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Mercedes Research Vehicles Advance Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History

“That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.”                                                                                                                                        Scientific American, June 2, 1909.

The only constant is change, an old proverb affirms. More than a century after the automobile arrived, hundreds of new patents are being applied for every week; and still, we wait for the big breakthrough. Change from the lingering fossil fuel economy to the impending hydrogen era is slow, hesitatingly, painfully slow.  Nevertheless, change is happening, irreversibly; How true the old adage.

“The car as we know it is on the way out. To a large extent I deplore its passing, for as a basically old-fashioned machine, it enshrines an old-fashioned idea: freedom.  In terms of pollution, noise and human life, the price of that freedom may be high, but perhaps the car, by the very muddle and confusion it causes, may be holding back the remorseless spread of the regimented, electronic society”. J. G. Ballard (b. 1930), British author. “The Car, The Future” (first published in Drive, London, Autumn 1971) This author is not the Ballard of fuel cell fame; we will meet him soon.

“Automobiles waste natural resources, pollute the air and groundwater, desecrate the landscape with asphalt and last forever in landfills, but by God – we love them.”                                                                 Quote ascribed to Dr. Dipstick, The Humor Foundation, an Australian charity

It has been a long, hard struggle by scientists, engineers, and businesses, as described in the foregoing number of articles of this ‘Hydrogen and Fuel Cell History’. The automobile’s history and evolution is treated in even more detail in this writer’s two books published by Amazon-Kindle.

Not only vehicles are on the verge of changing their feeding habits – their energy supply – houses, airplanes, cell phones, ships, laptops, factories, trains, power plants, submarines, and sailboats – the whole landscape and seascape of energy supply is changing.  All producers, no matter what their field of endeavor, relied on ‘dirty’, expensive carbon-based energy to manufacture, and every operator of any product needs some type of energy to run the device.  Now, everyone is searching for ways to eliminate carbon-based energy and utilize the unlimited supply of hydrogen – in one form or another.

Regular news on that development and progress from around the world is collected, compiled and reported on this amazing site with great accuracy. All the reports indicate that a multitude of companies is preparing for production of fuel cell powered cars and other devices, great and small.

Around the world, automobile companies have gathered sufficient knowledge about hydrogen and fuel cells to start thinking about ‘putting it on the road’. As mentioned previously, German and Japanese firms started to turn theory into reality with ‘green’ vehicles. Among the various types of fuel cells to choose from, evidently, the most common kind is the PEM-Cell, the Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell, used primarily in transportation.

The early 1990s are considered as the dawn of the hydrogen economy. In 1991, Mercedes-Benz ran a research vehicle with numerous innovations.  It was presented at the Detroit Auto Show.  Relevant is the fact that the F100 used hydrogen gas as a fuel for its 6-cylinder engine.  More ground-breaking was the ‘sandwich floor’. It was designed so that in the case of a severe frontal impact the powertrain would slide under, rather than invade the passenger compartment. A number of Research vehicles, (“must-see” video) including several F-series cars were built, culminating in the F-Cell car. several production models, particularly the A-Class of 1997, and later the B-Class benefit from everything learned; Almost like the sensational “skateboard frame” of the AUTOnomy concept of 2002 from General Motors, with the body on top.

You can see photos and information about this and many other experimental hydrogen-burning ICE vehicles, and many fuel cell electric vehicles here and on the following pages on this methodically structured website.

F100 research vehicle with driver in the center, two passengers close behind with leg room beside driver’s seat keep the vehicle short (the reasoning being that the average vehicle trip is done with passengers numbering between 1.2 and 1.7)  Fairly low roof line despite sandwich floor.                Photo by DaimlerChrysler

Other green, energy saving features of the F100 include an array of photo-voltaic cells, commonly known as solar cells, to provide a separate electric power source to operate the doors.  Without going into detail about their design and operation, solar cells are mentioned here, because they will play a major role in the carbon-free production of hydrogen in the future, as will wind-derived electricity.

Next: Serious R&D advances Hydrogen & Fuel Cell History


About George Wand

George Wand
Our guest writer George Wand retired from the automotive industry. During his career, he worked in R&D on advanced EV mobility concepts, and working with a museum drives his interest in history. These Hydrogen and Fuel Cell History items are but a small part of more than 750 articles he published in print and digital form. He compiled some of those in a series of eBooks from Amazon-Kindle. Racing to Preserve Precious Petroleum, Part 1 and Part 2 were released in 2016, Part 3 is ready to go by mid-2017. (Download ‘Kindle-for-PC’ or ‘Kindle-for-Mac’ and read on any computer.) Wikipedia, and EVWorld have referenced Wand’s thoroughly researched, plainly written articles. True to his slogan “On the inventive past the ingenious future will thrive”, Wand is passionate about sustainable mobility in a future without pollution. He has driven a variety of FCVs at Hydrogenics in his Toronto ’backyard’. An article about that will arrive here soon.

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