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Germany aims for unlikely fuel cell domination

Mon, 09/30/2013 - 22:04 -- Anonymous


Not content with being the world’s leading exporter of cars many people lust after – be they Mercedes, BMW or Audi - Germany now wants to be an exportweltmeister in fuel cell cars and fuel cells.

At the F-Cell/Batteries+Storage conference in Stuttgart, Daimler, which launched an electric van powered by an 860kg battery pack in 1972 – the LC306 (pictured) – has been showing off its Mercedes B-Class F-Cell car.

The B-Class F-Cell has a range of around 500km, does 0-60 miles per hour in 7.9 seconds, and has zero carbon emissions. The drawback, of course, is the price. The car is not on the market, but with comparable vehicles costing €80,000 ($108,000), it’s not the kind of car you’d buy for your wife or your son/daughter for their 18th birthday present.

Yet Daimler appears to be serious. Well, semi-serious. In conjunction with Air Liquide, Linde, OMV, Shell and Total, it has developed an ‘action plan’ to install 400 hydrogen refilling stations in Germany by 2023, up from 15 now.

This plan will cost €350m and will go a long way to making fuel cell dreams a bit less dreamy. Simultaneously, the state of Baden-Württemberg unveiled its ‘Fuel Cell Cluster’ - an attempt to make Stuttgart a global centre of hydrogen excellence like Ulsan in Korea or Vancouver in Canada.

Daimler is headquartered in Stuttgart, so this makes sense. What is not clear is whether Stuttgart can be a centre for fuel cell production.

As Daimler’s Chief Environmental Officer Professor Herbert Kohler acknowledged, Germany has some catching up to do with Korea, the USA and Canada, which have been investing (and subsidising) in fuel cells for many years.

What seems more likely is that Germany becomes a world leader in the manufacturer of machinery and fuel cell production techniques. The author has visited fuel cell production facilities and was struck by the ‘potting shed’ nature of some firms’ operations.

Germany is always looking for new markets to be a ‘world leader’ and developing high-tech production techniques for fuel cells may be one such opportunity. The same may also be true for Germany's lithium-ion ambitions.