The electrochemical powerplant using hydrogen and known as the fuel cell was invented by Sir William Robert Grove in 1839 and while it proved to be very useful for providing electrical power to spacecraft, it was difficult to adapt to motor vehicle use. Nevertheless, some carmakers looked at it on and off and in April 1994, Mercedes-Benz presented a running prototype with a fuel cell – the NECAR (New Electric Car).
Since that day, the company has been actively exploring the possibility of using fuel cells and even ran a test program globally with fleets in a few countries, including Singapore, to collect data for R&D. To date, fuel cell vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, including the B-Class F-CELL, have together covered over 18 million kilometres in a variety of conditions, thereby demonstrating the maturity of the powertrain concept.
Recently, Mercedes-Benz set a further milestone on the road to emission-free driving with the delivery of the first GLC F-CELL vehicles to selected customers in Germany. The GLC F-CELL is unique in that it features both fuel cells and a battery drive which can be charged externally using plug-in technology. Therefore, if hydrogen is not available, the vehicle’s battery pack can still be recharged to provide energy for continued travel. This is a thoughtful approach since the issue for potential customers will be availability of the gas.
Two carbonfibre-encased tanks in the vehicle floor can contain 4.4 kgs of hydrogen. Thanks to globally standardised 700-bar tank technology, the hydrogen supply can be replenished within just 3 minutes – as quickly as when refuelling a combustion-engined car. With a hydrogen consumption of around 1 kg/100 kms, the GLC F-CELL achieves around 430 hydrogen-based kilometres in the NEDC cycle; in hybrid mode, it additionally delivers up to 51 kms on a fully charged battery.
In view of the new technology and the fact that the hydrogen filling station network has only just started to expand, the market launch of the GLC F-CELL is taking place in selected metropolitan regions. Above all, the focus is on major German cities which are already comparatively well equipped with hydrogen filling stations, such as Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich and Cologne.
The GLC F-CELL will be offered exclusively in the form of a full-service rental model. This will include all maintenance and possible repairs together with a comprehensive warranty package covering the entire rental period. From early 2019, private customers will also be able to experience the new fuel cell technology and rent the vehicle one of 7 locations in Germany.
Together with its partners in the H2 Mobility joint venture, Daimler has drawn up a plan of action. By the end of 2019, the hydrogen refuelling station network is already expected to grow from its current level of 50 to some 100 stations. The long-term objective of the partners is a network of up to 400 hydrogen refuelling stations. Similar infrastructure projects are being promoted in Europe, the USA and Japan.