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Mercedes Testing Electric SLS Gullwing Supercar

Gordon Kelly


Mercedes Testing Electric SLS Gullwing Supercar

Electric cars are the most hyped development in the automotive industry today, even if I have no idea why (I'd opt for hydrogen any day). So if you thought the Tesla was overpriced and impractical you ain't seen nothing yet...

This month industry heavyweight Mercedes has announced it has begun testing an electric version of the stunning SLS AMG Gullwing (pictured) with the aim of a 2013 release date. The petrol version hits 0-60mph in just 3.8 seconds and tops out at a massive 196mph. The buzzy version? Mercedes wants a four second 0-60mph despite the eternal problem of lithium ion batteries adding an extra 500lbs in weight.

How Mercedes plans to crack this is by placing an individual electric motor on each wheel. These force the car to become four wheel drive, but will provide a total of 525 horsepower and 649 pound-feet of torque. "Effectively being four-wheel-drive does alter its character, but our torque vectoring systems give us opportunities to make it as good," said AMG head Volker Mornhinweg. "It's important to get the emotional level of an EV right and we have some solutions."

Despite all this, the weak spots in electric cars shine through. First, range - the adapted Gullwing will manage just 110 miles before clapping out (*cough* hydrogen! *cough*). Secondly, price and while the petrol driven version costs a massive $270,000 - the electric edition will exceed that by a considerable margin.

Still, the industry seems to like this heavy, short range, impractical and expensive technology so it appears to be the direction we're headed despite hydrogen! all logic to the contrary...


via DailyTech

Greg Blencoe

December 21, 2009, 5:18 am


I completely agree with you about plug-in battery cars. Fortunately, all of the facts are starting to come out. People will have a much different view of plug-in battery cars in a year or two.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which will be arriving at dealerships in 2015, are far superior to battery-only vehicles in terms of driving range, fueling time, cold weather performance, and trunk/passenger space. These are things that mainstream consumers care A LOT about. There are good reasons why car companies have spent billions on hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Toyota has said the company is planning on bringing "affordable" hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to market in 2015.

"7 reasons to love Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehicles"


The focus now should be on building lots of hydrogen fueling stations.

Greg Blencoe

Chief Executive Officer

Hydrogen Discoveries, Inc.

"Hydrogen Car Revolution" blog

Gavin Hamer

December 21, 2009, 6:34 am




December 21, 2009, 7:41 am

Gordon I think your missing a trick, where are you gona get the Hydrogen from? That's right - breaking up hydrocarbons which you get from crude oil. I know the electrical solution is no better, your mains electricity ultimately mostly comes from a power plant burning oil, gas or coal. But hydrogen requires a massive cannister in the car (doable and not much more of a problem than the battery pack) but you also need hydrogen pumps to refuel and that's a lot more difficult than a car that can be plugged into the mains.

Unless somebody can work out how to store a large amount of hydrogen in liquid form (so you don't need a weighty cannister in the car) which is easily released by passing it over a catalyst and then can be quickly replenished at a fuelling station then I'm not sure either is going to really take off (other than in cities).

The Gullwing is always going to be nothing more than a gimmick in its planned battery form.

More promising is new battery technology I think and new ways of storing hydrogen and catalysts to separate it at will. In short, we're still a few years off.


December 21, 2009, 2:27 pm

@Xenos: I think you're missing a trick. Hydrogren is gathered from water via electrolysis. That's what is so great about the technology; it genuinely has the potential to be completely green - assuming the electricity used in electrolysis is from a renewable source. It's also not that difficult to refuel a hydrogen cyclinder. It's just like filling a car except the nozzle is clamped shut and pressurised.


December 21, 2009, 3:11 pm

Have you all forgotten what happened to the Hindenburg??!! "Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here. I told you, I can't even talk to people whose friends are on there. Ah! It's&#8211it's&#8211it's&#8211it's ... o&#8211ohhh! I&#8211I can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest, it's just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk, and the screaming." No. We need nuclear-powered cars. Much safer.

Hamish Campbell

December 21, 2009, 3:45 pm

@Ed - Still, if you've got that green electricity, why not just send that out to the cars, rather than making the hydrogen and trucking that out? Refueling a battery is pretty easy too, and can be done from home.

Plenty of challenges to overcome with both, I wish someone would make a magical futurescrope so I could peer into the future instead!!

Jay Werfalli

December 21, 2009, 4:02 pm

Ed's right - the key is that the electricity used for electrolysis has to be green, cheap and readily available for it all to be worth it. At the moment, the energy required in the decomposition of water to produce hydrogen (and the pollution and energy loss associated with it) doesn't make a hydrogen fuel cell much better than a normal fossil fuel combustion engine.


