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Mercedes-Benz eyeing introducing a sedan model hydrogen fuel cell vehicle around MY 2017

Fcell
The 2011 F-Cell. Click to enlarge.

Mercedes-Benz, which has begun leasing of the limited production B-Class F-Cell hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (earlier post) in California, is on track to roll out a MY 2015 next-generation B-Class F-Cell in much larger quantities for sale, and is considering introducing a regular sedan-class fuel cell vehicle in around MY 2017, Sascha Simon, Head of Advanced Product Planning at Mercedes-Benz USA, said in an interview with Green Car Congress—perhaps an E-Class version, he suggested.

We are not intending to build a particular fuel cell sub-brand that looks and feels different. Our customers would like to drive our E-Class as a fuel-cell car. It [fuel cell technology] would work beautifully in a regular sedan shape—normal Mercedes luxury, but filled with pressurized hydrogen. I am completely convinced the technology has the potential to take over the internal combustion engine, together with pure battery EVs in their niche.

—Sascha Simon

Currently, Mercedes-Benz has 37 leasing customers for the B-Class F-Cell in Southern California, with suggested pricing set at $849 per month for 24 months. Several hydrogen fueling stations are now open in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, including Newport Beach. The F-Cell will become available for Northern California in June.

Although Mercedes-Benz has introduced a plug-in hydrogen fuel cell research vehicle—the F125! (earlier post)—which projects out about 20 years, Simon suggests that a pure fuel cell vehicle could be more price-efficient than a plug-in.

For me it comes down to the price point for batteries versus fuel cells stacks and how this plays out. If you obviously have a price premium for batteries that is not going down over the next ten years, I would argue that a pure fuel cell vehicle is more price efficient versus a plug-in. If you look to the plug-in world right now, the current numbers don’t bode so well. We haven’t see a drop in prices in batteries that we would like to see; we’re monitoring the price point and we’ll take it from there.

I do believe that it is as easy to build a fuel cell car as an ICE [internal combustion engine] car today—and we are almost there—without the need for plug-in capacity. This car [the B-Class F-Cell] is ready for mass production. It drives like a normal car. The HMI is built like a normal car. It’s not not science fiction, not a prototype. They are real-world cars on lease.

—Sascha Simon

“Really now the biggest topic is the available infrastructure. That is really the only hold up there is—there is no other reason why we are not rolling out more of these cars. The new legislation [the Advanced Clean Cars package in California, earlier post] will help very much.”
—Sascha Simon

B-Class F-Cell. The front-wheel drive B-Class F-CELL offers an operating range of around 240 miles (386 km) on the European driving cycle, or 190 miles (306 km) estimated EPA, and a 3-minute refueling time.

The technical basis for the drive system of the B-Class F-CELL is a second-generation fuel cell stack from Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation (AFCC)—a Canada-based joint-venture private company between Daimler AG (50.1%), Ford Motor Company (30%) and Ballard Power Systems (19.9% ownership and a financial investor). AFCC serves as a fuel cell center of excellence for the two OEMs. The second-generation stack in the B-Class F-Cell features a power increase from 65 kW to 100 kW, increased lifetime and reliability, and freeze start ability below 0°C.

(In March 2011, Mercedes-Benz announced that it would set up its own production of fuel cell stacks in Vancouver, British Columbia—home of AFCC. Construction of the plant is underway, Simon noted.)

The B-Class F-Cell also features a 1.4 kWh Li-ion battery pack and a compressed hydrogen storage capacity of 3.7 kg at 700 bar. The 136 hp (101 kW) electric motor develops 214 lb-ft (290 N·m) of torque; the B-Class F-CELL uses a single-speed gear reduction transmission w/reverse and recuperation.

The vehicle accelerates from 0-60 mph in 11.4 seconds, and has a top speed of 106 mph (171 km/h). Estimated fuel economy is 52 miles/kg of hydrogen on the city cycle, 53 miles per kg on the highway.

Afcc
Progress in fuel cell power density. Source: AFCC 2009. Click to enlarge.

Next-generation fuel cell work: costs. Overall, Gen 3 fuel cell cars—e.g., the next-gen MY 2015 F-Cell—will demonstrate capabilities competitive with other platforms, but cost remains an issue, according to an AFCC research needs analysis presented in 2009. Accordingly, Generation 3 fuel cell stacks will focus on cost reduction. The Gen 4 stack—which would appear in the sedan application—will also focus on further cost reductions.

There are five basic strategies for cost reduction, AFCC says:

  • Less expensive components for balance of plan (BOP);
  • Fewer components;
  • Less parasitic power loss;
  • Less material in the stack itself; and
  • Less expensive material in the stack.
Afcc2
Platinum content reduction and power density. Source: AFCC 2011. Click to enlarge.

Given the high cost of platinum, new durable, high-activity (and lower-cost) catalysts are critical, AFCC says. Current mature technologies—such as carbon-supported Pt catalysts, current membranes, and current cell and plate designs—have reached their maximum capability, and the Gen 4 stack will utilize them at their maximum. Alternative paths or breakthroughs are needed.

