Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to start mass marketing a fuel cell vehicle by 2017. Ola Kallenius, the German company’s head of sales and marketing, told an Australian magazine called Motoring that Daimler (Mercedes’ parent) plans to offer a fuel cell drive vehicle to the public around 2017.
If Kallenius is right, Mercedes will join Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota, all of which plan to put fuel cell vehicles on the road within the next two years. Mercedes has been working on fuel cell vehicles since 1994. It built around 200 B-class F-Cell powered hatchbacks in 2010, then pushed production back to 2017.
One B-class even drove all over the world in 2011 as a test of the new technology. That means fuel cell powered vehicles are a proven technology.
Since then, Mercedes F-class vehicles have appeared at auto shows around the world and been driven in various countries. Even though it hasn’t started marketing F-cell vehicles, Mercedes is actually the automaker with the most experience with fuel cells. It started working with the devices two years before Toyota did.
Currently, Mercedes is looking for another automaker to partner with on fuel cell technology. It hasn’t identified that company yet, but there’s a good chance it’ll be an American company like Ford or Chrysler.
Mercedes is also working on a fuel cell powered public bus called the Citaro. The transit bus will use a fuel cell to power electric motors and charge lithium ion batteries. The idea is to create a transit bus with zero emissions, which will be welcome news to urban residents who currently have to put up with large amounts of diesel fumes put out by such vehicles.
It goes without saying that the Ciatro FuelCELL could be easily adapted to trucks and semi-tractors. An American company called Plug Power is developing fuel cell powered delivery trucks and a fuel cell powered refrigerator trucks with a company called Smith Electric Vehicles. FedEx is also involved in the plans to develop a fuel cell powered delivery truck.
So What is a Fuel Cell Anyway?
Okay, we’ve been talking about fuel cells for some time here at the Samurai, so what is a fuel cell anyway? Well, basically it is a generator that uses no mechanical parts. A traditional generator uses some sort of mechanism, usually an engine or a turbine, to make electricity. A fuel cell uses an electrochemical process to turn hydrogen directly into electricity.
The advantages of fuel cells are enormous. They have no moving parts, which means less maintenance and less that can go wrong. More importantly, the only emission they put out is water. If they become commonplace, fuel cells could make smog a thing of the past.
Fuel cell cars are basically hybrids that use a fuel cell instead of a diesel or a gasoline engine to generate electricity. The advantage to such vehicles is that they have a longer range than electric cars, around 300 miles. The disadvantage is that there are only a few hydrogen gas stations in the U.S. Currently, there are around 10 in the Los Angeles area.
Bob Carter, Toyota’s Vice President of Automotive Operations, thinks fuel cell cars could be rolled out much faster. At the Detroit Auto Show in January, Carter cited a study by the University of California and Toyota that showed that just 68 hydrogen fueling stations could serve several million cars in California.
It looks like fuel cell cars are going to be part of our future sooner than we think. It also looks like the auto industry of the future will be much like that of the early 1900s, when vehicles with several different kinds of power sources were on the roads.
In the next few years, we’re likely to see hydrogen powered cars sharing our streets and highways with diesel, gasoline, and electric powered vehicles. Only time will tell which power source will win out.