Hybrid Mercedes-Benz hydrogen fuel-cell: Time for petrolheads to move over

Hydrogen is the way forward, says Sean O'Grady as he hits the gas

Naturally I was excited. I knew, in a theoretical sort of way, what it was all about. Hydrogen can power a special fuel cell through a chemical reaction that creates electricity, and that means much more efficient energy-use and zero emissions.

The fuel cell is a different means of motive power to the traditional internal combustion engine, conventional electric cars or the "hybrid" combinations that you'll find in the current Toyota Prius, Honda Civic IMA and one or two others. I also knew that nothing but water is supposed to come out of the exhaust. I was, however, unprepared for the sight of Debbie Hull, Mercedes's press officer, taking a few droplets from the A-Class's exhaust and drinking them.

Fond as I am of green technologies, this was a step too far for your intrepid correspondent. I confined myself to a quick run round the block in the A-Class.

Apart from some decals on the side it is pretty much standard. There are differences; the noise the car makes is much more droney, there is a dashboard display showing you what's happening under the bonnet, and the rear floor and seats are placed slightly higher than normal to accommodate big hydrogen tanks and the battery.

The car provided a normal-ish driving experience. Like other electric vehicles, it has good low-speed pick-up, with plenty of torque, so it's fine for town driving but the flat-out top speed is lower than its conventional siblings. It is heavier than the standard car, which doesn't help and, as is sometimes forgotten, it requires energy to create the hydrogen and transport it to a filling station. How that energy is produced - by fossil fuels or nuclear power or renewables - affects the overall greeness of such a car to a degree, but this technology will always be more efficient than the internal combustion engine.

It's not perfect. The range is only 93 miles, which would prove a bit of a drag in normal use, but the wonder of it, like a talking dog, is not that the thing it does it does badly, but that it exists at all. I knew Honda had been trialling fuel-cell cars in the US and Japan, but not that Mercedes had been doing much the same thing closer to home, with a small fleet in Berlin testing the F-Cell A-Class in everyday use. There are also parallel trials in Singapore, Japan and the US.

The Mercedes boffins tell me that a production version of the F-Cell is eight to 10 years away. Given that manufacturers such as Mercedes and its European-based peers seem to have missed out on the hybrid, where the Japanese are way in front, it is just as well that they're making progress on the next wave of technology. What will make it a reality, and help save the planet, is for the EU, national governments and the oil companies to start building the infrastructure that will be needed to make it a practical proposition. It is an economic rather than technological challenge.

By 2015 there will still be petrolheads running V12 Ferraris and the like, but for most families the likes of the F-Cell will be moving them around. It can't happen a moment too soon.

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
Environment
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Science Teacher

    £120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Calling all science teachers! Ra...

    Technology Teacher - Food & Textiles

    £120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Food Tech/Textiles Teacher We ...

    Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

    £85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

    Humanities Teacher

    £120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities, Religious Education ...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone