One of the nifty technologies that came out of the space program was the fuel cell: a device that produces electricity using the energy released when hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water. The idea of using fuel cells as a power source for vehicles has been talked about for some time. Now, according to the “Autopia” blog at Wired, Mercedes-Benz is planning a pilot production run of a new, fuel-cell-powered car, for “select customers” in Europe and the US, next spring.
You should not plan to rush out to get one of these, since only about 200 are slated to be produced. This is actually a sign of sensible engineering: as I’ve remarked before, usually it is desirable to have an intermediate-scale step between the lab bench and full production.
The model to be produced is relatively small:
The fuel cell drivetrain is going into Mercedes’ B-Class, which could be a German version of the Honda Fit. It’s a small four-door one-box car perfect for city driving.
The Mercedes engineers interviewed for the article say that the car will have performance characteristics similar to those it would have with a 2.0 liter petrol (gasoline) engine. It has a 100 kW electric motor (approximately 136 horsepower), and is claimed to have a range of 400 km (slightly less than 250 miles).
Efficiency-wise, the B-Class F-Cell consumes the equivalent of 3.3 liters of diesel fuel per 100 kilometers in the New European Driving Cycle. That works out to 85 mpg.
This is, of course, just a very small step toward another zero-emission vehicle choice. And, like any vehicle that uses a fuel other than gasoline, there is a large unanswered question of how a supporting infrastructure can be put in place. But I think it’s encouraging that mainstream companies like Mercedes-Benz are beginning some serious experiments.