Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell Gets a Plug

Range of 500 km and fully suitable for everyday use: the new Mercedes GLC F-CELL combines two environmentally responsible drive technologies. A world first.
Oct 20, 2016 11:00 AM ET

As the brand’s first production vehicle to feature a fuel-cell system when it comes onto the market next year, the Mercedes GLC F-CELL will connect – in a world first – two environmentally responsible technologies associated with the drive system via an electrical cable. For the first time, a vehicle with this powertrain system will have a plug for a supplementary lithium-ion energy storage unit. Rated at approximately nine kWh, the storage unit serves as an energy source for an additional electric motor and can be charged externally. Thanks to the combination of fuel cell and storage unit, the GLC F-CELL achieves a range of around 500 kilometres (based on NEDC values). Operating on its own, the electric drive will manage a good 50 kilometres.

Like the drive system’s innovative design as a plug-in hybrid, the placing of the hydrogen propulsion system also represents a technological first. With the developers having succeeded in reducing the size of the all-new fuel-cell system by around 30 percent, it can be fully housed in the popular SUV’s engine compartment.

Promises driving fun and is also favourably priced
At first glance under the bonnet, the innovative drive system hardly differs from a conventional one. Closer inspection, however, reveals differences compared with the combustion engine that would otherwise be installed there. “Right from the start, we set ourselves the target of designing a drive system that fits into standard engine compartments”, says Harald Kröger who is responsible for e-mobility development at Mercedes. And: “We deliberately wanted to install the powertrain system in a model that possesses emotional qualities and stands for motoring enjoyment”. The GLC F-CELL will be rolling off the production line in Bremen along with the other C-Class models that are built there. Preparations for series production are presently under way.

The engineers at Mercedes have succeeded in making a substantial optimisation from a financial angle too. For example, a reduction in the amount of platinum used in the fuel cell alone has enabled costs to be slashed by 90 percent alone.

Forecast: 400 hydrogen filling stations across Germany
The fuel-cell-powered GLC’s suitability for everyday use becomes apparent just from refuelling. When the new model was first unveiled at the Mercedes-Benz “Road to the Future” TecDay in Stuttgart, Harald Kröger demonstrated just how quickly the hydrogen tanks can be filled. “The tanks, which hold around four kilograms, can be refilled within just three minutes, and you’re ready to carry on driving”, explains Kröger. “One kilogram is enough to cover a good 100 kilometres”.

Now it is essential for the appropriate infrastructure to be put in place to establish a broader basis for hydrogen propulsion. Kröger is likewise optimistic about this issue. “Over the course of the next few years, the network of filling stations will extend to 400 locations”.

Technologies that are a perfect match
The two technologies associated with the drive system ideally complement one another in everyday operation. “A battery can be expected to deliver an enormous power output in a short time and can be recharged when driving downhill, for example”, says Kröger, “while the fuel-cell system offers more even power delivery. It doesn’t want to keep racing up and down”. During development, Mercedes-Benz engineers combined the responsive dynamism of the lithium-ion battery system, which achieves full torque right from low revs, with the more restrained, steady power delivery of the fuel cell, which does however offer enormous range at the same time.

The product of effective teamwork
The innovative fuel-cell system, including its hydrogen storage, has been developed by NuCellSys, a Daimler company based in Nabern near Kirchheim-Teck which is not far from Stuttgart. Nabern is also home to a facility for fuel-cell system installation that is an offshoot of Daimler’s Untertürkheim plant. The third entity involved is Accumotive, the company which develops the lithium-ion batteries that will soon be used in all Mercedes models running on electric power. The energy storage units are being built at the Accumotive plant in Kamenz, Saxony. Meanwhile, the Daimler plant in Mannheim makes the carbon-fibre-encased hydrogen tanks.

The fuel-cell stack, the centrepiece of the drive system, is the result of collaboration with Ford as part of the Automotive Fuel Cell Corporation joint venture based in Vancouver, Canada. Production is located nearby at the Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell division (MBFC).

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