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Click to view road test review picture galleryWith nothing but
  water vapour emitted
  from its exhaust,
s Hydrogen 7
  showcases the reality
  of motoring in a world
  without oil.
  CAR is dead. Long live
Clean Air Rules...

CURRENTLY A LACK OF PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING exists about exhaust emissions. From a new Ipsos MORI research initiative commissioned by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, it shows that British car buyers find CO2 emissions less important than annual running costs.

The research, revealed recently by the SMMT, shows low emission levels run a poor second to motoring costs in the decision making process of buying a new car — even though more fuel-efficient cars have lower emissions levels and that means lower levels of taxation.

The education process for the buying public linking good mpg with low CO2 levels is clearly not understood, despite the media-driven publicity given to 'green' issues.

It is not all bad news, and the message must be getting through to some buyers as this year the sales of smaller supermini-sized cars
have risen by 11.3 per cent and fuel-efficient, lower CO2 emitting diesel cars by 8.2 per cent.

In the research survey (a sample 805 car owners conducted in April), when asked if low carbon dioxide (CO2) or low annual running costs were more important, just 13 per cent of respondents said low CO2, but 29 per cent pointed to the cost of motoring. More encouragingly, 45 per cent said these considerations were equally important. Some-what alarmingly, 11 per cent said neither were important factors.

Perhaps the car buying public just do not understand that the less
fuel used by a modern engine means lower emissions — which in turn means they pay less fuel tax overall and a lower level of road fund licence charges. However, one can also understand them not trusting the government not to raise motoring taxes once we're all driving
ultra-green cars!

Car manufacturers have spent a fortune on developing fuel-efficient new-generation direct injection, lower emission petrol and common-rail diesel engines right across the range — from sub-one-litre capacities to much larger three and four litre engines. Car makers have also spent a fortune on promoting their 'lean and green' new generation engines and other technologies, all of which improve the efficient use of fuel and improve air quality and lower greenhouse gas levels. For every vehicle produced UK manufacturers have cut energy use, waste and CO2 emissions by half in a very commendable four years.

Petrol/electric hybrid cars are now on sale and some of these — the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid — are the most fuel efficient. But conventional models in the Citroen C1, C2, C3, Peugeot 107, Toyota Aygo, Renault Clio, Peugeot 207 and Smart city car ranges all emit 120g/km of CO2 emissions or less (which is also very good).

We also have other low-emission fuel solutions available, such as LPG and bio-diesel. However, the Chancellor and the Treasury are dragging their heels on allowing 30 per cent bio-diesel to be used as they have not established what level of tax to apply to this mix of organic and conventional diesel fuel — despite the fact that modern diesel engines are already out in the market and capable of using this greener fuel.

If the public are currently not really interested in low-emission fuel usage, are not educated in its use or are confused by this technology, what hope is there for them in understanding what is just around the corner with even more advanced sources of engine power?

Hybrids to hydrogen
In the not too distant future, diesel-hybrid cars and commercial vehicles will be available. PSA Peugeot Citroen says by 2010 the cost of diesel-hybrid technology, although already proven for reliability, will be available once the cost of components has reached affordable levels.

After that we will see the introduction of fuel-cell-powered passenger and commercial vehicles, and the most common form of power looks likely to be hydrogen. This fuel is ideally suited for use in emission-free zones as only water vapour is emitted from the vehicle's exhaust system.

Most major car manufacturers are up and running with the use of hydrogen as a fuel (which can be used in modified petrol engines) but one of the leaders — BMW — estimate it will take between 10 and 15 years for this technology to become available to the general public. The reason: there is no legislation in place to set the standards required for manufacturing hydrogen using vehicles or the criteria set for hydrogen fuel to be supplied for general use.

However, in other countries outside the EU hydrogen-fuelled vehicles are much closer to reality. For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, up to 3,000 passenger cars and 100 buses are to run on hydrogen and for the
2010 World Expo in Shanghai the plan is to deploy 1,000 hydrogen-powered taxis or buses. In California they will have a 'Hydrogen Highway' in place by 2010 with a network for 150 to 200 hydrogen fuel stations spaced every 20 miles on major highways throughout the state.

BMW takes the future use of hydrogen as a fuel seriously. They are partnering with fuel companies in setting up liquid hydrogen fuelling stations in the USA and Europe. Drivers of liquid hydrogen-powered vehicles in Germany can now fill up at five stations: two in Berlin, two in Munich and one in Frankfurt. An additional hydrogen fuelling station is under construction in Brussels, the home of the European Union,
and in the UK there is a source of this fuel at Wembley, London. Two more outlets are expected in London next year.

