Green cars typically don’t turn heads in eco-obsessed San Francisco, where hybrids are common and even $100,000 electric Tesla Roadsters aren’t rare. But when a trio of Mercedes-Benz F CELL cars recently trolled the city’s streets, hands waved and horns honked. For it’s not often that you catch a concrete glimpse of the future.
Mercedes brought these four-door, B-Class machines to the city by the bay as part of a 125-day, January-to-June, 18,000-mile global trek to mark the 125th anniversary of Carl Benz’s invention of the automobile. In many ways, these cars represent as radical a leap as when Benz first introduced his motorized contraption. While the alt-fuel focus of most auto companies remains gas-electric and pure electric engines, a few companies remain committed to the so-called fuel cell vehicle.
In the simplest terms: A fuel cell-powered car carries tanks filled with hydrogen, which when exposed to oxygen generate electricity that’s stored in lithium-ion batteries. The main emission is simple water. Mercedes’ F CELL can get about 400 kilometers (250 miles) per four-kilogram tank of hydrogen, which means about a $48 fill-up at a European hydrogen depot. The F CELL’s potential leaves one particular engineer almost giddy.
“Think about it, this is a car with a range of 250 miles, a three-minute refueling time, with full safety and reliability,” says Christian Mohrdieck, director of Daimler’s fuel cell and battery development program. “There are two obstacles only. Infrastructure and cost. But both those things can be worked on.”