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BMW using Hydrogen Fuel during Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History


“When I hear people blaming the automobile for global warming, I have to chuckle. It’s not the auto. It’s the fuel.”                        Jay Leno

Hollywood stars drive hydrogen-fueled autos: actors Edward Norton and Cameron Diaz, Placido Domingo and Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Joely Fisher, and many others, as they wait patiently for FCEVs.

In the United States in 1978, for whatever reason, be it environmental consciousness or Hollywood publicity, actor Jack Nicholson drove an experimental Chevrolet, which had been converted to use hydrogen as a fuel. This was made public in a television report aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).  Little technical is available at Google (only 18) about that auto without searching the CBC archives or ing the famous actor, and the included video is insignificant. [Perhaps a reader can shed more light onto this.]  The one promising link I found to this story does no longer function.

After the 1973 oil crisis, the world was slow to start waking up from the ‘crude’ (pun intended) nightmare of potential life without petroleum products. Individuals, if not industry or government, had started to prepare themselves for the possibility of the world suddenly being without oil and its derivatives. By single acts of foresight, the slumbering apparatuses of commerce and officialdom would be awakened.

In Japan, research institutions had started soon after the Oil Embargo to experiment with replacing autobon fuel with H2, as stated before.

In Latvia, in the former Soviet Union, the Riga bus Company converted a van in 1979 to run on With one tank for each fuel, the complex apparatus left room for only two passengers in the rather large van, much like later experiments in Europe or America.

The Riga tests were sponsored and administered by the Federal State Unitary Enterprise – Central Research and Development Automobile and Auto-Motor Institute (NAMI).  This very well respected organization was established in 1918 to assist in the development and regulation of Russia’s motor industry.  NAMI is one of the oldest scientific organizations in that country, based in Moscow.  The Russian version reads Nauchno-issledovatel’skiji avtomobil’niji i avtomotorniji institute.

Thank heaven for acronyms.

NAMI’s vital role in the Russian scientific and engineering community continues to this day, guiding technological advances in their automotive industry, incorporating ecological and safety concerns.

In the interest of historical accuracy, NAMI, much like SAE or DIN in the western world, is an important organization and will be heard from again in the future.

Photo by John Lamm from above link

In Germany, BMW was one of the first to get serious about replacing ‘gas’ –the North American petrol- with real gas – H2.  “Hydrogen will replace petrol”, the company declared.  For their research and development work, the Bavarian luxury automaker collaborated in 1979 with the German Center for Air & Space Travel (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt; DLR).  For containing the super cold liquid H2, Messer Griesheim GmbH [Ltd] assisted with the development and fabrication of cryogenic tanks.  One of the 5-series autos was fitted with tanks for both, petroleum and hydrogen fuels and was named ‘520H’.  Experimentation on this auto and on newer BMW models is continuing to this day – more details later.

“The [H2] infrastructure is not there yet, but hey – it’s getting there… It took 75 years for the telephone to get across the United States. It only took 5 years for computers to do it. Things move rapidly now,” says Leno.

gives us a little more information on that. BMW’s 12-cylinder Hydrogen 7 isn’t exactly the ultimate driving machine, considering it takes nearly 10 seconds to get from zero to 60 mph. However, that’s only a small concern, considering this 7’s only true competitor is an airport built by Ford. The BMW (and Ford’s shuttle) are the first production vehicles on the road built to run on liquid hydrogen. Their combustion engines emit water vapor and nitrous oxide, and very little autobon dioxide. These are still ‘emissions’, whereas a fuel cell has zero emission.

the Hydrogen 7 in Germany and relays the details: “The economies of usage don’t exactly jibe; currently, it costs far more to drive the same mile in the Hydrogen 7 as it does in its dino-juiced counterpart, mainly due to the high price of hydrogen fuel at the retail level. Plus, the process of extracting hydrogen from natural gas produces more C02 emissions than the auto. But particulars aside, it’s interesting to see automakers pursue hydrogen combustion, which may wind up proving how the “hydrogen economy” will be impossible without a corresponding resurgence in nuclear energy. Maybe that’s their intent.”

We know that nuclear is not the answer – electricity from wind, sun and wave power will be the fuel of the future. With electrolysis, H2 can be produced from water. By then, Hydrogen will be a truly zero-pollution fuel.

But wait, and to show it.

Next: Rockets propel the Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History


About George Wand

George Wand
Our guest writer George Wand retired from the automotive industry. During his autoeer, he worked in R&D on advanced EV mobility concepts, and working with a museum drives his interest in history. These Hydrogen and Fuel Cell History items are but a small part of more than 750 articles he published in print and digital form. He compiled some of those in a series of eBooks from Amazon-Kindle. Racing to Preserve Precious Petroleum, and were released in 2016, Part 3 is ready to go by mid-2017. (Download ‘Kindle-for-PC’ or ‘Kindle-for-Mac’ and read on any computer.) Wikipedia, and EVWorld have referenced Wand’s thoroughly researched, plainly written articles. True to his slogan “On the inventive past the ingenious future will thrive”, Wand is passionate about sustainable mobility in a future without pollution. He has driven a variety of FCVs at Hydrogenics in his Toronto ’backyard’. An article about that will arrive here soon.

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