Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from BMW


  The main focus of this contribution is to provide BMW's views on the long-term sustainable environmental approach to automotive engines and fuels.

  BMW is the world leader in the automobile industry in terms of sustained economic viability as identified in the Dow Jones Sustainability rating both in 1999 and last year. Our concern and emphasis on all aspects of environment has also led us to become the first company to hold an environment certificate for all our worldwide production facilities.

  This strategic approach to the environment extends of course to vehicle production and in particular to the evaluation of engines and fuels. Over the past twenty or thirty years we have investigated in depth almost all possible automotive engine and alternative fuel technologies.

  Our conclusions are very clear, the fuel of the future, indeed the energy carrier of the future has to be hydrogen.

  Hydrogen can be produced in ecologically friendly processes from water using electric power (solar energy/hydro/wind/wave). When hydrogen is used as a fuel in a car, it combines with oxygen to form water. The result is only water with no noxious emissions and no CO2 emissions.

  There is a growing consensus among car manufacturers and their partners that hydrogen is the fuel of the future. There are different approaches to the precise technology solutions.

  BMW believes that hydrogen should be used as a direct internal combustion engine fuel to replace petrol. BMW has developed this technology over twenty years. It has recently manufactured, in series production, fifteen 7-series cars equipped with liquid hydrogen fuel tanks. These vehicles have operated successfully on a shuttle service at the recent Hanover 2000 Trade fair. The vehicles also use hydrogen to power an on-board fuel cell that replaces the car battery. BMW plans to put on sale a hydrogen version of its new 7-series car.

  Other manufacturers are developing hydrogen fuel cells to enable the car to generate sufficient electricity to drive the whole vehicle. These developments still have some way to go in terms of reliability and affordability before they can be introduced.

  There are common issues facing all these new developments:

    —  The sourcing of the hydrogen;

    —  The distribution of the hydrogen;

    —  The cost of the new technology; and

    —  The cost of the fuel.

  Ideally, the source of the hydrogen should be sustainable and fuel stations should be set up to provide compressed and liquid hydrogen to the motorist.

  In practice, a transition strategy will be necessary to move from the current position.

  This is especially important as actions are now being taken in the field of environmental taxation that ought to be linked to a long-term strategy.

  The Cleaner Vehicle Task Force provided advice to the Government regarding a list of short/medium term measures regarding alternative fuels and engine technologies.

  A longer-term strategic approach is now required in which environmental incentives will certainly have a role to play.

  Such a strategy would enable the short-term initiatives of car manufacturers to be put into context and to receive appropriate encouragement. These include trying to obtain hydrogen from petrol or methanol reformulation, or using natural gas in compressed or liquid form as a stepping stone to the setting up of a full hydrogen supply infrastructure.

  A selective provision of hydrogen from non-sustainable sources can be environmentally acceptable in the short/medium term in the context of a transition strategy towards a sustainable renewable hydrogen infrastructure.

  We would envisage that the main sources of sustainable hydrogen in the future would be from solar energy plants in the hot deserts of the world or from countries with significant hydroelectric potential.

  However, there are many other options and work should be done to explore the possible renewable sources of hydrogen in the UK.

January 2001

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