Mercedes-Benz completes hydrogen-powered F-Cell World Drive, but had to bring its own fuelIn Automobile
At January’s Detroit Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz eagerly showed off its hydrogen-powered F-Cell car, vowing to prove the viability of fuel-cell vehicles by driving three of them around the world. And now, 18,641 total miles later, it’s completed that circumnavigation, arriving safely home at the company’s Stuttgart headquarters. Does this prove fuel-cells are ready for prime time? Well, the trip took 70 driving days to cover four continents, and the vehicles’ range topped out at just over 400 miles — in Kazahkstan. But M-B admits there are only 200 refilling stations worldwide; in most cases the F-Cells had to rely on a tag-along mobile refueling unit. The company hopes its demonstration will spur development in a refilling-station infrastructure: having a fuel-cell car you can’t easily refuel must feel like owning a flying DeLorean in 1885. To get the full breakdown, see the Mercedes-Benz PR after the break.
From the Press Release:
Successful finish: F-CELL World Drive reaches Stuttgart after circling the globe
– Three B-Class F-CELL drive more than 30,000 km around the world
– Impressive proof of everyday usability of fuel-cell technology
– Reliable operation even under tough conditions
– Initial impetus for establishing hydrogen infrastructure
– 90,000 km covered with zero emissions
The “Mercedes-Benz F-CELL World Drive” – the first round-the-world drive with fuel-cell vehicles – successfully concluded on schedule today in Stuttgart. After more than 30,000 kilometers, three Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL vehicles with zero local emissions drive lines crossed the finish line in front of the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. The hydrogen-powered B-Classes and their support vehicles set off from Stuttgart at the end of January on the occasion of the official 125th birthday of the automobile, and on their way have crossed through 14 countries on four continents.
“With the F-CELL World Drive we have shown, that the time for electric vehicles with fuel cell has come. Now the development of the infrastructure has to pick up speed,” said Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. “For only an adequate number of hydrogen fueling stations enables car drivers to benefit from the advantages of this technology: high range, short refueling times, zero emissions.
Hydrogen infrastructure challenge
Within the scope of the F-CELL World Drive, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL was functioning as an ambassador for a new, zero-emissions auto-mobility of the future. At the same time, Mercedes-Benz was lobbying extensively for the establishment of a comprehensive network of hydrogen fueling stations – a crucial factor for the market success of this technology. So far, there are only approximately 200 fuel stations worldwide at which fuel cell vehicles can be refueled. According to expert calculations, a network of around 1,000 fixed fuel stations would be sufficient for basic nationwide coverage in Germany. A central aim of Mercedes-Benz is to see to it that, in future, drivers all over the world will be able to refuel with hydrogen – just as they do today with gasoline and diesel fuel.
The exclusive partner for hydrogen supply on the F-CELL World Drive was the Linde Group. Thanks to its hydrogen expertise and global presence, it was able to guarantee fuel supply throughout the entire world trip. A jointly developed mobile refueling unit based on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter accompanied the tour – the only way to ensure fuel supply even on the most remote stretches.
Proof of the everyday usability of fuel-cell drive
During the F-CELL World Drive, Mercedes-Benz was able to provide an impressive demonstration of the qualities of its fuel cell vehicles in terms of performance and robustness. The World Drive vehicles drove not only in downtown areas, on country roads and lengthy stretches of highway, but also proved their capabilities driving on unfinished surfaces, for example on stages in Australia and China.
Even a no-fault accident in Kazakhstan was unable to stop the B-Class F-CELL. On the route from Almaty to Balkhash, the number-three B-Class F-CELL was rammed on its rear left fender. The rear axle and bumper of the fuel-cell car both sustained damage. However, the fuel cell vehicle was repaired in a nearby workshop and continued its way around the world. Only a small dent in the bodywork bears testament to this single incident.
Round the world with hydrogen – the tour in figures
Over a total of 70 driving days, participants in the F-CELL World Drive collected an abundance of travel notes documenting the multi-faceted aspects of the tour and, at the same time, underscoring the everyday usability of the fuel cell technology on board the B-Class F-CELL. The record distance of 648 kilometers, split between two stretches of more than 300 kilometers each, was covered on the drive from Almaty to Balkhash in Kazakhstan. Another likely record is the number of inhabitants in the places visited by the tour, ranging from no more than twenty in Balladonia, Australia, to an impressive 19 million in Shanghai, China. Due to the still insufficient hydrogen infrastructure, the mobile unit, which has been developed in cooperation with the Linde AG, was used around 130 times to refuel the B-Classes. Along the route, the B-Class F-CELL vehicles were also refueled in just a few minutes at two hydrogen fueling stations.
Mercedes-Benz long-distance drives – in the tracks of Bertha Benz
With the now historic F-CELL World Drive, the first round-the-world drive with fuel cell vehicles, Mercedes-Benz is adding to a long history of legendary long-distance drives. Examples include the first crossing of Africa in a car in 1909 and the longest diesel marathon – the “E-Class Experience” – run in 2006 over 14,000 kilometers from Paris to Beijing.
As far as its objective was concerned, the F-CELL World Drive has a direct connection to the world’s very first long-distance drive – the pioneering endeavor of Bertha Benz, who, in 1888, completed the first cross-country drive with the Benz Patent-Motorwagen from Mannheim to Pforzheim. She faced in principle the same challenge as her successors with the B-Class F-CELL – she, too, could not exactly roll into the next fuel station and top up.
In the early days of the automobile, drivers had to buy their fuel from the pharmacy, which is why Bertha Benz stopped at the town pharmacy in Wiesloch. That was the only place she could acquire the light gasoline “ligroin” – which was actually intended for domestic use as a stain remover, but also worked as fuel. First gradually, then with increasing speed, the fuel station network expanded into the worldwide infrastructure we know today. That was a defining factor in the triumphant procession of the combustion-engine-powered automobile invented in 1886 by Daimler and Benz. With new drive systems the motto is: alternative drives need alternative infrastructures. In the case of the B-Class F-CELL, this means hydrogen fueling stations. It is for this reason that Mercedes-Benz, as the inventor of the automobile, together with partners from commerce and politics, is lobbying heavily for the establishment of a comprehensive infrastructure – both for electric cars with fuel cells and for those with battery-electric drive.