German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder took delivery of a new car on Wednesday. But it was no ordinary auto. The DaimlerChrysler vehicle presented to him had something special under the hood: hydrogen fuel cell technology.
"We're on the right track," the chancellor said
The gleaming new model sitting in the car park outside Schröder's office in Berlin is one of the prototype models fitted with the F-Cell hydrogen technology that DaimlerChrysler hopes will revolutionize motoring and help in the fight to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from cars.
The chancellor will have one year to test the car out as part of the company's on-going research into greener fuel possibilities which has seen 60 cars enter production and deployed for testing around the world.
The fuel cells which power the car use a combination of hydrogen and oxygen which makes them and the vehicle itself environmentally friendly.
Its only emission is water, which is so pure that DaimlerChrysler claim its fit for human consumption. The electric motor creates a maximum output of 65 kilowatts and will power the car for 160 kilometers (100 miles) at a maximum speed of 140 kilometers per hour (kph).
Here comes the science
The fuel cell car's motor
The hydrogen fuel cell operates similar to a battery. It has two electrodes, an anode and a cathode, separated by a membrane. Oxygen passes over one electrode and hydrogen over the other.
The hydrogen reacts to a catalyst on the electrode anode that converts the hydrogen gas into negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions. The electrons flow out of the cell to be used as electrical energy.
The hydrogen ions move through the electrolyte membrane to the cathode electrode where they combine with oxygen and the electrons to produce water. Unlike batteries, fuel cells never run out.
F-Cell technology leading the way
Schröder received the car from DaimlerChrysler board member Jürgen Hubbert and praised the efforts of the company to develop more environmentally friendly vehicles, especially at a time of increased oil prices and concerns over the effects of CO2 emissions in relation to climate change.
"This shows that we are on the right track," the chancellor said, running an impressed eye over his new loan car.
DaimlerChrysler is also testing the technology on buses
Experts from DaimlerChrysler estimate that the first commercial fuel-cell car should be ready by 2010. The auto manufacturer hopes it will cost around the same as regular cars.
DaimlerChrysler has spent over €1 billion ($1.23 billion) in the development process and already enjoys more success than initially hoped for this stage by producing vehicles fit for use. The German car giant first grabbed the headlines with its hydrogen fuel program with its NECAR 4 model in 1999. The NECAR 4, based on a Mercedes-Benz A-class compact car, was a liquid hydrogen vehicle with a top speed of 144 kph and a 450 kilometer tank capacity.