In 1994, the Mercedes-Benz NECAR proves that the fuel cell is suitable for driving vehicles
Continuous further development on the way to large-scale production
Field testing with over 100 vehicles supplies important data and experience from everyday operation
The surprise presentation of a Mercedes-Benz research vehicle with fuel cell drive was like the spark that starts a prairie fire. The proof that the fuel cell, the electrochemical power plant invented by Sir William Robert Grove in 1839, was suited to drive vehicles has been manifest to the whole world since April 13, 1994, the day on which “NECAR” (New Electric Car) captured public attention.
Since that memorable day, the sustained commitment and untiring activities of Daimler AG in matters of vehicular fuel cell drives, including the alternative fuels needed to operate them and the basic conditions which follow from them, have gained worldwide attention and respect down to the very present.
The topic of alternative propulsion systems was nothing new for the company, however. Time and again, it had engaged in research activities in this field. Precursors with respect to the use of hydrogen in the NECAR project were, above all, the sedans and vans which had been set up in the early 1980s on the basis of complex fundamental research: their piston engines burnt pure hydrogen rather than gasoline.
The idea is as simple as it is ingenious: when the elements of hydrogen and oxygen are permitted to react with each other under controlled conditions, this process generates electric energy – in a direct, chemical reaction which is also referred to as “cold combustion” by the experts.
It was to last over 120 years before Grove’s invention was revived. In the 1960s, the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was looking for an efficient energy system for its manned Gemini and Apollo missions. This technology also passed the practical test in submarines.
It was only on land that there was seemingly no use for this source of electricity. Too large, too heavy and too expensive – this was the verdict with respect to the direct conversion of chemical energy into electricity. It is therefore not surprising that professional circles pricked their ears when Daimler-Benz announced its plans to continue research into fuel cell technology and test its use as a source of energy for motor vehicles in 1993. Just one year late, in April 1994, the project was presented to the public.