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BMW Plant in SC Expands Hydrogen Energy Production

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BMW Manufacturing worker fills up forklift with hydrogen fuel

A BMW team member at the BMW Plant in Spartanburg, SC, fuels a hydrogen-powered fuel cell fork lift. (Photo courtesy BMW.)

With all the talk about alternative fuels around here lately, BMW is not to be left out. Its factory in Spartanburg, SC is continuing to expand use of hydrogen produced on-site.

According to a press release from BMW, the automaker announced this week successful expansion of hydrogen fuel cell material-handling equipment across its 4 million square foot facility. The release said the initial hydrogen storage and distribution area was installed in 2010 and powered “about 100 pieces” of equipment, but now that total is more like 230 pieces of equipment.

BMW Manufacturing President Josef Kerscher said, “BMW continues to complement its sustainable production model by adding alternative, efficient technology. Successful implementation, and ultimately expansion, of our hydrogen fuel cell material handling fleet has provided a sustainable energy source that exceeds our expectations.”

To get the expanded usage of its hydrogen system, BMW added two new, higher-capacity compressors, new storage tubes and distribution piping, and eight new hydrogen dispensers, the release said. In total, the system is expected to deliver a minimum of 400 kg of hydrogen each day, helping BMW save 4.1 million kWh per year in electricity consumption.

The release said BMW is even trying to make use of methane gas given off by landfills in forming hydrogen fuel:

BMW also released a project update to the Landfill Gas-to-Hydrogen Pilot Project. The first phase of the study, that validated the economic and technical feasibility, began in July 2011. The project has now successfully moved to the second phase of methane-to-hydrogen conversion. The project team, led by South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA), is implementing and testing equipment that will monitor the hydrogen purity. To do this, BMW has installed a clean-up system that takes a stream of landfill gas (post-siloxane removal), removes the sulfur and trace contaminants and, ultimately, produces hydrogen via a Steam Methane Reformer (SMR).

“BMW is very pleased with the progress we have been able to achieve in the last 18 months, said Cleve Beaufort, BMW Group’s Energy Manager for the U.S. and Canada.  “The objective of generating renewable hydrogen from methane is proving to be a possible option for BMW and will be transformational for the fuel cell industry.”

Throughout this project, SCRA has been a leading funding and implementation partner. The U.S. Department of Energy has also provided both technical and funding support for the project.

The final phase of this project is scheduled to begin in late 2013. At that time, BMW will conduct side-by-side trials of material handling equipment fueled by landfill gas derived hydrogen versus commercially sourced hydrogen.

For these efforts in on-site energy production, the release said the EPA recently named the factory the second-largest Green Power Partner thanks to its ability to produce some 38% of its power needs on-site, “mostly from its landfill gas-to-energy program,” the release said.

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