BMW has a fleet of liquid hydrogen powered Series 7's touring the world to demonstrate that this is a well developed technology the company not only understands, but is also very safe and cost effective. (The engines are standard and can be switched from liquid hydrogen to petrol and back again via a switch on the dashboard). The Munich limousine is merely demonstrating that it is totally ordinary. Unless you talk to the driver, you won't know you are tasting the future. But BMW has been producing hydrogen combustion engines for 20 years and is expecting to sell several thousand liquid hydrogen powered cars a year by 2010.
So why is this interesting to the wind industry? Well, liquid hydrogen is the ultimate clean fuel, but it is produced by electrolysis. If the electricity for the process comes from a standard fossil-fuel resource, pollution remains integral to that process. So a clean source of electricity is needed. Think about it.
Transportation accounts for roughly a third of all energy use. It is a much bigger market than electricity. But it requires a fuel that is storable and transportable, which is why petrol dominates. Compared to petrol, liquid hydrogen stores three times the energy per kilo, but only a third the energy per litre, so the fuel tank is a little bigger, and it is (very efficiently) insulated; a full tank gives these BMWs a 400 kilometre range, plus absolutely standard BMW performance. And they only add water to the environment as they glide by. Hydrogen is also interchangeable with petrol in use. That makes the transition from one energy source to the other quite manageable for tens of millions of consumers world wide. Dual use engines allow you to do this. Bright people these Bavarians.
Depending on just how bright they are at BMW, the company just might spot the opportunity presented by its liquid hydrogen technology to return to its early roots. Do you happen to know what the BMW logo represents -- that circle split into quadrants, two blue and two white? It's a stylised representation of ... a rotating propeller.
When the company was formed, early in the last century, it was a manufacturer of aircraft engines. It only began making cars after the second world war. What's more, it is still involved in aircraft engines. In the 1990s, BMW teamed up with Rolls Royce and produced a highly efficient mid-sized gas turbine which has since dominated the small feeder jet segment of the aircraft market. So BMW knows a thing or two about turbines. What about wind turbines?
A company like Shell has entered the wind industry because it is interested in being involved in this part of the energy supply industry. But it is not interested in making wind turbines. BMW is a very different kind of company. It is a key player in the transportation industry, making leading moves to make it sustainable, which require a sustainable source of electricity to make the picture complete. And whereas Shell is known as fuel supply company, BMW is known as a company which designs and manufactures very elegant machinery.
So what do you think BMW will do if it enters the wind energy industry? Wonderful cars. Very impressive liquid hydrogen technology. The next move might well be very interesting indeed.
P.S. A heartening reaction to Helmsman's musings last month on "lean blade" production came from a visitor to the editorial office. Said visitor happened to be a member of the board of a Slovenian maker of mould tools for the glass fibre and composites industry (the editorial office is located at a marina). Seizing upon the column, our visitor was last seen heading for his car (a BMW, of course) muttering things like "diversification" and "I told them so." Always glad to be of service.
A boat sailing into the wind is hard pressed against the elements and so are her crew. Once off the wind, however, the battering of the relative wind is banished and the crew, no longer clinging to an inclined vessel, relax and unwind. Conversation turns to the lighter side of life and whimsical musings. That's just what our new Off the Wind column is for: musings about wind power in general, by Helmsman. You're welcome to contribute.