Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are not the only car makers working on fuel cell vehicles. Mercedes-Benz has a fleet of 300 B Class-based fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) that have traveled 5.6 million miles since 2010. Recently, one of those cars drove more than 186,000 miles in normal driving conditions, proving that FCEVs offer long term reliability in the real world.
That accomplishment earned Mercedes a Fuel Cell Innovation Award from a jury composed of economists, scientists and political leaders who said “The test is a step in the direction of series-ready application of the fuel cell drive train.” Mercedes is working closely with Ford and Nissan to develop a common fuel cell drivetrain that will be available in showrooms by 2017.
But before that can happen, the hydrogen infrastructure to refuel FCEVs will need to make enormous strides forward. Nobody is going to buy an FCEV if it can’t be refueled conveniently. Recently, the process was given a boost after standards for hydrogen refueling equipment were established.
Mercedes is aware of the challenge and is aggressively pursuing the build-out of hydrogen transportation and refueling systems. Says Prof. Herbert Kohler, chief environmental officer of Daimler AG.“We have clearly demonstrated that the fuel cell electric drive is ready for the road. The last hurdles we will overcome in intensive cross-industry and cross-border teamwork.”
So, is the hydrogen economy ready for prime time? Right now, most hydrogen is derived from natural gas. Thanks to the rise in fracking here in America and around the world, natural gas is readily available. But if the purpose of FCEVs is to help the environment and if FCEVs rely on fracking for fuel, is the hydrogen economy a step forward or a step back for our beleaguered global eco-system?