Issue: Dec 2002

A Step Forward For Fuel Cells

Out of the lab and onto the streets, DaimlerChrysler will introduce a fleet of 60 F-Cell cars for real-world testing.

by Brent Haight

Eight years after the launch of the NECAR 1 concept study, Daimler- Chrysler is about to deploy the first of what will be a 60 vehicle fleet of its Mercedes-Benz A-Class hydrogen-fueled fuel cell car, the F-Cell. Beginning in 2003, customers in the U.S., Germany, Singapore and Japan will operate and test the vehicles in everyday use within the framework of government- sponsored international ventures.

This is what we consider phase three of a five phase introduction of fuel cells, says Bernard Robertson, senior vice president for engineering technologies and regulatory affairs. This is the 2003 to 2007 phase where we test the vehicle in day-to-day use. From 2007 to 2010 is the ramp up phase where we hope to build volume, and then some time after 2010 we will expect to commercialize the vehicle.

The fuel cell is packaged tightly in the engine compartment

The F-Cell is the most current result of years of commitment on the behalf of DaimlerChrysler to develop and prove the use of fuel cell technology in passenger vehicles. From 2001 to 2004 alone, the company has spent more than $1.4 billion in fuel cell technology research and development.

We are operating in an uncertain energy environment, says Robertson. Defining national objectives is crucial, and frankly, that hasnt been done. There is a lot of talk about the importance of CO2 reduction, getting away from carbon fuels all together, zero emissions and the solutions set for those various objectives is obviously different. There has been no national priority set, not even a serious dialogue about setting the national priorities so that everyone can work on the right solutions.

Weve been a leader in fuel cells, adds Robertson. Weve got about 20 different fuel cell programs or vehicles. We consider ourselves fuel neutral. Weve worked on a variety of fuels.

Cells interior offers familiar surroundings

The F-Cell is a compressed hydrogen vehicle powered by a Ballard fuel cell engine. The fuel cell functions as an electrochemical energy converter on board the vehicle to generate energy from hydrogen for an electric motor.
According to DaimlerChrysler, the cars in the F-Cell fleet feature an interior design that offers as much space as the production cars and are being manufactured under nearstandard conditions. The entire fuel cell system is accommodated in the sandwich floor of the wheelbase. The tanks supply 350 bar compressed hydrogen directly to the fuel cell system, giving the F-Cell a cruising range of about 90 miles. Hydrogen consumption is equivalent to 4.2L of diesel fuel per 62 miles, the company says.

The electric motor has an output of 65 kW. The vehicle accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in roughly 16 seconds. Its top speed is 87 mph. While real-world testing of a fleet of fuel cell passenger cars is a milestone, DaimlerChrysler readily admits that there are still a lot of challenges left cold weather operation, the cost of the system, the hydrogen infrastructure before we see fuel cell powered cars operating in mainstream America.

The challenge for fuel cell cars over the next 10 years is to build up the hydrogen infrastructure and to improve all of the fuel cell systems, says Rosario Berretta, senior engineer, vehicle testing, fuel cell project. Reliability, durability, reduce weight, reduce cost, these are challenges we still face. There is still a lot of development work to do, but we are much closer than ever to bringing fuel cell passenger vehicles to market

With its first fuel cell vehicle NECAR 1 (New Electric Car) presented on April 13, 1994, DaimlerChrysler demonstrated that this new technology is suitable for automotive application. The entire load space of the Mercedes-Benz van was taken up by the energy-generating components weighing 1, 764 pounds.

1996: NECAR 2, a Mercedes-Benz V-Class launched on May 14, 1996, is a fully utilizable van with six seats, an operating range of 155 miles and a top speed of 68 mph. The entire fuel cell apparatus, with a power output of 50 kW, is stowed under the rear seat unit; the two hydrogen tanks are located on the roof.

With NEBUS (New Electric Bus) introduced in May 1997, DaimlerChrysler demonstrated the feasibility of using fuel cell drive for yet another means of transport, the city bus.

On a single hydrogen tank filling, NEBUS has an operating range of 155 miles. With an output of 250 kW, the fuel cell drive unit powers the bus to a top speed of 50 mph. NEBUS demonstrated its operational viability in line service in Oslo, Hamburg, Perth, Melbourne, Mexico City and Sacramento.

With NECAR 3, DaimlerChrysler demonstrated for the first time that the hydrogen for the fuel cell can be generated directly on board the vehicle from a liquid fuel. NECAR 3 is fueled with methanol and reaches a speed of 75 mph. Along with the fuel cell system and its large reformer unit, the test vehicle based on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class still offers sufficient space for two occupants.

The DaimlerChrysler engineers first succeeded in housing the entire compact fuel cell drive unit in the sandwich floor of an A-Class car in 1999 with NECAR 4. This vehicle runs on liquid hydrogen, reaches speeds of up to 90 mph and has an operating range of 280 miles. It offers sufficient space for five occupants and their luggage.

Specially configured for the California Fuel Cell Partnership fleet test, the further developed drive technology is based on NECAR 4 but uses compressed hydrogen and is much more compact. Its core is an optimized 75 kW fuel cell stack. This NECAR can cover 124 miles and reach speeds of up to 90 mph.

In November 2000, DaimlerChrysler presented NECAR 5, a fully operational fuel cell car powered by methanol as a hydrogen medium. The technological successor to NECAR 3, reaches speeds of more than 93 mph. The entire drive system including the methanol reformer is located under the floor. It has 50 percent more powerful than NECAR 3, is half its size and 660 pounds lighter.

The Jeep Commander 2, a luxury-class SUV powered by a fuel cell, demonstrates that this drive concept is also suitable for larger vehicles. The tank of this SUV is filled with methanol from which hydrogen is reformed on board the vehicle.

DaimlerChrysler launched a cooperation with the Hamburg delivery company Hermes Versand Service to test the fuel cell Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in everyday commercial operation. Fueled by gaseous hydrogen; it has a range of about 93 miles and reaches a speed of 75 mph with its 55 kW electric motor.

The Natrium car, based on the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, is powered by sodium borohy-dride (NaBH4), a white salt whose molecules are relatively rich in hydrogen. With the help of a chemical catalyst, elementary hydrogen provides the energy for the fuel cell. The Natrium has an operating range of 310 miles and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph 16 seconds. It has a top speed of 80 mph.

Citaro city bus Ten European transport companies acquired three Citaro city buses each for testing for two years in everyday inner-city line service. The 12-meter long Mercedes-Benz Citaro with fuel cell drive has an operating range of about 124 miles and can carry up to 70 passengers. The fuel cell unit with a power output of 200 kW and the pressurized gas cylinders containing compressed hydrogen are accommodated on the roof.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class F-Cell These cars from the worlds first small series of fuel-cell-powered passenger cars will be operated by customers in cooperative ventures in Europe, the U.S., Japan and Singapore.

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