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Business Impact

Gassy Tank

BMW’s plan to manufacture a hydrogen tank

Next year, BMW plans to produce 100 luxury sedans that can burn liquid hydrogen in addition to gasoline. The hardest part of the job? Manufacturing the hydrogen tank (shown at left with the hydrogen-pump nozzle attached). The tank eats up half of a car’s trunk space and weighs 167 kilograms. To keep hydrogen liquid–which ensures there’s enough in the tank for a long drive–you need to chill it to -253 °C. So the tank has two walls of stainless steel separated by a vacuum and multiple layers of insulation.

Shown here is an image of the hydrogen tank, with the hydrogen-pump nozzel attached, BMW plans to implement into 100 luxury sedans next year.

Despite the insulation, the liquid inevitably turns into a gas. After 17 hours, pressure rises sufficiently to make a valve open, venting hydrogen gas that a catalytic converter oxidizes into water vapor. A half-tank of hydrogen in an undriven car will largely “boil off” in nine days. The tank also has a second system that quickly vents hydrogen through the roof of the car if the tank is damaged in an accident. To be cautious until more testing can be done, BMW asks users not to park its hydrogen cars in enclosed garages. The company is seeking new technologies for automotive storage of liquid hydrogen, but for now, its tank seems to be the state of the art.

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