By on December 10, 2011

At the Tokyo Motor Show, the announcement that Toyota and BMW are in cahoots over batteries, diesel engines and possibly more was the talk of the show. Back in Bavaria, BMW displays a promiscuous bent. BMW will cooperate with GM, yes GM, on fuel cells. This at least if the German magazine Wirtschaftswoche is correctly informed.

Sources told Wirtschaftswoche that a cooperation between BMW and GM is as good as done. A MOU will be signed with great fanfare at the Detroit motor show in January, says the magazine.

BMW has no comment, but confirms that there are negotiations with GM. BMW is not known for its fuel cell prowess. According to the information of Wirtschaftswoche, highly profitable BMW will share the cost of fuel cell development with GM, and will be supplied with hydrogen-powered fuel cells by GM.

The on-again, off-again hydrogen fuel cell is definitely on again.  In our interview a month ago, Toyota’s chief for new technologies, Satoshi Ogiso, confirmed that the technology is ready for prime time, the only remaining problem is cost. Toyota will launch a mass produced fuel cell car in 2015. Ogiso promised it will be affordable by 2020. GM is looking back at a long history of fuel cell development and will also sell a hydrogen-powered car by 2015. So will Hyundai. Nissan (cooperating with hydrogen-pioneer Daimler)  likewise signaled that it will not place a single bet on EVs, and that fuel cell cars are in the cards.  BMW once had planned to launch an ICE that runs on hydrogen (see above), but that idea, well, bombed.


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13 Comments on “BMW And GM Cooperate On Hydrogen Car...”

  • avatar

    So in other words, the GM hydrogen cars will have crappy interiors and not handle worth a wooden nickle, and the BMW will have nice interiors and handle great but possibly explode. Just in case anyone think I’m serious, this is my attempt at a funny.

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    The collaboration on drive trains with both Toyota and GM may really be about something else altogether. BMW made a big bet on carbon fiber, and maybe they just want to lower costs in other areas of development, so that they can spend more and maintain their lead in the carbon fiber arena. In contrast, they know that their hybrid, diesel or hydrogen technologies aren’t going to be world-beating anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      They put a lot of effort in developing their Hydrogen 7 which featured a bivalent hydrogen/gas ICE. Any word on why it bombed?? BMW, GM and Toyota wouldn’t be interested in developing this idea further, would they?

      • 0 avatar

        Here are some advantages and disadvantages for Hydrogen ICE’s. The latter may explain why the BMW “Hydrogen 7” bombed. But in time those problems may be overcome.

        a) Hydrogen is available from sea water and is in fact the most abundant element on our planet;
b) It can be obtained by hydrolysis to provide oxygen as well (e.g, for hospitals);

        c) Hydrolysis stations can be operated by wind power or solar power;

        d) Internal combustion of H2 has already been worked out by BMW with their H2/7-series;

        e) It burns cleanly with no CO2 pollution and emits only water vapor as an exhaust product;

        f) It’s equivalent “octane rating” is about 120;
g) It’s weight is low, allowing an overall lower weight for a car (unlike heavy batteries).

        The neat thing about burning H2 is that the expense of fuel cells, batteries, and much complexity is avoided.
        However, problems with H2 IC-combustion vehicles are:

        a) H2 does have low density, meaning that range may be limited to 200-250 miles tops;

        b) Dispensing infrastructure in America has yet to be built;

        c) Because of the Hindenberg incident, there is still a “Hydrogen fear”;

        d) Storage could be in liquid or compressed gas forms; but if LH2 is used, the required venting may complicate driving through tunnels and vehicle storage in unvented enclosed buildings.

        Hydrogen ICE’s may not quite be dead yet.

      • 0 avatar

        You certainly could use renewable energy for the electricity needed to drive the electrolysis process but for the near future grid electricity would have to be used. Given that electrical generation efficiency hovers around the high 30’s, percentage-wise, we are off to a bad start. You also need to add in the losses in the energy conversion process to hydrogen and the energy to compress it into a tank. Then there is the efficiency of the vehicle burning it. Add all these losses up and then do a “well to wheel” efficiency calculation (the only one that matters) and compare it to a standard car or a hybrid for that matter. Will the hydrogen vehicle come out far enough ahead to justify a new fueling infrastructure? I’m not so sure. That said, I agree that it is critical to think outside the gasoline box…

      • 0 avatar

        NMGOM, there is a more fundamental issue: Since H2 is not ‘available’ (meaning hydrogen must be extracted from water, natural gas, or some other ‘available’ source), energy must be used. (This is why H2 is not an energy ‘source’ but an energy storage medium.) So the the question is:
        If you already have the energy, why not just use that?

