- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

In late 2000, DaimlerChrysler Chairman Juergen Schrempp chose Mercedes World, a soaring car showroom in central Berlin, for introducing the Necar 5, the company's newest fuel-cell, elec-tric-powered car.

Mr. Schrempp said the Necar 5 will go on sale as a Mercedes-Benz in California and selected European cities in 2004.

The company may also bring out a Chrysler brand fuel-cell vehicle at about the same time, but that probably won't be the Jeep Commander 2 Mr. Schrempp introduced during the same program. The four-wheel-drive Jeep Commander 2 also uses a fuel cell that derives its hydrogen from liquid methanol. The hydrogen's reaction with oxygen from air creates electricity for the two AC induction motors, one on each axle for full-time 4WD.

A fuel cell is a type of battery first created for use in the space program to make drinking water for astronauts. It produces energy from a chemical reaction that combines hydrogen and oxygen. There are a variety of fuel cells, but carmakers have focused on proton exchange membrane fuel-cell technology because it allows them to run vehicles on hydrogen gas or on hydrogen derived from methanol or gasoline.

In addition, PEM fuel cells operate at low temperatures, 80-120 degrees Celsius, comparable to conventional car operating temperatures. PEM fuel cells also have a high power density, and need half the amount of energy required by a conventional internal combustion engine and can operate at efficiencies of up to 80 percent.

Honda promises that it will get a fuel-cell car on the market by 2003, a year earlier than the DaimlerChrysler New Electric Car, Necar 5. Regardless of who wins the race to get on the market first with a fuel-cell car, the 2003-2004 period is long before most carmakers believed it would be possible to market a vehicle that doesn't have an internal combustion engine.

Instead of a conventional engine, the Necar 5 runs on a fuel-cell stack that enables hydrogen gas and oxygen to react chemically. The product of this reaction is electricity used to run electric motors that power the car.

Best of all, the only emission from the chemical reaction is water vapor. There are no greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, produced. Nor are there any emissions that can result in smog that plagues many metropolitan areas around the world. A fuel-cell car is truly a zero-emissions vehicle that has the potential to end pollution from vehicles.

Johannes W. Ebner, a DaimlerChrysler engineer who heads the company's fuel-cell project, says a fleet of 30 fuel-cell buses will begin operating in 2002 in several European cities to test the technology. The fuel cells in the buses will use hydrogen gas. Two years later the Necar 5 will be released. It is based on the A-Class car. It can carry five persons and has a full trunk for carrying luggage. The vehicle runs on an electric motor and has a single-stage transmission with a park position. It has a top speed of 90 mph.

Mr. Ebner said that the Necar 5 will first be available in volumes of hundreds. It will also run on hydrogen gas when first released. That's because it will go only to fleets where the cars will be garaged and maintained every evening. The maintenance will include refueling with hydrogen gas, a commodity that most consumers won't have access to because there is no distribution infrastructure for it.

The fuel cells will be manufactured in Vancouver, British Columbia, by Ballard, a company that is acknowledged to be the most advanced maker of the products in the world. Ballard is partially owned by DaimlerChrysler and Ford, which also plans to market a fuel-cell car in 2004. In addition, GM, Volkswagen, Nissan, Toyota and other carmakers are believed to be capable of introducing fuel-cell cars by mid-decade.

BMW is an exception. It is planning to offer cars that run on hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines. However, it will include a small fuel cell in its hydrogen cars to run various electronic systems.


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