BMW Gilds Zero Emission Mobility Lily: Free EV Charging, Low-Carbon Steel

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The latest news about methane leaks and oil spills should help convince more new car buyers to go electric. If that doesn’t work, the pocketbook angle should do the trick, considering the high cost of gas. That might explain why BMW North America has just announced a free new EV charging program to sweeten the pot. The juice-on-the-house deal could also encourage BMW customers to buy larger EVs, which doesn’t sound particularly eco-friendly, but BMW has that side at least partly covered through its new low carbon steel initiatives.

Free EV Charging & Many Charging Stations To Choose From

BMW developed the new electric vehicle charging program through Electrify America, which is well known as the award winning builder of the largest open ultra-fast DC charging network in the US. According to the company, their chargers can be used by “almost every electric vehicle on the road today.”

The numbers are piling up. Electrify America launched in 2018 and averages 4 charging station installations weekly. The company is a couple of months behind its 2021 goal of 800 charging stations with 3,500 ultra fast chargers, but it is closing in fast. The latest count is 710 stations and 114 in development.

BMW buyers who shell out for a 2022 BMW electric vehicle will get two years of 30-minute free EV charging sessions at all Electrify America charging stations, starting with the day of purchase.

“The program will launch with the sale of the new all-electric BMW iX xDrive50, BMW i4 eDrive40 and BMW i4 M50 in March. With no additional cost to the vehicle’s purchase price, customers will immediately have access to complimentary charging at more than 3,000 Electrify America chargers across the U.S.” Electrify America explains.

According to Electrify America, iX and i4 drivers can expect to collect charges lasting between 90 and 108 miles in as little as 10 minutes, respectively.

Low Carbon Steel For The Green Electric Vehicle Of The Future

Electrify America also noted that additional models and benefits will be announced shortly.

More to the point, the company enthused that that its ultra-fast EV chargers will enable drivers to “charge up even the largest BMW all-electric vehicles with ease.” That’s all well and good, except that larger vehicles generally mean more steel, which raises all kinds of issues over the use of fossil energy at steel mills.

Not to worry. The global steel industry is beginning to leverage the green hydrogen trend to replace fossil fuels at steel mills. The idea is to run the mills with hydrogen sourced from renewable or sustainable resources, which could include water, biomass, biogas, and municipal wastewater, as well as ordinary water. Industrial sources are also in the mix, including waste gases and waste plastic, but the main focus is on leveraging renewable energy to push hydrogen gas out of water.

That’s a huge development, considering that the primary source of hydrogen today is natural gas, with coal coming in second. Fossil stakeholders are scrambling to keep up by attaching carbon capture to their hydrogen production systems, but the green hydrogen market is growing at a ferocious pace and the prospects for catching up are slim.

BMW’s Big Green Hydrogen Adventure

BMW is careful to position its new European steel initiative as a low-carbon program, not a zero carbon program. That’s a wise move, because the company apparently allows some wiggle room for natural gas as well as green hydrogen.

“The BMW Group continues to reduce CO2 emissions in its supplier network as part of its ambitious ongoing sustainability activities. Steel produced using natural gas or hydrogen and green power, instead of fossil resources like coal, makes a vital contribution to this,” BMW explains.

Actually, that looks like a translation slip-up, since natural gas is a fossil resource, not an “instead of” fossil resource. In any case, BMW should take another look at that natural gas angle. On top of that thing about killing the planet with methane emissions, pressure is building for another all-out war in Europe against the backdrop of the region’s dependence on gas from Russia, with a winter gas shortage and Russia’s newly built but yet-to-be-operational Nordstream II gas pipeline to Germany adding a heavy dose of geopolitics to the mix.

On a brighter note, BMW’s latest low carbon steel announcement tips the scales in favor of green hydrogen, through a new contract with the steelmaker Salzgitter AG. Just a few years ago Salzgitter was considering natural gas for reducing the carbon footprint of its mills, but more recently the company has turned its attention to green hydrogen.

In addition, last fall BMW signed an agreement with the Swedish startup H2 Green Steel, a company that focuses exclusively on green hydrogen.

“Together, the two agreements will supply over 40% of the steel required by the company’s European plants and save around 400,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year,” BMW Group explains, noting that its European press plants process more than half a million tonnes of steel per year.

More Green Hydrogen For EV Charging Stations

In a related angle, the idea of using green hydrogen to power EV charging stations is beginning to take hold. The idea would be to deploy electricity-generating hydrogen fuel cells for EV charging stations that don’t have easy access to the grid, but are accessible by road, waterway, or pipeline.

Powering remote EV charging stations with solar arrays or distributed wind energy is an alternative, but fuel cells could be a better fit in enough cases to build a market.

The Extreme E racing organization has been promoting the idea. Launched in 2021 as sister organization to Alejandro Agog’s Formula E circuit, Extreme E aims at proving electric vehicle technology in harsh environments. That includes charging station access, which explains why Extreme E settled on the fuel cell company AFC Energy to provide its alkaline fuel cells for the EV charging end of things.

AFC is already engaged with the green hydrogen trend and the company could have green ammonia in its sights as well. AFC is on board for the 2022 Extreme E event so stay tuned for more on that.

As for fuel cell electric vehicles, BMW is among the many automakers dipping a toe in those waters. Most of the attention nowadays is focusing on heavy duty applications, including aircraft as well as trucks and locomotives.

Despite challenges in the fuel cell passenger car area, BMW has been moving forward with its BMW iX5 Hydrogen car — but with an important green caveat.

Provided the hydrogen is produced using renewable energy and the necessary infrastructure is available, this technology can complement the BMW Group’s electrified drive train portfolio — and, in particular, meet the needs of customers who do not have their own access to electric charging infrastructure, frequently drive long distances or desire a high degree of flexibility,” the company explained in a press release last August (emphasis added).

If all goes according to plan, fuel cell EVs could carve out space in BMW’s zero emission portfolio, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo (screenshot): BMW to increase use of low carbon steel for its European factories (courtesy of BMW Group).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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