Breakthrough in paint technologies: BMW Group Plant Leipzig will soon be able to replace natural gas with green hydrogen

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  • BMW Group Plant Leipzig to use fuel-flexible hydrogencapable burners in paintshop
  • Nedeljković, Board Member for Production: “Technological breakthrough underscores our innovativeness”
  • Hydrogen power also in plant and transport logistics

Leipzig. BMW Group Plant Leipzig is the first car plant in the world to pilot a newly developed burner technology that allows paint dryers to run on green hydrogen. The new technology paves the way to reduce CO2 emissions from the intensive use of natural gas, a fossil fuel. BMW AG Board Member Milan Nedeljković: “This is a technological milestone in painting technology. It underscores our innovativeness and our determination to make production ever more sustainable.”

Today, at BMW Group Plant Leipzig, Nedeljković and Plant Director Petra Peterhänsel jointly launched the first fuel-flexible hydrogen-capable burner for paint dryers. The special feature of the system is that it can run on hydrogen (H2), methane (CH4) or a mixture of the two. It can also switch between fuels while in operation. Initially, it will run in trial operations, with a complete drying line in the paintshop being converted as early as next year. Over the next few years, the remaining burner systems will gradually be converted as well, until all 68 in the Leipzig paintshop deploy the new technology.

Sustainability as a key element in the BMW iFACTORY

Reducing CO2 emissions is one of the central aims of the BMW iFACTORY with its LEAN. GREEN. DIGITAL approach. While sustainability, optimum use of resources and circularity are the focus of GREEN, the LEAN strand of the strategy works for efficient, precise and highly flexible production. DIGITAL makes effective use of digitalisation in data science, artificial intelligence and virtualisation.

To become even more sustainable, the BMW Group is devising site-specific solutions to reduce CO2 emissions. The aim is to cut CO2 output from production by 80 percent by the year 2030 compared with 2019 – not only with hydrogen but also with energy from a number of other regenerative energy sources that are currently under consideration, such as geothermal and photovoltaics. The various solutions will be deployed in whatever way best suits the site in question.

Plans to connect to hydrogen pipeline 

To run the new burner systems on hydrogen throughout, a pipeline will be needed to ensure sufficient quantities of green hydrogen are available at all times. Here, Plant Leipzig intends to use every opportunity offered by the region’s emerging hydrogen industry. Plans are underway to connect the plant to the first pure-hydrogen grid by mid-2024. A pipeline about two kilometres long will link it to a long-distance pipeline to the south of the site. The plant will then be connected, along with its partners in the region, to a regional hydrogen network that links in to the nationwide and the European hydrogen infrastructure.

Hydrogen power in plant and transport logistics

Hydrogen has long been a staple fuel in plant logistics. The first indoor hydrogen filling station in Germany was installed on the plant premises in 2013, to fuel forklifts and tug trains in intralogistics. Today, almost ten years later, Plant Leipzig has the largest fleet in Germany with over 130 fuel-cell powered forklifts. There are also five intralogistics hydrogen stations on the premises. The latest, which is currently going on stream, offers fully automated refuelling.

The BMW Group is also working with its partners to trial hydrogenpowered solutions to support the decarbonisation of transport logistics beyond the factory gates as well and is currently involved in the H2HAUL and HyCET research projects. Hydrogen is a promising fuel for transport logistics because it allows fast refuelling, high payloads and flexible usability. It also offers extensive range. And green hydrogen – produced with energy from renewable sources – will pave the way for lower-carbon, long-distance logistics in the future.

Plant Leipzig – Geared for sustainability from the outset

“Sustainability is in Plant Leipzig’s DNA, as it were,” said Plant Director Petra Peterhänsel. “Efficient and sustainable processes were already very important to us when we were planning the facility, and one highly visible result of that is the four wind turbines that supply electricity to the plant.” Erected in 2013, they deliver 10 MW of power (generating approx. 26 GWh/year). In 2017 a further milestone followed when the Battery Farm comprising up to 700 second-life high-voltage batteries from BMW i3 vehicles was opened. The batteries are used to store energy, such as that generated by the wind turbines. By storing the energy on the premises, local energy management can be optimised and the electrical grid kept stable.