BMW has unveiled the world's first series production hydrogen car, the 750hL, and outlined a vision to have hydrogen fuel stations near BMW dealers in Germany by May 2005.
'Our aim is to have a network of hydrogen fuel stations all over Europe by the year 2010,' said Dr Burkhard Goschel, BMW Group development director.
He was speaking as BMW presented 15 750hLs to act as shuttle cars for the EXPO 2000 in Hanover, and predicted that BMW will have sold several thousand hydrogen cars by 2010.
The zero-emission car has become the holy grail of the world's car manufacturers, with most focusing their energy on developing fuel cell technology.
Harry Pearce, General Motors' vice-chairman, said recently that 'fuel cells are the powertrains of the future'.
Fuel cell vehicles are quiet and clean, and run on electricity generated by an electrochemical process using hydrogen and oxygen.
But they have encountered problems because of the weight of the cells and the difficulty of storing or producing hydrogen on-board.
BMW believes fuel cells have a role to play as a source of on-board electricity for in-car systems, and recently linked with Renault and Delphi Automotive Systems for further fuel cell development.
The 750hL features a fuel cell to supply electricity to its air conditioning system even when the engine is turned off, but its main source of power is a conventional, series production 12-cylinder internal combustion engine adapted to run purely on hydrogen.
When hydrogen combusts in an air mixture, the only emission is water, and the low combustion temperature prevents the creation of nitrous oxides (NoX). The 750hL's 150kW/ 204bhp engine accelerates the car from 0–100km/h in 9.6 seconds, and is capable of a top speed of 226km/h.
BMW has developed a hydrogen refuelling system that can fill the 140-litre Cryo tank - that stores the hydrogen in liquid form at –250°C - in under three minutes.
The German manufacturer has also joined a project to generate hydrogen via solar power to avoid any environmentally harmful emissions in the production of the hydrogen.