Short version: Behind the scenes of fuel cell mobility

Mar 21, 2018
  • Electromobility has many facets, and hydrogen is one of them
  • Fuel cell technology is an integral part of Daimle AG's powertrain strategy.
  • The fuel cell GLC F-CELL with an externally chargeable lithium-ion battery is on the way to series production
  • Daimler is also committed to the use of this technology in non-automotive areas of application

The potential of fuel cell technology, and of hydrogen for energy storage, is beyond question. Hydrogen plays a major role in the discussion of ways in which to reach worldwide climatic targets. It is one of the ways in which the range of fuels in the transport sector can be extended in a climate-friendly manner: because it is particularly with the help of hydrogen generated from renewable energy that harmful CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced. Operation of a hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle causes neither local pollutant nor carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

With the constantly growing proportion of renewable energy, hydrogen will play an increasingly important part in the overall energy system and therefore become more and more attractive for the mobility sector. Alongside the current focus on battery technology and the rollout of the model initiative under the EQ brand, Daimler AG is continuing with its activities in the field of fuel cell technology.

Following the launch of what is now already the fourth generation of the battery-electric smart, the pre-series model of the GLC F-CELL is a further milestone by Daimler AG on the road to emission-free driving, and underlines the company's commitment in this field of technology.

"Our many years of experience with fuel-cell technology pays dividends in the new GLC F-CELL: its long electric range, short refuelling times and the everyday practicality of an SUV will make it the perfect companion," says Ola Källenius, the member of the Daimler AG Board of Management responsible for group research & Mercedes-Benz Cars development. "This is made possible by the compact construction of our fuel cell system. Another genuine world first is the combination with a large, additional lithium-ion battery which can be conveniently charged using plug-in technology."

"Fuel cell technology is an integral part of our powertrain strategy," adds Professor Christian Mohrdieck, Head of Daimler's fuel cell drive system development in the group's research & development unit. "The advantages are very clear to us: zero emissions, long ranges and short tanking times, plus a wide range of applications from cars to buses, other large commercial vehicles and not least also for stationary applications."

The pre-series GLC F-CELL

Daimler has already gained experience with hydrogen-powered electric vehicles over several vehicle generations, and absolved millions of test kilometres around the globe. The pre-series models of the new GLC F-CELL vehicles represent a world first in which a fuel cell operated electric car uses a lithium-ion battery as an additional energy source that can be externally charged by means of plug-in technology.

Through intelligent interplay, the two energy sources drive the electric motor while offering driving pleasure with zero local emissions. The long range, short refuelling time, an output of 147 kW (200 hp) and the latest generation of assistance systems with powertrain-specific features demonstrate that the GLC F-CELL will be a family-friendly electric vehicle of high everyday practicality.

Identically to the plug-in hybrid version the GLC's fuel cell variant features various operating and drive modes. The drive programs of the GLC F-CELL will include ECO, COMFORT and SPORT. ECO is optimised for low consumption. COMFORT is geared not only for comfort, but also provides ideal climate control. SPORT optimises the hybrid powertrain for a sporty performance.

Safety: No compromises with alternative powertrains either

The safety experts at Mercedes-Benz were able to build on almost 30 years of company experience with fuel cell vehicles. The special attention of the engineers in the development of the F-CELL variant of the GLC launched in 2015 was directed to the integration of the safety-relevant components such as the hydrogen gas tanks, the gas seals and valves, and the high-voltage components.

The hydrogen tanks are installed in the crash-protected area between the vehicle axles and are protected additionally by a subframe wrapped around the tanks. For the event of a crash, additional extensive measures were implemented such as e.g. a multi-stage valve system as well as special protective circuits for the high-voltage system. The crash tests conducted with the GLC F-CELL pre-series models and earlier hydrogen vehicles show that a level of safety comparable to that of conventional vehicles has been achieved. As a result, the GLC F-CELL complies not only with all statutory requirements, but also with the even more rigorous Mercedes-Benz in-house standards.

On the road to series production

Daimler is currently systematically preparing for series production of the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL. The practical and family-friendly SUV will be produced at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen. Our partner EDAG supports the plant with respect to integration of the drive system, and is located in the immediate vicinity of the plant.

NuCellSys GmbH is based in Kirchheim/Nabern in the Stuttgart metropolitan area. This wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler AG developed the complete fuel cell unit and hydrogen storage system for the GLC F‑CELL. This is also where the first prototype vehicles were built, the pre-series models then being produced at the Mercedes-Benz Tech Centre in Sindelfingen.

The Daimler home plant in Untertürkheim is responsible for production of the complete fuel cell system. The centrepiece of the fuel cell system, the fuel cell stack consisting of around 400 fuel cells, is created at Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell (MBFC), which operates the world's first plant dedicated entirely to the production and assembly of fuel cell stacks in British Columbia.

The hydrogen tank system is produced at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Mannheim. The lithium-ion battery comes from the wholly-owned Daimler subsidiary ACCUMOTIVE in Kamenz/Saxony, Germany.

The infrastructure is essential

A full-coverage infrastructure is essential to the success of electric mobility. The spread of both charging stations and hydrogen filling stations is proceeding apace around the world. Whether at home, at work, on the road or when shopping: there are various ways to supply electric vehicles with power.

Also when it comes to the H2 infrastructure, progress is constantly being made. Together with its partners in the H2 Mobility joint venture, Daimler has already drawn up a concrete action plan. The network of H2 filling stations is scheduled to reach 100 by the end of 2019. By 2023, there will be a network of up to 400 hydrogen filling stations. Similar infrastructure projects are being promoted in Europe, the USA and Japan.

Cooperation for non-mobile fuel cell systems

Convinced of the potential of fuel cell technology and of hydrogen as a storage medium in the context of the overall energy system, the company is taking a comprehensive approach and expanding its development activities into application areas beyond the automobile. Together with the market leaders Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Power Innovations (PI), a LiteOn company, Daimler AG with its subsidiary company NuCellSys GmbH and the support of MBRDNA and the Daimler innovation incubator Lab1886 will develop prototype systems for (emergency) power supply to computer centres and other stationary applications, and integrate automobile fuel cell systems to this end.