December 21, 2009, 4:04 pm

Yes batteries are big, heavy and degrade over time, but I wouldn't go thinking hydrogen is perfect. As Xenos has pointed out the main source of hydrogen is actually hydrocarbons it is not electrolysis (except in chemistry experiments at school). It is a by-product of the refining process. This is one of the reasons why it has been supported by oil companies. It is great for them - they get to sell what is normally a waste product and look like they're helping the environment at the same time.

Transport of hydrogen is also a killer - transporting any gas requires huge effort. Either you liquify it which uses lots of energy any requires careful design of systems and containers to reduce the risk, or you pipe it using lots of energy in compressor stations (roughly 1/3 of all gas extracted is used to power the compressors that move it along pipelines).

If we find a nice way of storing hydrogen then it has a lot of potential. If we find a better way of storing electricity then it has a lot of potential. Both are flawed with current technology, but it will always be much cheaper and more efficient to move electrons than atoms.

My problem with all these technologies is that they do not benefit the environment. All they do is shift where the emissions are produced. "Renewable" sources of electricity just shift the emissions to mining and fabrication. Gallium needs mined for solar panels and wind uses a huge ammount of steel and neodymium. With design lifetimes of ~20 years and nearer 60-80years before wind turbines pay back the energy used in their construction I would hardly call these renewable. What we need is more investment in research. A lot more.

/rant over


December 21, 2009, 4:11 pm

Having used alternative fuels in other countries - I have run several CNG (compressed natural gas) cars/vans in NZ - the range issue is important. I used to drive regularly between two cities that both had CNG stations, but had to have a petrol tank as well so that I could finish the journey.

Electric cars would only be viable if either the batteries were standardised as to shape/size and were able to be swopped out quickly; or could be recharged in a similar timeframe to petrol/hydrogen/CNG/LPG refueling.

David 17

December 21, 2009, 4:27 pm

In the long term, hydrogen will make a lot of sense, but currently fuel cells don't last long enough & cost too much to be economically viable.

Battery electric cars are becoming viable at the high end now, and battery tech will only improve over time. Even if some company has a cheap, reliable & long lasting fuel cell & infrastructure to support it up their sleeves, battery electric still has a role to play.

Eventually a combination of battery / super capacitor / hydrogen electric will provide the best of all worlds. You'll fill it up with hydrogen for long distance travel, or just charge the batteries at home for short distance. You could even have a home based electrolyser plugged into a solar roof for very cheap fuel.

I don't agree that developing battery electric car tech is a waste of time - it'll be useful if hydrogen doesn't make it, or alongside it if it does.


December 21, 2009, 4:34 pm

Have to side with Stoin who is more on the right track. Fair enough that people may prefer hydrogen but take it from a PhD student who spent a chunk of the last 3 years of my life working on energy storage and electrochemical hydrogen storage... a weight and size efficient (6wt% or 45g/l min - as set out by the US DOE)is a looong way off, believe me. most of the professors i've spoken to on the subject (who have been members of european wide hydrogen storage joint projects) mostly agree that electrification of the automobile market is the way forward. especially with advances in both lithium and supercapacitor technologies.

it has been shown actually that if the economy was electrified, we'd instantly half (not sure of exact figure, just for point) the carbon emissions with power stations being tremendously more efficient at burning hydrocarbons than ICE's. Always happy to debate as fantastic new technologies out of the blue are always possible.

Oh ps.. maiden post on TR :-)


December 21, 2009, 6:00 pm

@Ed - I agree its not difficult to refill a pressurised fuel tank, but there are no forecourts to do it at! And yes hydrogen does come from electrolysis but its going to be a while before we have enough renewable energy knocking around for it to actually come from a renewable source! In an ideal world yes it IS the way forward but its still several years away.. it's not that I don't want it!

Matt G Baish

December 21, 2009, 6:37 pm

Make your own minds up by reading the following peer reviewed, critically acclaimed & IMHO excellent free eBook from someone who knows what they are talking about: http://www.withouthotair.com/

(For my pennies worth - I think electric is the way to go; once everything is electric then we can concentrate on 1) improving efficiency/performance of vehicles & 2) clean energy generation, not necessarily in that order, without having to worry about what 'fuel' your next car should take. There is a long way to go for sure but we'll never get there if we don't start).


December 21, 2009, 6:49 pm

the problem is that to have a range comparable to a petrol vehicle you would need approx 4kg hydrogen, which in compressed gas terms is about the same size as a 200ltr drum! wouldn't have much boot space left after that. plus the small problem of self discharge from pressurized hydrogen vessels, any viable storage technology would have to be liquefied or solid state storage (hydrides as an example), the problem with all of these is hydrogen itself and its volatility.

don't get me wrong i'm not some die hard electricity advocate but we are pretty well versed in producing it, the infrastructure for delivery is already in place (plus the coming roll out of distributed networks) and the storage technologies are already at a stage close to commercial viability.


