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The chemical symbol H. Most people know it; the chemical element in the upper left-hand corner of the periodic table — hydrogen. It’s the most common chemical element in the universe. Its biological significance is undisputed; its importance for alternative drive technology is underestimated. But fuel cell technology has the potential to become a major solution.
Let me make it clear right away that the GLC F-Cell meets the highest safety standards and is nonetheless a real jaw-dropper. Two of my colleagues, Sebastian Mock and Christian Göke, tested the vehicle for you to find out how it performs in real life. You’ll find the two test drivers’ reports further down in this article. However, I’d first like to tell you more about our plug-in hybrid itself:
Back in 1994, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the NECAR 1 (New Electric Car) — the world’s first fuel cell vehicle. The vehicle was a van that had its entire cargo area filled with technology. The NECAR 1 was followed by further small production series, all the way to the B-Class F-Cell (fuel consumption: 0.97 kg H₂/100 km; combined CO₂ emissions: 0 g/km), which traveled around the world in 2011.
Now, 23 years after the NECAR 1, Mercedes-Benz is presenting the GLC F-Cell preproduction vehicle. My first impression of the SUV is that it has a great design — it’s a GLC after all. The new vehicle clearly doesn’t have many similarities with the box-shaped delivery van of yesteryear. Moreover, there’s no trace left of the drive technology in the cargo area. On the contrary, It looks like a sporty SUV.
Is it normal? Not at all! Blue highlights on the radiator grille, the sill trim, and the rear bumper indicate that this vehicle is truly something special. These markings show that the SUV stands for an equation that is as striking today as it was in 1994: 2H2 + O2 = 2H20 = 0 emissions.
I can scarcely believe that the only “exhaust product” of the GLC’s fuel cell system is water vapor. This is what makes the vehicle unique.
The GLC F-Cell in brief
If you look underneath the F-Cell’s hood, you will see that the vehicle is an all-electric plug-in hybrid. This means that it is the first electric vehicle to be powered by a fuel cell that is augmented by a battery that can be externally charged.
The fuel cell system in the vehicle’s engine compartment reacts hydrogen with oxygen. This generates electricity, which, in turn, powers the electric motor. It’s a kind of on-board power plant. Are there any exhaust gases? Nope! The only byproducts of the reaction are water and heat. I think this technology is really fascinating!
The F-Cell can travel more than 400 km in H2 mode. The lithium-ion battery, which is used as an additional source of energy for the electric motor, extends the vehicle’s range by 49 km. Like the drive system, the battery is located in the rear of the SUV.
These statistics make it clear that the F-Cell can be driven much farther than just to a nearby bakery. The vehicle can also travel long stretches, as my colleagues Sebastian Mock and Christian Göke impressively demonstrate in their reports. One of the hybrid’s advantages is thus without a doubt its long range — moreover, it drives this distance completely emission-free.
If you would like to compare the GLC against a purely battery-powered vehicle, you’ll not only notice the range, but also the much shorter “refueling time.” It takes only about three minutes to fill the F-Cell’s two carbon-fiber-covered fuel tanks with 4.4 kg of hydrogen at 700 bar.
There are currently 45 H2 filling stations operating in Germany. To be honest, this figure is unsatisfactory. But it still puts Germany into second place worldwide, surpassed only by Japan, which has 91 H2 filing stations.
However, the situation is about to get better, because Germany’s network is scheduled to grow to 100 H2 filling stations in 2019 and 400 in 2023. One kilogram of hydrogen currently costs €9.50. If you assume that the vehicle consumes one kilogram of H2 per 100 km, the costs will be similar to those of a conventional combustion engine.
But how is it like to drive a plug-in hybrid and how much effort is needed to plan routes so that you don’t get stranded on a lonely country road without any fuel? To find out more, read the reports from my two colleagues!
Driving the F-Cell 1,800 km through Germany
Author: Sebastian Mock — until June 30 a development engineer for hydrogen fuel tank systems and international standards in the hydrogen technology sector; since July 1 a member of the product safety team for batteries.
The long anticipated weekend is finally here. Moreover, the GLC F-Cell is here as well — ready to drive off right in front of my house.
Because the preproduction vehicles are currently in the validation phase having their functions tested, I had the special opportunity to take the GLC F-Cell on a private test drive. I quickly decided on a destination: I would leave Swabia and head to Lower Saxony in order to visit my family. So I’m now ready to drive off. Or maybe not.
Despite the growing number of H2 filling stations, such a long trip has to be well planned in advance. This is easily done, however, thanks to smartphone apps. Now that I’ve planned my refueling stops I’m truly ready to go!
