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Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell Research Car Debuts at Frankfurt Show; Next-Generation NECAR 3 Fuel Cell Car Is On The Road

10 September 1997

Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell Research Car Debuts at Frankfurt Show; Next-Generation NECAR 3 Fuel Cell Car Is On The Road

FRANKFURT, Germany, Sept. 10 -- Daimler-Benz has developed the first-ever fuel cell passenger car using methanol as the fuel. Based on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the revolutionary new vehicle represents a decisive breakthrough in the quest to develop an automobile drive system with extremely low emissions.

This latest fuel cell vehicle to emerge from Daimler-Benz laboratories is known as NECAR 3 (New Electric Car) and, unlike its predecessors, fills up with liquid methanol. With the aid of a reformer system located in the rear of the vehicle, methanol fuel is converted on-line into hydrogen through water-vapor reformation. The hydrogen gas is then fed into the Ballard Fuel Cells where it is combined with atmospheric oxygen but without combustion to produce electrical energy, which is used to power the vehicle.

Hydrogen Tanks No Longer Needed

Previous fuel cell systems could only operate in conjunction with bulky hydrogen tanks for fuel storage. With NECAR 3, the entire process is much more direct: press the accelerator pedal and an astonishing 90 percent of the system's power is available in just two seconds. In terms of drive dynamics, this puts fuel cell vehicles using methanol on par with conventional gasoline- or diesel-powered automobiles.

Dispensing with the hydrogen tanks not only reduces vehicle weight, but it also greatly improves the everyday practicality of the new vehicle: the corner gas station can handle methanol, which doesn't require special safety measures, nearly as easily as gasoline or diesel. What's more, NECAR 3 has a range of some 250 miles (400 kilometers) on a full tank of 11 gallons

(40 liters), similar to conventional vehicles.

Daimler-Benz decided to opt for methanol because it is the most suitable fuel for hydrogen generation. Although gasoline and diesel were also considered, the efficiency levels of these fuels would have been lower. For the introductory phase of fuel-cell powered vehicles, at least, engineers are considering the possibility of a multi-fuel concept which, as the name suggests, will permit the utilization of different types of fuel until methanol is generally available.

The drive system of NECAR 3 is virtually emission-free. Neither nitrogen oxides nor soot particles are created during conversion of methanol to hydrogen or in the subsequent generation of electrical energy. And thanks to the extreme efficiency of the fuel cells, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are substantially below those of conventional cars.

A-Class Design Ideal For Fuel Cell Technology

With the advent of onboard hydrogen generation, a crucial step has been taken towards developing the environmentally-friendly fuel cell technology that could eventually power vehicles of the future. An equally important milestone on the road to this lofty goal is the incorporation of the entire system in a 12-foot-long (3.57 meters) Mercedes-Benz. Once again, the innovative double-floor sandwich concept employed in the A-Class has proved its worth, allowing the complete installation of the fuel cells and several auxiliary units underneath the passenger cell. The methanol fuel tank, reformer and control system are located in the rear of the Mercedes subcompact.

On-Line Methanol Conversion and Power Generation

The methanol reformer technology utilized in NECAR 3 has benefited from a whole range of technological advances at Daimler-Benz. Not only has the system been made smaller and more efficient, but the performance and dynamic response of the reformation process have also been improved. The result is a compact unit of some 18 inches (47 centimeters) in height. Located in the rear of the A-Class, the reformer directly injects hydrogen "online" into the fuel cells. Hydrogen production occurs at a temperature of some 280 degrees centigrade: methanol and water vaporize to yield hydrogen (H), carbon dioxide (CO2), and carbon monoxide (CO).

Following catalytic oxidation of the CO to convert it to CO2, the purified gas is fed to the negative pole of the fuel cell. A special polymer membrane, coated with a platinum catalyst and sandwiched between two electrodes, is located here. Hydrogen fuel breaks into positively-charged protons and negatively-charged electrons. Air, containing oxygen, is supplied to the positive pole of the fuel cell on the other side of the polymer membrane. The hydrogen protons travel through the polymer membrane while the electrons travel through an external circuit to arrive at the positive electrode. There, the oxygen, hydrogen protons and electrons combine to form water. An electric motor is attached to the external circuit, which then is used to drive the vehicle.

Four Research Vehicles in Just Three Years

NECAR 3 is in fact the fourth fuel cell vehicle to roll out of the Daimler-Benz laboratories within the last three years. Development initially began back in 1994 with NECAR I, which housed the fuel cell system in the back of a small van. Two years later, advances in reducing the size of the system made it possible, for the first time, to install the fuel cell engine in a passenger vehicle -- the NECAR II, based on a Mercedes-Benz V-Class van. At the start of 1997, it was time for NEBUS, the latest in the line of fuel cell vehicles, to hit the road. Equipped with 10 fuel cell stacks boasting a total output of 250 kW, NEBUS is suitable for operation as a normal city bus.

While NECAR I, NECAR II, and NEBUS store their hydrogen fuel in large- volume pressurized tanks, NECAR 3 has no need for an auxiliary energy store, thanks to the methanol reformer. True, vehicle range still depends upon the size of the fuel tank, but unlike its predecessors, NECAR 3 can fill up with methanol just as easily as any conventional car does with gasoline.

US $325 Million Investment (CAN $450 Million) to Commercialize Fuel Cell Engine for Vehicles

In the drive to develop fuel cell technology for mobile applications, Daimler-Benz has joined forces with the Canadian company Ballard Power Systems. The two companies are investing over US $325 million (CAN $450 million) to advance this pioneering and environmentally-friendly technology. The common aim of the alliance is to become the first manufacturer worldwide to offer vehicles including busses, trucks and series- produced passenger cars with a fuel cell engine.

Daimler-Benz is the world's most comprehensive provider of technologically advanced transportation products, systems and services, and has 290,000 employees and revenues of approximately $70 billion. Daimler-Benz is focused on the development and manufacture of Mercedes-Benz cars and commercial vehicles, Freightliner trucks as well as Adtranz rail systems, MTU diesel engines and TEMIC microelectronics. Daimler-Benz Aerospace builds aircraft and space systems and Daimler-Benz InterServices provides leasing and sales financing, mobile communications and information technologies. North America, where Daimler-Benz employs more than 19,000 people, is the largest regional market outside of Europe and accounts for approximately 20 percent of worldwide revenues. In 1993, Daimler-Benz became the first German company to list its stock on the New York Stock Exchange .

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz, Mercedes-Benz of North America is responsible for the sales and marketing of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and light trucks in the U.S. through a network of over 300 dealers.

Ballard Power Systems is the world leader in the development of proton exchange membrane fuel cells. At the heart of its products is the Ballard Fuel Cell, a proprietary zero-emission engine that converts natural gas, methanol, or hydrogen fuel into electricity without combustion. Ballard Fuel Cells are currently being used by leading international companies to develop zero-emission vehicles and clean stationary electric power generators.

Ballard Power Systems Common Shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the trading symbol "BLD" and on the Nasdaq National Market System under the symbol "BLDPF."

SOURCE Daimler-Benz North America Corporation

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