I never really thought I would ever have a chance to ride in a car that was worth $1,000,000, but just such an opportunity presented itself on Friday morning. As I walked onto Georgetown’s campus, I was surprised to see two brand new Seven Series BMWs parked just inside the front gates.

As a BMW aficionado myself I would have investigated further to see what was going on, but as I approached I was even more surprised to see that the cars were unlike any other Seven Series I had ever seen before. They were a sparkling pale blue in color, and written across the side panels were large painted letters that audaciously proclaimed that the cars run on clean hydrogen fuel.

As I drew nearer to the cars, I realized that a man with a heavy German accent, who turned out to be a member of BMW’s alternative fuels division, was telling a small group of people some of the more remarkable features of the car and its revolutionary technology.

The car itself is a part of BMW’s attempt to make a full production car that has the capability to run completely on an alternative fuel. This particular car, which BMW has decided to call the “Hydrogen 7,” is one of the more successful attempts at creating a car that can run on alternative energy and still perform at a high level. This, of course, is often my initial concern with “energy efficient” cars, because they often have to sacrifice power and performance.

This car is no exception. A standard BMW 760 Li has a powerful V12 engine that has nearly 450 horsepower. The “Hydrogen 7”, also a V12 has only 275 horsepower, but has the capability to run entirely on liquid hydrogen fuel, producing little more than water vapor out of the exhaust pipes.

To make a more complete analysis of the car, I decided to ride along with one of the BMW team members on a short test drive along Canal Road. All my fears were put to rest as the driver accelerated down Canal Road to demonstrate there was little to no sacrifice in performance.

In addition, the internal features were much the same as any other Seven Series I have ever been in: luxurious and top of the line. The car even had a feature called “night-vision” that allows the driver to see heat-emitting objects in nighttime driving situations.

All of the standard technology aside, I was able to ask some more specific questions about the hydrogen technology itself, and the implications it has for the future. I was somewhat skeptical that a car that is worth $1,000,000 dollars was going to help solve the climate problem. Even if they sold 1,000 such vehicles (which would be $ 1 billion dollars worth of sales), it would do little to help the environment.

Much to my surprise, the BMW representative gave me a very realistic response. He said that, “the technology that you see here today is probably going to be in production by 2017, and even then only in our more expensive models.” He went on to say that by putting it in their more expensive models they could rationalize spending huge amounts of money on research and development.

Another problem, as I found out from the representative, is that there is only one place to fuel the car in the entire Washington, D.C, metropolitan area, at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. So not only is the car very expensive, but the driver is extremely restricted in where he or she can go.

Yet another problem is that the pure liquid hydrogen, due to a lack of demand, is supplied at a price of over 11 dollars a gallon, almost four times as expensive as gasoline. This becomes especially pricey as the car only gets at maximum 140 miles to the tank, as the BMW representative explained. The Hydrogen 7 does include a dual-fuel system able to use both liquid hydrogen and gasoline, but this option is hardly relevant in the long-term need to switch to alternative fuels.

All of these problems may seem like significant roadblocks in the path of a hydrogen powered luxury vehicle, but I would like to remind my readers that the cost would come down significantly as the technology is implemented across more vehicles. The million-dollar price tag results from a hundred million dollars of research and development spread out over only 100 cars. The price will come down, but it will take time.

Nonetheless, the development of an alternative fuel source is a noble quest, and it is one that many companies are researching for the future. Although the causes of global climate change are uncertain, there is good evidence to suggest that vehicle emissions are a contributing factor in global warming, making this quest for alternative fuels much more important. Last month I commented on the need for nuclear power to solve part of the impending energy crisis, and hydrogen powered vehicles like the “Hydrogen 7” are yet another vital component.

The fact that the cars were here on Georgetown’s campus demonstrates the fact that alternative energy is now better recognized as an important concern. BMW is here in Washington lobbying Congress to implement hydrogen-fueling centers across the country. The fact that a company like BMW is even attempting to create an alternative fuel car is astonishing to me, because it is an idea I usually associate with lower cost, more efficient cars, not a 350-horseppower V12.

In any event, the car was fun to ride in, and it will be interesting to see if the technology comes to fruition in the years to come.

Charles Leisure is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at leisurethehoya.com. TALK TO CHUCK appears every other Tuesday.

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