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B-Class Fuel Cell Drivers Share Their Experiences
Four current F-Cell lessees talk about their experiences leasing hydrogen-fueled electric cars.
AutoWeek 14 Aug 2013
We met in a Los Angeles gas station, directly under the landing lights of LAX's south runway, our conversation interrupted regularly by the Prattt & Whitney thrust of 757s and Super 80s. We could easily be the main characters in an espionage thriller, handing off secret documents at great personal risk.
But we're not. We're here because this is where you buy hydrogen and these guys want to talk about their hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.
The meeting was arranged by Jin Takamura, a former auto industry analyst, PR guy and marketing executive and a reforming British car enthusiast (“I left the automotive business over 10 years ago so I can make more money and squander it on ridiculous English crap like an Escort Cosworth, Aston DB7 Vantage, Lotus Evora, original Range Rover and a Rover Sterling 827 SLi with 5-speed manual!!!” he said in an e-mail, the exclamation marks his.).
Also present is Ian Sanders, who retired after a career at Garrett Turbo; Loki Efaw, a bank vice president in charge of IT; and Heesoo Lee, a tech entrepreneur who owns Worklab CC, a collaborative coworking studio with everything from 3D printers to laser cutters for people who need to build all manner of prototypes. The common thread among this disparate crew is that all four guys are leasing Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cells. Takamura brought them together to show the press (i.e. us) that the future really does lie in hydrogen fuel cells.
They are not necessarily what you'd call zealots, they don't stop people in gas stations and try to convert them. Indeed, usually people stop them.
“They say, 'Hey, what is that thing?' ” Takamura said.
He explains to them about fuel cells, electric motors, hydrogen and the future of transportation. If he's a zealot, he is an articulate and patient one.
Indeed, patience is perhaps the most important quality for hydrogen fuel cell advocates. The old joke is that hydrogen fuel cells are the powertrain of the future, always have been and always will be.
“I remember reading a magazine article about them in 1963,” said Sanders. “I thought, 'That seems like an interesting idea.”
More and more carmakers are thinking so, too. Three cooperative agreements between the world's leading carmakers have sprung up this year: GM and Honda, Toyota and BMW and Daimler, Ford and Nissan have all announced cooperative programs aimed at reducing the cost and complexity of fuel cells.
As any high school physics student knows, fuel cells are expensive, at least right now, representing half the cost of any fuel cell electric vehicle. Of that half, one third is the price of the precious metals required to make the fuel cell stack separate the electricity from the hydrogen. The most precious of those metals is platinum. (Attention platinum-rich countries: prepare to be liberated!) Though press releases from companies you've never heard of come out weekly claiming to have solved the cheap fuel cell conundrum, the cost problem remains elusive.
Likewise the act of separating hydrogen molecules from all the other molecules to which it inherently clings is energy and cost-intensive. A fuel cell needs pure hydrogen to operate and to get that requires a lot of heat or electricity, processes that give off CO2 and other gasses.
Our four friends are aware that hydrogen isn't perfect, but they cite the cleaner sources of hydrogen, such as a Fountain Valley, Calif., sewage treatment plant that takes its methane gas and extracts the hydrogen from it.
“I'll drive out of my way to refuel there,” Lee said.
Using off-peak electricity to separate hydrogen through electrolysis could work, too. It's not simple.
And while the four B-Class F-Cell drivers appreciate the environmental benefits of hydrogen, there were more pressing reasons why they plunked down $599 a month for their leases.
“My Prius with the gold sticker was expiring,” said Efaw, referring to the stickers that allowed his high-efficiency Prius hybrid access to the carpool lane with only one occupant.
Since California tightened restrictions on carpool access, only greeen-sticker PHEVs and white-sticker zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) are allowed in with just one person aboard, making fuel cells look suddenly more attractive.
“I looked at the Clarity but didn't get it. Then I saw one of these, maybe it was Jin's, at a fueling station…”
“I get stalked all the time,” said Takamura.
With a fuel cell car they can each drive in the car pool lane solo, a huge perk in traffic-lousy LA.
So while there was that motivation to get into fuel cell cars in the first place, all four nonetheless see the fuel cell as a step much farther into the future than a pure electric powered by batteries.
“I was debating: CNG, EV, Model S,” said Efaw. “Then this opportunity came.”
“There was no range anxiety, no special outlet required at my house,” said Lee. “It felt like the next jump instead of being a bridge gap -- an EV driven by hydrogen.”
