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Hydrogen power hits the road

Blog

Hydrogen power hits the road

Ian Kerr

Are we a step closer to seeing a new breed of alternative-power vehicles on the road? Mercedes-Benz has delivered its first GLC F-CELL plug-in hybrids, which can run on electricity as well as pure hydrogen - and it emits no CO2 emissions whatsoever during operation.

Here are some key stats:

  • Two carbon-fibre-encased tanks in the vehicle floor hold 4.4 kg of hydrogen.

  • The hydrogen supply can be replenished within just three minutes - as quick as refuelling a combustion-engined car.

  • Hydrogen consumption is around 1 kg/100 km

  • Mercedes-Benz claims the vehicle can travel 430 hydrogen-based kilometres in the NEDC cycle

  • In hybrid mode it travels up to 51 km on a fully charged battery.

This is all well and good, but there are two key areas to be addressed: infrastructure and public confidence.

Infrastructure

Mercedes-Benz acknowledges that the hydrogen filling station network has only just started to expand. For launch, Mercedes-Benz’s focus is on major cities already equipped with hydrogen filling stations, such as Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich and Cologne.

The domestic hydrogen refuelling station network is expected to grow from 50 to 100 stations by the end of 2019. The long-term goal is a network of up to 400 hydrogen refuelling stations.

(Interestingly, the GLC F-CELL will be offered exclusively in the form of a full-service rental model, which includes all maintenance and possible repairs along with a comprehensive warranty package.)

Public confidence

Mention hydrogen and transport together and the public will often think of the Hindenburg disaster. True, petrol or diesel can explode (they’d be useless as fuels if they didn’t!) but hydrogen takes it to the next level in terms of flammability.

According to Mercedes-Benz, over the past 20 or so years its fuel cell vehicles have together covered over eighteen million kilometres.

So will the public embrace hydrogen power? Perhaps. Certainly, the limitations of the existing refuelling infrastructure will restrict the number of hydrogen-powered vehicles we see on the road. Maybe it will only when these vehicles been involved in a few serious car accidents without creating a fireball that the public will be comfortable sharing the road with hydrogen-powered vehicles.

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