it does. vadkinsQT Monster Blog Home [Read More]

Tracked on November 18, 2006 1:27 PM


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