Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Will BMW overcome its CleanEnergy hurdle?

BMW recently flexed its ‘renewable muscle’ by bringing in five Hydrogen 7 cars into Singapore as part of an ongoing world tour. The cars, endorsed by celebrities like Madonna and Arnold Schwarzenegger, rely on liquid hydrogen as fuel, which BMW contends is the only way of achieving mobility ideally free of carbon dioxide emissions.

“We want to share this technology with Singapore because the country has a very clear vision of the central importance of clean energy in the overall national development plan,” said Roland Krueger, Managing Director of BMW Asia.

Performance wise, the cars boast an acceleration from zero to 100 kilometres in ten seconds, with a top speed limited to 230 kilometres, but not everyone is impressed.

Are these cars viable?

Ron Tan, Global Marketing Director at Infernofuel Global bristles when asked if these alternative forms of transport will help Singapore realise its dreams of zero carbon emissions by 2020.

“What is the point of having a hydrogen-powered car when the infrastructure is not in place,” he retorts. For the launch, BMW brought in a mobile refuelling station, complete with support crews as there is only one hydrogen fuelling station in Singapore supporting BMW’s technology. Tan also questions their affordability.

“How many Singaporeans can buy a BMW 7 Series car running on hydrogen?” Instead, he believes motorists need to address fuel efficiency by using good air filters and low resistance tyres. “Those measures will allow cars to get more mileage out of every litre of fuel used.”

Michael Meurer, who heads BMW’s CleanEnergy Programme admits that a complete change from a fossil fuel infrastructure to a hydrogen economy will take time, but points out that the advantages cannot be ignored.

“The BMW Hydrogen 7 emits nothing but vapour, which allows the cycle to repeat itself. This means that sustainable mobility without using fossil fuel resources can become a reality,” he said.

And according to Meurer, unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen is readily available. “It can be obtained from water and renewable energy such as the sun, wind or hydropower.”

Temperatures are rising
Tan believes that BMW’s intentions are admirable but unrealistic. He points to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that global temperatures will increase by almost two degrees by 2020. “At best, people can only contain the problem, not solve it,” said Tan.

Sticking to its guns

Understandably, Tan’s views are not shared by BMW, which continues to remain passionate about its CleanEnergy programme, believing that it will open up a new era for automobiles with alternative drive technologies.

“Broad market penetration will require many more years of commitment from all partners in business, politics and industry. It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Krueger.

Will broad market penetration eventually become a realistic goal?