For BMW, Green Automobile Technology Starts At Home

BMW concept car

Concept Vehicles and Reality

We’ve all seen and drooled over the latest concept cars, whether they’re exceptionally powerful, exceptionally beautiful, or exceptionally green.

The sad fact is that there are lots of ideas on what a vehicle out to look like and act like, but not all of those ideas will ever make it off the drawing table, much less out on the road.

One of the latest technologies that have been getting some notice is hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Essentially, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is an electric vehicle with an onboard generator.

We’re familiar with extended range electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt and Fisker Karma, which have gasoline-powered generators that kick in once the battery charge runs down.

The hydrogen fuel cell though, doesn’t burn anything, but generates electricity on demand directly from hydrogen.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology isn’t new, having been around for nearly a century, but in recent years the size and efficiency of these fuel cells has expanded exponentially. Recently, BMW bought the license from Toyota to develop a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, using Toyota fuel cell technology, which will probably hit the roads by 2020.

The hydrogen fuel cell vehicle though, isn’t BMW’s only green plan.

 

Renewables Start at Home

If you take a look at who is making their own renewable energy in the US, you might be surprised at the results. According to the latest information from the US Environmental Protection Agency, Wal-Mart tops the list at nearly 175 million kWh from biogas, solar, and wind.

That being said, Wal-Mart’s onsite renewable power generation is just 1% of their total energy usage. BMW Manufacturing in Spartanburg, SC is second on the list of total renewable power generation at nearly 71 million kWh from biogas, accounting for 38% of total energy usage.

Some of that electricity was being used to run a fleet of materials handling vehicles inside the four million square foot facility. Electric forklifts, manlifts, pickers and movers are nothing new, and are a very good idea inside the closed environment where an internal combustion engine would suffocate the employees. Why not hydrogen though?

As it turns out, BMW‘s plant in Spartanburg is also the perfect place to test out hydrogen fuel cell technology and, in 2010, there were about one hundred hydrogen fuel cell materials handling vehicles on the floors of the facility.

According to a recent BMW Blog posting, that number has since reached 230 units. Not only has this given BMW the chance to test the technology, but has also reduced their power consumption by some four million kWh.

 

Hydrogen Future

Clearly, we have a long way to go before we can get hydrogen fuel cell vehicles out on the road. BMW has an advantage with their own hydrogen generation and storage. At the moment, there are less than twenty public-access hydrogen fueling stations in the US.

We’ll get there, but BMW’s in-house testing gives us some food for thought. Just like gas stations were a rarity in the early days of automobiles and charging stations are a rarity in these early days of electric vehicles, we’ll soon see more hydrogen refueling stations.