"I felt the fuel cell was the next step,” said Takamura, who has a Facebook page titled “Prius HA.” “You don't have to plug it in, you don't have to wait hours for it to recharge. I can get 200 miles range in a couple minutes.”
“Hybrids were a little bit different, a little bit greener, but they never captured my imagination,” said Sanderson.
“It [driving the F-Cell] is not much different from what I was used to driving,” said Efaw. “I enjoy it because it's less of a hassle [than an electric car].”
“Enjoy is a good word,” said Sanderson. “The Highlander [his other car] sits in the driveway, once in a while we start it to make sure it works.”
Takamura sees hydrogen fuel as inevitable.
“As the price per barrel of oil goes up, there's going to be an economic shift away from petroleum,” he said. “When petroleum retailers and manufacturers have nothing to sell, then they're going to say, 'What's next?”
But what about the pollution caused in refining, compressing and transporting hydrogen?
“You have that in petroleum production,” said Takamura. “Top Gear said the [Honda FCX] Clarity is the car of tomorrow because it's like the car of today. I haven't changed my driving habits at all.”
Of course, all four of these fuel cell enthusiasts live and work reasonably close to the six public hydrogen refueling stations currently operating in Southern California, which is a big part of their embrace of the technology.
“I believe it's the future,” said Efaw. “As we get more infrastructure we'll be able to drive longer distances.”
While there are only a couple hundred fuel cell vehicles in private hands now, more are planned. Honda, Toyota and Hyundai have said they want FCEVs in showrooms by 2015, while Daimler, Ford and Nissan have set 2017 as a goal for greater FCEV offerings.
These four drivers represent some of the first unrestricted hydrogen fuel cell vehicle leases, and they are all enthusiastic about the technology. Others will have other opinions, of course. Comment away below.
Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell Cars Start World Drive
Trio of B-Class start 18,600 miles journey across four continents.
Bloomberg 31 Jan 2011
Daimler AG is sending fuel cell-powered Mercedes-Benz compacts on a 30,000-kilometer (18,600- mile) trip to show that the best days for the 125-year-old German company aren’t necessarily behind it.
Former Formula One champion Michael Schumacher and racing colleagues Nico Rosberg and David Coulthard started the four- continent journey from Stuttgart on the weekend. Three B-Class models are heading to Lisbon before crossing North America and Australia. The trip’s final leg takes them from Shanghai to Moscow and Stockholm before returning to Stuttgart early June.
Daimler, which packed fuel cells into the back of a delivery van to create the world’s first vehicle using that technology in 1994, is showcasing B-Class F-CELL to mark the invention of the first motor vehicles by founders Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler in 1886. Now under Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche, the second-largest luxury-car maker is leaning on its past to take on Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Volkswagen AG’s Audi.
“Daimler needs to regain some of its innovative edge, and fuel cells might help them do that,” said Philippe Houchois, a London-based analyst at UBS, who recommends buying the shares. “Daimler has pretty much been in the forefront on fuel cells, but they haven’t been very consistent.”
The event in Stuttgart, Germany, which kicks off a year- long celebration, was attended by about 1,400 guests including Chancellor Angela Merkel and former tennis star Boris Becker.
Actor Clint Eastwood and Google Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt congratulated Daimler via video, while performers suspended on wires ran vertically across giant video screens displaying images of the automotive past and possible future.
Shares of Daimler, which is also the world’s largest truckmaker, have risen 69 percent in the past 12 months, trailing the 93 percent gain by Munich-based BMW. Wolfsburg, Germany-based VW, Europe’s biggest carmaker, more than doubled in the same period.
Daimler, which received a patent related to its plans to produce lithium-ion batteries at the celebration, is trying to regain its position as an automotive leader after wild swings in strategy in recent decades.
In the 80s and early 90s, under CEO Edzard Reuter, the company sought to diversify into electronics, aviation, and computer services, purchasing electronics company AEG and setting up aerospace unit Dasa. Those efforts were then largely undone under Juergen Schrempp, who sought to create a global automaker with the merger with Chrysler LLC in the U.S. and the integration with Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
Zetsche, who ran Chrysler from 2000 to 2005 and took over the top job at Daimler from Schrempp in 2006, handed control of the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker to Cerberus Capital Management LP in May 2007. Fiat SpA now controls 25 percent of Chrysler, following the U.S. manufacturer’s 2009 bankruptcy reorganization.
