BMW looks to landfills for hydrogen power

Automaker BMW has launched a pilot program to turn the methane gas emitted by landfills into hydrogen.

Once the methane has been converted to hydrogen, BMW hopes to use the energy source to power hydrogen fuel-cell-driven equipment in its 1.2 million-square-foot Spartanburg, S.C., plant that produces the company’s new X3 Sports Activity Vehicle.

Finding a cheap, efficient source of hydrogen gas has always been a major issue in the evolution of fuel-cell technology. 

BMW and the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) will work with Advanced Technology International (a subsidiary of SCRA), the Gas Technology Institute, Ameresco and the South Carolina Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance on this multiphase, million dollar project.

BMW already uses hydrogen fuel cell technology in its North American operations and since 2003, methane gas has been collected, cleaned and compressed from a local landfill and used to power more than half of the South Carolina plant’s total energy requirements.

In 2009, the company invested $12 million in its landfill gas program to further improve overall efficiency. According to the company, implementation of the program has reduced CO2 emissions by about 92,000 tons per year and saves about $5 million annually in energy costs.

BMW has not divulged the technique they use to convert the landfill’s methane gas into the plant’s hydrogen power. However, the automaker is involved in at least two projects with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop storage of hydrogen to power its future motor vehicles.

BMW is working with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on a project to produce and store cryo-compressed hydrogen as well as a DOE project to efficiently store hydrogen via a liquid organic carrier.

Steve Duda, EarthTechling