Possible new pathways for cathode catalysts include stabilized platinum alloys; new catalyst-support (non-carbon) interaction (e.g., high surface area metal oxides or core-shell catalysts); pseudo bulk catalysts; and non-precious metal catalysts.

Possible new pathways for membranes include low-cost PFSA membranes; hydrocarbon membranes; or additive technologies—i.e., improving membranes by adding special functional materials.

Resources

Comments

Davemart

And here is a comparison of infrastructure roll out costs for hydrogen and BEVs:
http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/htac_nov2011_thomas.pdf
And another:
http://www.cleancaroptions.com/Fuel_Infrastructure_costs_electricity_vs_hydrogen.pdf
And here are the fuel stations being built in Germany:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=will-germany-become-first-nation-with-hydrogen-economy

The persistent negativity of those who want batteries and nothing else, and were claiming fuel cell cars would always cost $1 million and so on, is being knocked down peice by peice....


Davemart

Hyundai seems to be way ahead on it's fuel stack compared to Mercedez:

'The Tucson ix FCEV can travel more than 400 miles on a single fueling, a 76-percent improvement over its predecessor, and a range equal to a gasoline-powered car. It achieves gasoline equivalent fuel efficiency of more than 70 miles per gallon, a 15-percent improvement over the previous version. It can also start in temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius.

In addition to improving the fuel economy and range of the powertrain, Hyundai has also created a more compact power source for the Tucson ix FCEV. Overall volume of the fuel cell system was downsized by 20-percent compared to the previous system via modularization of bulky parts in the fuel cell system including fuel cell stack, balance of plant (BOP), inverter and high voltage junction box.'

http://www.hyundaiusa.com/about-hyundai/news/Corporate_Tucson_ix_FCEV_Release-20110214.aspx

This compares with Mercedez 50mpg efficiency on the EPA cycle, and apparently 0C cold start ability!
They must actually engineer around that somehow, as in Germany at least if not in SoCal it often drops way below 0C.

kelly

I'm for 'what replaces oil', but oil companies aren't.

We're in the 10th year of a "President's" 'Hydrogen Initiative' and 30th year of 'mass market fuel cell vehicles in a few years'. http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/ceq/hydrogen_090908.html

Meanwhile, the EVs that ACTUALLY are and CAN replace oil are bad mouthed for initial price, but operating costs are a fraction of gas vehicles - and fuel cell prices are several times(<3X) EV prices, if FCs are ever marketed.

Concerning the above links about building H2 infrastructure for under one fourth EV infrastructure cost.

BULL.

Electricity is EVERYWHERE produced MANY ways. That's what oil greed fears.

Davemart

Hydrogen is produced from natural gas, which is indigenous to the US not imported.
Shouting loudly in capital letters to disagree with estimates of infrastructure costs does not constitute a critique.

If you have a fuel cell vehicle, it is already electric and as and when cheap enough batteries are available ir is far easier than for ICE cars to add them to make it a plug in.

As for your saying that fuel cell vehicles are 3 times the cost of an EV, true enough, but costs are dropping rapidly, and it is not so long ago that the anti fuel cell brigade were proclaiming stridently that they would always cost a million dollars.

kelly

Hydrogen production, pressurization, distribution, etc. is NOT cheap.

Fuel cells have always been used as an oil 'alternative' by oil companies for crushing EVs, esp. when all the decades still have NO fuel cell highway vehicles marketed.

Let's trade a liquid oil product monopoly for a pressurized Hindenburg gas one.

Mannstein

Finally someone comes out and says it. BEV are a niche vehicle unless battery costs come down, range increases and charging time decreases. Until that happens they will remain a niche vehicle. No amount of wishful thinking or pie in the sky dreaming will change that.

DaveD

Davemart,
The problem is that I take exception with people claiming that H2 infrastructures are cheaper than EV infrastructure. Those estimates are always based on wild assumptions and ignore facts that are determined over and over in EV studies.

For example, the British study conducted last year (http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/08/minie-20110805.html) found that most people preferred to charge at home. Yet, people keep insisting wild numbers like "there must be 2 Level III chargers for every EV sold"..Dave L. over on Autobloggreen, and other's use that same logic in their "research".

Most people can charge at home, and it is much more likely that a typical restaurant or business will put a few level II chargers in their parking lot than an H2 fueling station.

We are looking at a chance for a new "fueling" model not centered around the oil companies or any one small group.

Yet every time we get into these discussions we spend the vast bulk of the time debating the case where someone wants to drive 400 miles in a day. If that is your need then buy a Prius or a Jetta. Why would that person want to buy an EV? How many of those people are there really?

Already we have EVs with 100 mile ranges, by 2015 there will be many with 150-200 mile ranges and their ability to rapid charge will be fairly common by that time as well (at least under 30 minutes when needed).

