Battery vs Fuel Cell, the lines in the sand have been drawn and right now Electric Cars have the lead but this race is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s hard to discount a technology that can fuel a car and emit only water as a byproduct.
Mercedes Benz is pushing ahead with hydrogen fuel cell showing off the GLC F-Cell preproduction model. We’ve been to their production facility in Stuggart to take an early drive in the first of its kind fuel cell operated an electric car.
Mercedes GLC F-CELL
The GLC F-CELL uses a pair of hydrogen tanks below the floor, which are protected by a carbon fiber shell and pressurized to 700 bar. Fueling the tank from full to empty takes about 3minutes to put the 4.5kg of hydrogen needed to fill the tank, 1 IK of hydrogen currently costs between 9-10EUR.
With a range of up to 437km and because it’s electric as well you can plug it in to top up the lithium-ion battery (9.3kWh) which will give you 48km without using a single drop of hydrogen. What is interesting about this distribution of range between the two energy sources is that the folk at Mercedes expect that 70-80% of the trips taken will be using the electric power source.
With 4 drive modes, the GLC F-CELL is capable of moving into CHARGING SUSTAINED mode whose drive style is focused on regenerating the battery. Travel Assist is intelligent routing which uses the GPS to select the route which will offer the best opportunity to keep the battery topped up.
The fuel cell ‘stack’, mounted under the hood in the same location as a traditional combustion engine. The hydrogen is turned into electricity by mixing it with oxygen, this gets passed through to the battery, which powers a 197bhp electric motor. This sits on the back axle and has 350Nm of torque making this a rear wheel drive vehicle which does not have four-wheel drive. And when we compare it to the normal GLC it’s about 100kg heavier.
GLC F-CELL Test Drive
The GLC F-CELL doesn’t seem much different than a normal electric car. With a Mercedes engineer at the wheel, we did a 32km circuit which took us up and down a large hill. From the passenger seat, it was hard to tell the difference between the different modes and the drive experience seemed very similar to that of what we might find with an electric engine.
A number of subtle changes within the interior signal this is anything but a conventional GLC model, digital instrument display the amount of hydrogen in the two tanks and the charge of the lithium-ion battery. An energy flow display in a center display resembling what was launched in the new A-Class allows you to monitor what power sources you are using.
The course was specifically chosen to demonstrate the charging sustained mode where we dropped from 64% charge at the start of the drive and fell to 48% and got back up to 65% by the end of the drive.
GLC F-CELL Behind the Scenes
Heading into the production facility the Hydrogen Fuel Cell stacks are assembled by hand, there are 5 Bay’s and each engineer. The assembly bay itself is a geeks dream with IOT connected power tools by Atlas Copco that tell you when to stop tightening and there is even a display that tells you the order you’re meant to assemble the engine in.
H2 stations are coming
By the end of 2018 more than 100 refueling stations will be open throughout Germany and, by 2023, we should see around 400. H2 Mobility even has an app that will tell you if the charging station is up and running or under repair.
Japan is the other major market for Hydrogen vehicles, currently, there are 92 stations up and running with the goal of 160 stations open by 2020.
When the GLC F-CELL comes to market in Q3 of this year it will be available in both Germany and Japan.