It baffles me why our government still ignores the H word – hydrogen.
They tell us that we all need to buy electric cars.
They seem to be unaware of the fact that they are expensive, don’t travel very far and are a hassle to charge on the go.
I understand the world is on fire and we need to do something about it.
But electricity alone won’t do it.
We need a multi-energy solution and hydrogen and e-fuels are an essential part of that mix.
Hydrogen is emission-free and can be refueled just as quickly as petrol and diesel. And it doesn’t lose range when there are brass monkeys outside. Unlike electric cars.
Take the gaffer at BMW, Oliver Zipse.
BMW is way ahead of everyone else when it comes to electric cars. The company makes everything from the electric Mini to the electric Rolls-Royce, all class-leading, and sold 250,000 electric vehicles last year.
The H word is the key to a carbon-free future
But even he says hydrogen has a key role to play if we’re serious about achieving net-zero emissions.
Zipse said: “Hydrogen is the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to zero-emission mobility. One technology alone will not be enough to enable climate-neutral mobility worldwide.”
Other governments in Europe are taking it much more seriously and have mandated hydrogen refueling stations every 120 miles along all main routes by 2030.
But here we have no guidelines.
All we hear is: buy an electric car, excuse the lack of chargers.
Putting everything else aside, how is a ten-tonne truckload of Duracell-coated washing machines supposed to get from Dover to Dundee?
Hydrogen is the answer for trucks and vans. But also for cars that cover long distances and tow things.
Which brings me well to today’s test car.
It looks like a BMW X5, drives like a BMW X5 and has a luxurious cabin like a BMW X5.
Because that’s what it is. a thoroughbred BMW X5.
However, it runs on hydrogen and only emits water. So how does it work?
This iX5 prototype uses a fuel cell system to combine hydrogen from two high-pressure storage tanks (which hold almost 6 kg of gaseous hydrogen) with oxygen from the ambient air.
The cell generates electricity for the car’s electric drive motor and charges the tiny 2 kWh battery.
The result is a family SUV that’s safe, quiet, clean, smooth and fast. As I said, 401 hp fast.
It can do 313 miles straight and refuel in about four minutes.
If you charge a battery car for the same amount of time, you can hardly get to the next interchange.
We refueled near Heathrow – one of only five public petrol stations in the UK, Germany has 105 – at a cost of £22 per kg of hydrogen. So it costs around £130 to fill the whole thing up.
It would be easy to set up hydrogen filling stations next to existing petrol and diesel pumps in the short term.
BMW has been researching hydrogen-powered cars for almost 40 years, starting with a 745i Turbo that used liquid hydrogen.
However, with a little help from Toyota, engineers have now managed to industrialize the fuel cell system, and hydrogen-powered Beemers could hit the market within four to five years.
A pilot fleet of iX5s is being tested around the world, similar to the 2009 electric Mini prototype that led to the BMW i3.
Right now, Toyota will sell you a Mirai sedan. Hyundai will sell you a Nexo. Vauxhall and Ford and others are developing hydrogen-powered vans.
Because they all know that electric vehicles don’t work for everyone everywhere and the H-word is the key to a zero-carbon future.
Wake up Rishi.
KEY FACTS: BMW iX5 hydrogen
Price: £85,000 estimate
engine: Hydrogen fuel cell
Performance: 401 hp
0-62 miles per hour: 6 sec
top speed: 112 miles per hour
Range: 313 miles
refueling: 4 mins
Hydrogen trucks and vans are a no-brainer when it comes to hauling heavy goods over long distances.
And that’s why Vauxhall will soon have two versions – the Vivaro and the XL Movano.
Both can be refueled in just a few minutes and have the same loading volume as their diesel equivalents.
A Vauxhall spokesman said: “Although there is currently a lack of infrastructure in the UK, many of the large companies we speak to are considering investing in their own depot fueling stations to reap the benefits that hydrogen can bring to light commercial vehicles.”
Toyota transplants the hydrogen fuel cell from a Mirai sedan to a Hilux pickup.
The preliminary work is being carried out by engineers at the Toyota Corolla plant in Burnaston, Derbys and we will see the results next month.
ARE HYDROGEN CARS SAFE?
YES. Safer than petrol, experts say.
YES. Safer than Gasoline slowly burns and pools around a crash site. But hydrogen is 14 times lighter than air and disperses upwards quickly.
Manufacturers subject hydrogen storage tanks to pressure, campfire, flash, and gunfire tests.