Hydrogen, so far as we know, is the ultimate fuel for cars: zero emissions (only water) and when combined with oxygen in a fuel cell, you get—zap!—electricity to power your Mercedes F-Cell (now built on the B-Class compact platform).
The company has been working on the fuel-cell concept for some years, testing A-Class fuel-cell cars in the U.S. since 2004, but the new B-Class car is more efficient and will be available for lease in California to a limited number of customers in December. By 2012 there will be about 70 cars operating there, out of a total 200, including Europe. Popular Mechanics did an article on what it’s like to drive one.
A three-year lease costs $849 per month and includes the fuel and insurance. Benz has invested around $2.73 billion in the technology over a 15-year period, and from all reports the car is pretty impressive. It will also be the first compact Mercedes to come to the U.S.
With front-wheel drive and a 136-hp electric motor (214 lb-ft of torque), the car accelerates to 60 mph in 11.4 seconds with a top speed of 106 mph. Hydrogen is stored in three tanks at very high pressure (safely, we presume), which can be refilled in under 3 minutes.
The operating range is around 240-250 miles. A whopping big problem, of course, is the fact that right now only 5 hydrogen filling stations are operating in Greater Los Angeles, although 4 more, plus 1 for San Francisco, are to open by the end of 2010. So, for the time being, the car will a test bed for that region only, and limited to the wealthy greenies who can afford it.
Hydrogen has big drawbacks:
low energy content per unit volume, high tankage weights, the storage, transportation and filling of gaseous or liquid hydrogen in vehicles, the large investment in infrastructure that would be required to fuel vehicles, and the inefficiency of production processes.
Benz is working on these problems and is to be commended for taking the lead. Fuel-cell cars will be around in significant numbers in 20 years’ time. Remember, you heard it here first.
Is the infrastructure problem in providing hydrogen stations simply overwhelming—or will it be solved?