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Driving the BMW Hydrogen 7

Today I got a chance to have a spin in the BMW Hydrogen 7. It’s one of only 20 of the hydrogen-powered cars in the world, so I was a little nervous that I might prang it, but luckily all went seamlessly. In fact, apart from a big “H2” in the middle of the dashboard (and a small button on the right of the steering wheel, which you can just about see in this picture) you wouldn’t know you were driving anything other than a regular BMW. As my co-pilot and BMW engineer Mario explained, the car runs on a dual-fuel system, which means it can process both regular gasoline and hydrogen (the button on the steering wheel allows a driver to choose; or the engine switches automatically when one tank is empty.) The lengthy engineering process involved adapting the regular 760Li’s 12-cylinder engine to work with both fuel sources – and to make room in the car for the bulky hydrogen tank, which holds 17.5 lbs of liquid hydrogen. As you can see in this other photo, the tank sits in the trunk – and thus halves the luggage space of a regular 7 series (though the back seat still looks pretty roomy).

Safety’s obviously an issue when discussing such a volatile element as hydrogen (yes, I went there, I brought up the Zeppelin). Five sensors are distributed throughout the car to detect escaping hydrogen. If that happens, the windows automatically open in order to let the gas, harmless in and of itself, out into the atmosphere – and the fuel supply is cut. The demonstration/test drive didn’t include filling up with hydrogen but apparently it’s a similar, slightly more high tech version of a regular outing at the pump. Filling up takes about eight minutes.