Next-gen Benz hydrogen models due 2017

words - Matt Brogan
While infrastructure still limits mass-production, Mercedes says hydrogen propulsion remains an important part of its future business plans

It’s been a few years since the Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL toured Australia, but that doesn’t mean hydrogen power has been shelved.

Speaking to at the Geneva motor show last week, Mercedes-Benz head of sales and marketing, Ola Kallenius, said hydrogen propulsion remains an important part of the German manufacturer’s future strategy, even if the development of the technology is currently limited by a lack of infrastructure.

“On the road to emission-free mobility, hydrogen will play a role and certainly will play a greater role farther off in the future,” Kallenius explained.

“In terms of developing the hydrogen fuel-cell technology, we’re one of the pioneers in the business and in the next few years we will launch the next level.”

That “next level” is tipped to arrive in the shape of an SUV, and will follow on from Mercedes’ limited production run of B-Class F-CELL models which went on sale in some markets in 2010.

Although the B-Class F-CELL was essentially a trial of hydrogen vehicle technology, it did perform as expected. Some 200 examples of the F-CELL, which operate essentially as a hybrid vehicle, were produced.

“We’ve already had several vehicles in the market, [albeit] at a relatively low volume,” Kallenius reiterated. “But maybe in the 2017-ish timeframe there will be the next generation.”

Despite Mercedes’ ability to advance hydrogen technology the sticking point remains infrastructure. Currently, hydrogen filling stations are few and far between, and only in Germany, parts of the UK and California.

The effort involved in producing hydrogen at commercial quantities also remains expensive, though like any new technology it is constantly evolving.

“To make a paradigm shift, to switch all the way to mass production of hydrogen [powered vehicles], there would have to be an infrastructure change as well,” stated Kallenius.

“For the long-term, it is a very attractive propulsion method [that] we will keep on investing in, and then we’ll see how quickly that shift happens. It’s hard to tell at this stage what the dynamics of that [shift] will be.”

As the most abundant element on the planet (77 per cent), hydrogen is a favoured fuel source for automotive propulsion, and one widely tipped to replace the current dependence on fossil fuels.

Hydrogen-powered cars work by combining liquid hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity (in lieu of a battery) which is then used to power an electric motor.

The technology is seen as desirable as it negates the long charging times of weighty batteries currently associated with electric-powered vehicles, and because its only tailpipe emissions are in the form of water vapour.

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Published : Thursday, 13 March 2014
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