        For example, let’s say you use a wind turbine to generate electricity.
        – If you put that electricity straight into a battery, you’ll still have around 80% of it, plus the motor may be around 90% efficient, resulting in a total efficiency of ~70%, which is excellent.
        – If you use it to electrolyze water, you start off with around 70% efficiency just to extract the H2. If it runs an ICE, that process is only ~30% efficient. If it powers a fuel cell, that is around 50%, but the fuel cell powers a motor, so you have to include its efficiency, too. In the end, the best you’re looking at with H2 is a bit over 30% of your original electricity produced by the turbine, or about half that of the battery.

        There are other problems with H2.
        – The hydrogen atom is so small, it leaks out of everything, even solid steel walls. (If you look at refineries, you will note that the H2 tanks are always spherical to minimize surface area.) The atoms will actually squeeze between the iron atoms and migrate through the steel. In this process they also react with the carbon creating methane and the resulting pressure of the gas trapped inside the steel can cause blistering. It also causes embrittlement, so high-strength materials can’t be used around elemental hydrogen.
        – Hydrogen is very reactive, and when it escapes into the atmosphere, it can react with other gases forming GHG pollution. Hydrogen is thus called an indirect GHG.

      • 0 avatar

        The hydrogen atom is so small, it leaks out of everything, even solid steel walls. (If you look at refineries, you will note that the H2 tanks are always spherical to minimize surface area.) The atoms will actually squeeze between the iron atoms and migrate through the steel. In this process they also react with the carbon creating methane and the resulting pressure of the gas trapped inside the steel can cause blistering. It also causes embrittlement, so high-strength materials can’t be used around elemental hydrogen.

        I quizzed Satoshi Ogiso,, the man responsible for all future technology at Toyota, about these problems and he looked at me as if I was drunk. He said they have no problem with eloping gases, brittle metals etc., that all technical problems are under control, and that his only problem is that the gadgetry is so darn expensive. He’s working on that.

      • 0 avatar

        We use Helium for leak testing our miniature hermetically sealed sensors.

        Since the hydrogen atom is even smaller I think it would be really difficult to build large storage tanks and seals that would work to the pressure and ambient temperature requirements as well as surviving in a vehicle for 10-15 years.

      • 0 avatar

        I quizzed Satoshi Ogiso, the man responsible for all future technology at Toyota…

        No disrespect to Toyota, but they are no more experts at hydrogen than GM is at batteries. (Were all the Volt’s battery problems “under control” before a couple months ago?)

        A very important fact: A problem that has a solution doesn’t cease to be a problem; it doesn’t just go away. If you have diabetes, and you have it “under control,” you still have diabetes. You have to include the solution, which can limit options, add costs, and/or reduce your margin of error. (That’s probably why all those gadgets cost so much.)

        I freely admit that we have solutions to hydrogen’s problems, but it is completely wrong to assume that what works with a gas car will work with a hydrogen car or that we have a lot of experience with putting hydrogen into cars or gas stations.

        The point is: Hydrogen isn’t some magic bullet that will make all our problems go away. It comes with its own set of problems, and odds are we aren’t even aware of them yet.

  • avatar

    Wolfgang Reitzle (the former BMW car guy, now at Linde) will certainly like this development direction.

  • avatar

    For the life of me, I cannot see hydrogen being practical.

  • avatar

    Quite a few warehouses are converting their fork lifts from battery power to fuel cells. So it is happening on a smaller and controlled scale. Will it lead to transportation aps? We will see.

  • avatar

    More practical than gaseous H2 in a tank is liquid methanol (wood alcohol) or NG used in a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) to generate electricity for a small battery EREV. Something like a Volt with perhaps 10-20 miles of range.. that would give enough time for the SOFC to light off. Eventually cheap 200 mile BEVs will come about and suddenly ICE powered cars will get rare.

    Methanol is extremely cheap and easy to make, it can be made from our plentiful NG with a about a 20% loss in energy, you can also use ethanol but its much more expensive.

    The famous Bloom box is an example of a SOFC. Wikipedia has a good article on the subject and its issues.

    In the short term its hard to beat the practicality of a small ICE (perhaps burning methanol) to produce electricity for a car.

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