“Mercedes was once the most sought-after automotive brand, but Daimler lost sight of its strengths by trying to become a technology company and then a global automaker,” said Wolfgang Meinig, head of Forschungsstelle Automobilwirtschaft, an independent research institute in Bamberg, Germany. “Those strategic shifts were huge mistakes, and as a result, the Mercedes star has lost some of its shine.”
Fuel cells create electricity through the chemical reaction that creates water from hydrogen and oxygen. The technology has been hampered by the difficulty of storing and moving hydrogen and by costs of manufacturing the membranes that capture the electron in the reaction. Daimler has invested more than 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in fuel-cell technology.
“We know that the technology works, but we’re not going to be able to buy one of these vehicles any time soon,” said Al Bedwell, an analyst with J.D. Power and Associates in Oxford, England. The current cost of producing a fuel cell car could run into millions of euros, he said.
Daimler is leasing the B-Class F-CELL for 950 euros a month for 36 months. The company advertises lease rates on the conventional model for 294 euros. The fuel-cell vehicle, which accelerates to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour in 11.4 seconds, 1.2 seconds slower than the gasoline-powered by B200, was first delivered to customers in December. The manufacturer plans to build 200 B-Class F-CELLs and will also start delivering about 30 fuel-cell buses to Hamburg’s public transit system in the coming months.
The current B-Class version sandwiches the equipment under the floor and, unlike past versions, can start in freezing temperatures. The B-Class F-CELL has a range of about 400 kilometers (248 miles) on a full tank, more than double the Nissan Leaf’s 100 miles.
The Mercedes-Benz maker owns a majority stake in Automotive Fuel Cell Corp., a joint venture with Ford Motor Co. and Ballard Power Systems Inc. Other automakers are also active in fuel-cell research. Honda Motor Co. leases a few dozen FCX Clarity sedans to Los Angeles-area drivers.
Doubts about the long-term viability of hybrids and the limited range of battery-powered cars have increased interest in fuel-cell research after stalling a few years ago, said Jean- Francois Tremblay, an analyst with Ernst & Young in Montreal. Efforts in Germany, Japan, and California to set up hydrogen fueling stations offers prospects for making fuel cells viable.
“This unique round-the-globe trip with customer-ready fuel-cell vehicles shows that we have sufficient pioneer spirit for at least another 125 years,” CEO Zetsche said at the event. “We’re an ambitious company and have a lot planned.”
Mercedes Fuel Cell Car Aims to Circle World in 125 Days
F-CELL World Drive B-Class sedan will be supplied by Linde AG at pre-planned refueling stops in 14 countries.
IMPD.net 20 Jan 2011
Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will circumnavigate the world using the first series-produced fuel cell vehicle, the B-Class F-CELL, at the end of January 2011.
The overarching ambition of the F-CELL World Drive is to demonstrate the efficiency and suitability for everyday use of fuel cell technology, the company explained. Added to this, the event will form part of a broader campaign geared towards the development of a global hydrogen filling station network.
While the vehicle technology of the B-Class F-CELL is now fully mature, Dr Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management at Daimler AG, acknowledged that the fuel station infrastructure represents limitations. "With our 'F-CELL World Drive’ we want not only to demonstrate the capability and everyday usability of fuel cell drive, but also to lobby for the establishment of a hydrogen fuel cell network" he stated.
"Today, as with the invention of automobile 125 years ago, the issue of a corresponding fuelling infrastructure arises. But I am confident that together with all of the parties involved we will find a solution that enables us to fully exploit the tremendous potential of this technology" Dr Webber commented.
The journey will last 125 days and will see the vehicle driven through four continents and the widest variety of climate zones. The exceptional long-distance journey will take the fuel cell vehicles through 14 countries: from southern Europe, through France, Spain and Portugal, the cars will continue on to North America, where they will drive through both the USA as well as Canada. After crossing Australia the cars will reach the continent of Asia. From China they will then pass through Kazakhstan, Russia and finally northern Europe, until the tour returns to Stuttgart at the beginning of June, where the 125-day round-the-world tour will come to an end.
