MONTREAL – Magna Steyr Group has been named overall systems provider for the upcoming hydrogen-powered BMW 745h sedan, due out before 2008, thanks to the supplier’s success in developing the first liquid hydrogen storage tank system for automotive applications (see related story: Hydrogen Powered 7-Series to Hit Market By ’08).

BMW originally awarded the contract to Linde AG, the German engineering firm now overseen by Wolfgang Reitzle, former chief of Ford Motor Co.’s Premier Automotive Group. But Linde has since decided to concentrate on commercial hydrogen tanks.

Hydrogen-powered BMW 745h

Using technology developed as part of its contract to supply liquid-hydrogen fuel feed lines for Europe’s ARIANE 5 space program, Magna Steyr developed a cylindrical tank that can store hydrogen in a liquid state at temperatures of -253 degrees Celsius (-487 degrees Fahrenheit).

Both the inner and outer shells of the tank are made of austenitic steel, while a high vacuum between the inner and outer tanks and multi-layer insulation help to keep the temperature under control. The tank can hold up to 170L (44 gallons) of liquid hydrogen and weighs approximately 145kg (319 lbs.) when empty.

Magna Steyr says it has eliminated most of the concerns over thermal loss of liquid hydrogen storage thanks to its unique insulation system.

"Super insulation is necessary since the surrounding environment of the tank system – both inside and outside the car – consists entirely of heat sources," says Siegfried Wolf, president and CEO of Magna Steyr. "The solution (was) multi-layer insulation. This insulation is 2.5 cm (0.98 ins.) thick. If we estimate how thick the insulation would have to be to achieve the same effect with conventional polystyrene, the tank would have a diameter of 30 m (100 ft.)"

Magna Steyr insists its tank system is ready for production application, having completed rigorous testing via BMW’s hydrogen test fleet: "We will be ready to go – even before hydrogen-powered vehicles become an everyday sight," Wolf says.

The supplier’s system can be used to power both internal combustion engines and fuel cell powertrains, he adds, helping the company serve the needs of auto makers with either powertrain system.

Wolf also hints that Magna Steyr could provide more than just fuel tank systems to the auto industry going forward. He hopes his company’s leg up on the competition will enable its Vehicle Assembly Group – which will build the BMW X3 in Austria – to pitch concepts for complete hydrogen systems integration and complete vehicle development and production.

"We are building a competitive lead for ourselves now," he says. "We have access to a market in which virtually all OEMs operate, but where there are very few suppliers."