The need for a much more expensive FCV just doesn't make sense with the confluence of events I see between high mileage traditional ICE cars, NG vehicles and EVs for anyone who can live with moderate range 99% of the time.

kelly

Perhaps aside, but I have a Prius brochure listing gas 98 hp, electric 80 hp (sum: 178 hp), but 134 hp 'net hybrid system'.

Doesn't dual mode hp add? Where's the missing 44 horsepower?

DaveD

Kelly,

Maybe the CVT ate the extra 44hp??? LOL

Good question though.

ai_vin

Note that this interviewee said "If you obviously have a price premium for batteries that is not going down over the next ten years,"

WTF? Who else is saying battery prices won't be going down over the next 10 years? Nobody you can trust that's who.

Roger Pham

The missing 44 hp is due to the battery being capable of only 36hp, so adding 36hp from the battery to the 98hp of the engine will net you 134hp total.

The electric motor is 80hp, but this much power is required so that the motor and generator can together act as an electric transmission to boost engine's torque output at low car speeds to simulate low gear in a regular transmission.

Herm

So how much $$ of platinum is in that 100kW FC?

Hyundai may have a superior FC, but they cant afford to charge their customers $849 a month leases.. thus no customers. I predict MB will easily double their FC sales this year :)

Davemart

DaveD:
Friom your comments it is pretty plain that you have not acutally read the analyses I linked, but are generalising.

Previously although an advocate of fuel cells, or at any rate an advocate of not prematurely closing options in immature technologies when we don't know how they are going to pan out, I did not seek to argue that the cost of the hydrogen infrastructure was not higher than for electric, at least for plug-ins early roll out.

This was because I simply could not locate good figures for hydrogen stations etc. We do now.

You argue correctly that much of the electric infrastructure will be in garages etc.
I have never however seen estimates of the cost of providing charge points for the ~50% of vehicles kept at the roadside.
Wiring them up would be a considerable challenge

Now I do not preclude options, unlike some others, and it seems to me that inductive charging may provide a route around that difficulty.
We don't yet know, anymore than we know how swiftly battery prices will drop.
We can be pretty definitive that the cost of fuel cells will fall, and by how much in the first phase, because they are moving from bespoke to mass produced, with no new technology needed, unlike super-batteries.

Personally I like ot have options, and I welcome improvemens in both fuel cells and batteries.

In passing I will just like to analyses of the cost of hydrogen, by steam reforming and other methods:
http://www.cleanenergystates.org/assets/2011-Files/Hydrogen-and-Fuel-Cells/CESA-Lipman-H2-prod-storage-050311.pdf

It's pretty clear to me that we can produce fuel cell vehicles for around the price of combustion engine ones, that the infrastructure costs are affordable, and that running a car on hydrogen given the greater efficiency of fuel cells will cost no more per mile than ICE cars.
This would end our total dependence on oil, and replace that with an energy carier which could be made in many ways.

If batteries can do better than that, great, and personally I have always advocated battery cars with a FC RE.

We are in fast changing and exciting times though, and we can't pick winners.

Something may come from left-field such as electric highways and render the whole debate null in any case!

Davemart

Dave D:
I would agree that the costs for electrification is too high in the report I have linked as theya use the Electification Coalition'sestimate of 2 level 2 chargers needed per BEV.
However they have included nothing at all for home chargers, or roadside, so the error does not seem to be egregious.

My interest rather than trying to absolutely nail precise figures is to point out that the costs of a hydrogen infrastructure are hardly the huge show stopper we have been led to believe by opponents.

Of course, should my preference occur and we go to plug in FC vehilces, the cost of electrric plugs outside the home would be low or zero, there would be no need to wire up the roadside, but charging at home where available would mean that the needed fuel cell stations would be greatly reduced.

Change

Kelly Roger explains it well. I may just highlight/rephrase that the Prius has two electric motors of which one primarily functions as a traction motor and the other primarily functions as a generator. The largest electric motor of 80hp/60kW is powered in full when it draws 42kW from the smaller generator and 18 kW from the battery. As I understand it the combustion engine in the Prius only powers the generator at low speeds but at highway speeds it shifts to power the wheels directly.

Also note that the Prius does not have a traditional mechanical transmission because it is made redundant by its electric transmission. This is important because it removes a very expensive component from the production of the car. A modern mechanical 7 speed transmission rated at 130 hp can easily cost 3000 USD to manufacture and that cost is eliminated by Toyota’s power-split hybrid design which also results in better efficiencies than a 7 speed mechanical transmission. The efficiencies are mostly a product of ensuring that the combustion engine is spinning at its most efficient speed and far less about friction or losses in power electronics.

And back to the hydrogen versus BEV debate. It may be that BEVs are still niche but hydrogen cars are not even that as they are not produced and sold anywhere. They are still a lab experiment and I doubt it will ever be more than that. BEVs will become more useful when they can charge at 100kW. Personally, I will wait to get a BEV until 100kW charging is standard. Until then a plug-in Prius seems to have the best combination of price, utility and environmental responsibility at the moment.

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