BERLIN - DaimlerChrysler AG has developed a methanol-powered fuel cell that fits in the underbody of a Mercedes-Benz A-class car.
The company calls the car the first practical fuel cell vehicle because its fuel cell powertrain has been shrunk drastically from previous versions. The company also says methanol is ideal because it can be handled much like gasoline or diesel fuel.
DaimlerChrysler CEO Juergen Schrempp called the car, dubbed the Necar 5, 'the last step before volume production' at a press event here last week.
In the Necar 5, the fuel cell drive is packaged in the vehicle's underbody, leaving the same amount of cargo and passenger room as in a conventional A class.
An on-board reformer extracts hydrogen from the methanol fuel. In the fuel cell, the hydrogen reacts with oxygen from the air to generate electrical energy.
Methanol takes up less room than liquid or gaseous hydrogen, commonly used in other fuel cells. Also, unlike hydrogen, methanol does not have to be cooled to form a liquid. It could be sold at filling stations with minor modifications to the pumps, according to DaimlerChrysler.
The company says the methanol-powered fuel cell produces one-third less carbon dioxide than a comparable gasoline engine and reduces smog-causing emissions to nearly zero.
DaimlerChrysler plans to build city buses with fuel cells in 2002 and passenger cars with fuel cells in 2004.
During a technology symposium last week at DaimlerChrysler's plant near Stuttgart, Klaus-Dieter Vohringer, the company's head of research, said the next-generation Mercedes A class will be the first production car with fuel cells. It is not clear whether these vehicles will use hydrogen or methanol for fuel.
It also is not clear whether they will be available in the United States.