Mercedes-Benz has adopted a clever solution for the lack of hydrogen filling stations along the route. Acting as the exclusive supplier for hydrogen is the project partner Linde AG, which will guarantee a reliable supply thanks to its sites and subsidiaries located throughout the world. On remote routes a tanker vehicle, which has been specially developed for the tour in cooperation with Linde AG, will also be on hand to supply the fuel cell vehicles with the necessary hydrogen
"With this unique circumnavigation of the world we are emphasizing the high level of technical maturity of our electric vehicles with fuel cells. Such an undertaking would not be possible using purely battery-powered electric vehicles," Dr Weber added. "This will make the B-Class F-CELL a global ambassador for a new, local zero-emissions auto-mobility of the future."
Powered by an electric motor with 100 kw (134 horsepower) and 290 Nm (215 lb-ft) of torque, the new B-Class F-CELL provides driving performance comparable to a similar conventional car while using about half the fuel. The car utilises a fuel cell stack for generating electricity and a lithium ion battery for energy storage. Taking around three minutes to refuel, the B-Class F-CELL emits only water as a by-product of the fuel cell system.
Reviewing Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell B-Class
Andrew English reveiws progress at Mercedes-Benz from the first Necar fuel cell vehicles to its latest hydrogen-powered B-Class sedan.
Telegraph/UK 09 Jan 2011 For those who have followed the vicissitudes of Mercedes-Benz’s fuel-cell development, the arrival of the prototype F-cell B-class in Britain is a tribute to the dogged determination of a generation of engineers.
This goes right back to the first Necar 1, a van filled to the gunwales with fuel-cells, wires and tanks that I saw staggering around a car park at Ulm University in 1994.
In 1999, the proselytising of Dr Ferdinand Panik over Necar 4, the first drivable fuel-cell car, was much criticised, but at least it pushed the technology in front of the press, public and politicians.
Through subsequent Necar models and the dark days of the merger with Chrysler, Mercedes engineers have gnawed away at the problems, and in November it brought two F-cell B-class models to participate in the Brighton-to-London low-carbon car run.
Two? That’s because in Britain there’s nowhere to fill up with hydrogen fuel. So while total tank capacity of 3.8kg of gaseous hydrogen fuel in three 10,000 psi spun-carbon tanks will take each car about 240 miles, Mercedes engineers didn’t want to risk an embarrassing failure.
Not that there was much chance of that, as the B-class is an extraordinarily complete vehicle, even down to the special instrumentation that indicates the recharging capacity in the 1.4kWh lithium-ion battery.
While the Honda FCX Clarity has received the plaudits as the world’s most advanced fuel-cell car, Mercedes has taken a different route to achieve similar ends.
The sandwich-floor construction of the B-class was originally designed for the A-class as a means of packing the driveline under the floor to maximise passenger space.
It had its problems, not the least of which was a failure to pass the fiendish elk swerve test in 1997, but it is nevertheless very clever and has come into its own with the different packaging requirements of fuel-cell and battery electric cars.
The Mercedes fuel cell was born out of the company’s co-operation with Canadian specialist Ballard, but this unit is a radical departure. It still uses bulky carbon separators between the cells, but instead of a power-sapping and potentially noisy mechanical compressor pushing air into the cell it uses an electric fan, which draws less current, is quieter and also allows the cell to be easily purged of water when the motor is stopped, to prevent low temperatures from causing damage. To this end, they are surrounded by a sort of hi-tech pan scourer that allows fast draining of the 107bhp (80kW) units.
Mercedes claims the new cell system has been optimised for the B-class and is about 40 per cent smaller and 30 per cent more powerful than the A-class system it replaces. The fuel-cell has been restart-tested down to -13F (-25C).
Performance is quoted at 0-60mph in 11.4 seconds with a top speed of 106mph. Starting is a matter of turning a key and waiting a couple of seconds for the systems to check the integrity of the fuel cell and hydrogen lines.
Then you’re off. Lots of torque at low speed, pleasingly silent operation and swift mid-range acceleration are the most noticeable points. We drove around Surrey and onto the M25, where the B-class mixed with fast-moving traffic with no problems.
Lifting the throttle results in instant deceleration, which feels a little weird, and we’d prefer the option of coasting until you brake, but that’s a minor criticism.
Other than that it’s a credit to maturing fuel-cell technology and the engineers. It is as quiet as a kettle and produces no more emissions, but questions remain over the hydrogen infrastructure and particularly the high cost of on-board storage.
Mercedes will have 200 on test in America and Europe. It would be nice to think they’d be tested in Britain as well, but we can’t fill them up. Is anyone out there listening?
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