As part of the public education programme as to the benefits of hy-drogen as an alternative fuel for petrol-type combustion engines, BMW is doing more than most. Their 'Clean Energy' initiative came to the UK recently at the annual SMMT Test Day held at the Millbrook Proving Ground. The event is held so that motoring journalists can test and drive the latest in passenger car automotive technology, and this year hydrogen power was on the agenda when BMW debuted their Hydrogen 7 cars.

BMW in the UK has taken delivery of eight Hydrogen 7 cars — part of
a total fleet of 100 such cars built by BMW in Germany to showcase their hydrogen power technology around the world. The virtually emissions-free luxury saloons have been produced on the 'standard' 7 Series production line, and will be used in normal day-to-day driving conditions in the UK.

Jim O'Donnell, BMW UK's managing director, summed up this important step in BMW's history: "The arrival of our Hydrogen 7 cars could not have come at a better time. Politicians, business leaders, the media and consumers are engaged in healthy debate on the future of energy supply and use. Meanwhile, the automotive industry is committed to cleaner motoring, with a host of possible solutions available today and being developed for the mid- and long-term. BMW is at the core of the future of motoring, with tremendous developments in petrol and diesel engines, hybrid powertrains and hydrogen technologies."

The fleet of liquid hydrogen powered cars is set to continue its prog-ramme of driving activities on UK roads. They will be in active service as support vehicles at a number of high-profile events over the summer as well as transporting key participants at industrial, business and political conferences. A select group of high-profile VIP users will also take delivery of a car for short periods of time in order to experience the 'normality' of emissions-free motoring.

The BMW Hydrogen 7

The BMW Hydrogen 7 is based on the existing 7 Series and comes equipped with an internal combustion engine capable of running on hy-drogen or petrol. In hydrogen mode, the car emits nothing more than water vapour. Powered by a 260hp 12-cylinder engine, the Hydrogen 7 accelerates from zero to 62mph in 9.5 seconds before going on to an electronically-limited 143mph top speed.

With its unique dual-power engine, the driver of a Hydrogen 7 can switch quickly and conveniently from hydrogen to conventional petrol power at the press of a steering wheel-mounted button. The dual-power technology means the car has a cruising range in excess of
125 miles in the hydrogen mode with a further 300 miles under petrol power. To make this possible, the BMW Hydrogen 7 comes with a conventional 74-litre petrol tank and an additional hydrogen fuel tank holding up to 8kgs of liquid hydrogen. Such flexibility means the driver of a BMW Hydrogen 7 is able to use the vehicle at all times, even
when the nearest hydrogen filling station is out of range.

For undiluted driver enjoyment, engine power and torque in the Hydro-gen 7 remain exactly the same regardless of which fuel is in current use. The driver can switch between the two without any effect on driving behaviour or performance. The car always gives priority to the use of hydrogen but should this run out, it automatically switches to petrol power.

Unlike many previous hydrogen concept cars showcased by rival manufacturers, the BMW Hydrogen 7 heralds a milestone in the history of the car. It is a full production-ready vehicle, which has met all the stringent processes and final sign-off criteria that every current BMW model undergoes.

Why hydrogen?

The BMW Group has been committed to hydrogen technology as a means of reducing car emissions — in particular CO2 emissions — for over 20 years. When running in the hydrogen mode, the BMW Hydrogen 7 essentially emits nothing but water vapour. And, unlike fossil fuels and traditional petrol, hydrogen is available in virtually infinite supply when renewable energies such as solar, wind and wave power are used to produce the liquid hydrogen. Stored in a hi-tech tank, which keeps the fuel at a pressure of 3-5 bar and a consistent temperature of -250C, liquid hydrogen offers significant advantages in energy density compared to other possible alternative fuel sources to enhance the cruising range of the car.

BMW continues to develop ultra-efficient petrol engines that already significantly reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Together with clean performance diesel cars and the technologically advanced hybrid systems currently under development, the BMW Group has a clear strategy for sustainable mobility with hydrogen as their ultimate goal.

Having driven the Hydrogen 7 at the SMMT Test Day, I can vouch for the fact that there is no difference in the performance or driveability of the car in hydrogen or petrol modes. The car performs as smoothly you would expect of any BMW. The transition between the two modes is automatic — and seamless — and the exhaust emissions non-existent. BMW's point is made in hydrogen's favour, although I do feel the realistic costs will be a big issue. Regardless of the cost, can we afford not to go down this route? — David Miles
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