When I start the system, there’s a brief clicking noise followed by silence. The noise was caused by the activation of the valves. The quiet electric drive system makes me even more hyped. I drive onto the highway.
During my first stop at a filling station, I fill up the tank as quickly as if I was refueling a car with a gasoline or diesel engine. Moreover, I can immediately drive off again. A special highlight of the trip was my refueling stop in Kamen, North Rhine-Westphalia. This H2 station is located right next to a Tesla Supercharger. I was refueled and on the road again before the waiting Tesla drivers could even express their surprise. 1-0 for the F-Cell.
Driving pleasure was guaranteed during the entire trip. The system’s output of 147 kW (around 200 hp) satisfies every wish. Although I didn’t quite achieve the official range of 437 km, I only had to make one refueling stop in order to travel from Stuttgart to Münster. The vehicle is therefore fully suitable for everyday use.
The vehicle’s effect on viewers became apparent after I reached my destination in Lower Saxony. I was especially pleased by responses such as: “I don’t normally care about cars, but I’d like one like that!”
Because hydrogen filling stations are still extremely rare in the southern part of Lower Saxony, the F-Cell’s plug-in hybrid system was able to fully demonstrate its strengths. The output of 13.8 kWh enabled me to cover the distance of a daily trip solely by means of the battery and without any driving restrictions.
I’ve concluded that although the GLC is a great vehicle when it is powered by conventional drive technology, I like it with the fuel cell system even a bit more. Many people associate electric mobility with batteries and long charging times. The F-Cell proves that this is not necessarily the case.
I hope that it will help to demonstrate the technology’s potential and that we will see many more of them in the future! So with that in mind, I would like to congratulate the development colleagues for their achievement. The vehicle is a complete success — it offers great ride comfort and is ideal for long distances.
Crossing national borders: Taking the F-Cell on the Hansa Green Tour 2018
Author: Christian Göke — supplier quality engineer exterior lighting; he’s also the project manager for E-Mobility at the Bremen plant.
It’s time again for the Hansa Green Tour. This international automobile rally is being held for the ninth time. The rally’s stations feature the latest sustainable technology projects.
This year’s participants, who consisted of a mixture of car enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and politicians, drove vehicles equipped with electric or other alternative drives (e.g. biogas, hydrogen) to exciting destinations in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The various systems included battery banks, electric ferries, and power-to-gas units that use a chemical process to obtain fuel gas.
This year, Albrecht von Haebler and I drove the GLC F-Cell, which was produced in Bremen. The Mercedes plant in Bremen has participated in the Tour now for the sixth time. The rally always provides us with a great opportunity to show off our latest vehicles.
I’ll never forget how I got my first experience with a fuel cell vehicle during the Hansa Green Tour 2014. Back then, we drove a B-Class F-Cell from Hamburg to Copenhagen.
However, I noticed right away that the GLC F-Cell offers a higher-level driving experience than the B-Class F-Cell! I feel like I’m surfing on water with my power kite.
One of the vehicle’s big advantages became apparent right at the start of the tour in Amsterdam. The GLC F-Cell’s plug-in charging system enabled us to recharge the battery at every stop along the route. Compared to hydrogen filling stations, battery charging points are very common in the Netherlands. This allowed us to save hydrogen, drive in e-mode, and always have a fully charged battery that lets one drive for 50 km.
Although range isn’t really that important for vehicles that run on fossil fuels, it is a primary concern for the drivers of all-electric automobiles. Such is also the case with the GLC F-Cell, especially when it was in rally mode during the Tour. That’s why Albrecht carefully recorded the vehicle’s fuel and electricity consumption.
I soon want to see more of these technologically mature vehicles out on the road and in city streets. One of the reasons for this is that we saw many power-to-gas projects during the Tour. These vehicles produce CO2-neutral hydrogen, which is an ideal climate-neutral fuel for the GLC F-Cell.
My desire to see even more of these vehicles was boosted further when two Dutch politicians asked me whether they could have a GLC F-Cell as an official car. Unfortunately, I was unable to invite them to come to our customer center to sign a contract, because the vehicle will first be leased to selected customers, starting in fall.
I’m convinced that the new GLC F-Cell will meet with an extremely good response. I also hope very much that we will be able to install fuel cell technology into additional vehicle models. This technology has completely won me over.
Good to know: Most hydrogen is still produced from fossil sources such as natural gas. This reduces CO2 emissions in the overall chain by more than 25 percent. It’s crucial, however, that hydrogen be produced completely “green” — i.e. from renewable sources of energy. It’s an objective that’s well worth pursuing!