December 21, 2009, 6:50 pm

with batteries you still have to charge them for hours on end, the public already doesn't like that, when petrol was first used in cars it wasn't the best but the convenience is what caught on, hydrogen now takes the same time to refuel as a petrol car and in a few years you are going to have the cell car with a maximum range of a normal petrol car, coupled with gathering the hydrogen in a clean way from water I do not see hydrogen loosing out to the battery


December 21, 2009, 7:20 pm

I am intrigued by this discussion because all the electricity advocates seem to be ignoring the fact that, as Jay points out, batteries need recharging. There are various possibilities for the speed of this being improved but it doesn't change the fact that it will still take some time and need doing frequently. Hydrogen greatly reduces this. That said, I do also see the problems in Hydrogen. Personally, I think there's still some merit in the whole biofuel thing. If hydrogen proves to be impossible on a large scale, larger cars can use biofuel while small run-arounds will transition to electric. Better public transport would also help.


December 21, 2009, 7:53 pm

I attended an interesting energy conference back in Feb 09 in London, where a lot of companies were putting forward their products and visions of the future, and an integrated fuel cell/ battery/ supercapacitor technology is the current favourite for a lot of people.

@Jay there are two major technological barriers before that happens though, the weight/cost of fuel cells is still way too high, with only gradual decreases due to the precious metals and other materials required. As for the H storage <10wt% H in whatever technology is the mid term goal, current state of the art for most solid state approaches is <1wt% ish for physisorbed approaches, or 2-3wt% for chemical storage (hydrides etc) but with exceptionally poor cycling ability. unfortunately the thermodynamics of hydrogen storage dictate it may never actually be solved.

Matt G Baish

December 21, 2009, 8:08 pm

@Ed "all the electricity advocates seem to be ignoring the fact that, as Jay points out, batteries need recharging"

Fast charging (20 minutes at a service station while having a pee/coffee/browsing the top shelf - ahem) and/or hot-swappable pre-charged batteries are being researched which would solve this so that is a non issue in my book (in the case of the hot-swap batteries I think Renault are due to launch a scheme in the next couple of years). We have to think more laterally here.

Don't get me started about Biofuels (limited agricultural/industrial/electricity generation applications is likely where this tech will end up - much too inefficient as a fossil fuel replacement). Algae looks more promising - but still too early to call.

Ian Mayall

December 21, 2009, 8:46 pm

Ripsnorter - The Hindenburg would have been so much safer it is had been storing Petrol Fumes to fly on wouldn't it?


December 22, 2009, 2:22 am

As for the car, I do approve of projects like this. It is never going to sell, it will never make anyone think "wow, what a great idea. I want one." It probably won't even be built. If you want an expensive sports car today (or even 2013), you'll buy petrol. What this does do is sparks people's imagination and makes them think about the possibilities for alternative power in cars. In a twisted way it's like the last few years of Le Mans and Touring Cars where diesel has overtaken petrol as the engine of choice.

For a small cost - a couple of grad students who need experience anyway - Mercedes have shown something that could be done with electric. Hopefully it will encourage a bit more thinking on the topic and maybe it'll attract more cash for research, and to Merc it's almost free. So for no real outlay it might just bring some benefit for the future. Can't argue with that.


December 22, 2009, 4:05 am

Ed & Jay, sorry to disappoint, but the vast majority of Hydrogen is made from converting Methane (or other short hydrocarbons) into Hydrogen and Carbon Dioxide (called "Steam Reforming"), so as yet it is not a "green" energy source. Then again, neither are electric as has been pointed out.

For me the benefit of hydrogen is two-fold.

Firstly the efficiency of the internal combustion engine is limited by the energy wasted as heat and light, whereas the fuel cell has the potential to be a more efficient process, add that to the fact that (ignoring all the transport, storage, refining etc issues) if a fuel cell works at the same efficiency as a petrol engine it will release almost 2x the energy for the same amount of CO2 released, and about 3x as much energy compared to coal which is where most electricity comes from, it is a step in the right direction (i won't bother you with the exact math of that unless you want) ).

Secondly, once the infrastructure and technology is in place for H2 powered cars, the only remaining issue will be finding large amounts of renewable energy to make hydrolysis a viable alternative to steam reformation, something that is being pursued anyway and might take the form of Fusion power, or perhaps paving the Arabian desert in solar cells, or whatever scientists come up with. Then we can just swap the source of H2 without having to fuss about the end user at all.

It's not "green" (yet) but it is "green-er"

Mathew White

December 22, 2009, 4:38 am

Call me over-sensative, but I make it a rule never to sit inside anything that they make bombs out of... and before any smart-alec says 'petrol-bomb', I drive a Diesel.

Personally, given the fact we have petrol driven electric generators available to even the nerdiest of campers, and since they use very little petrol to create hours and hours of electricity, I never quite understood why we didn't just chuck one under the bonnet of an electric car... bit of a no-brainer really.


December 22, 2009, 4:45 am

@Matthew White: Er... you're not eliminating the fossil fuel element. Also, if you're going to have an engine you might as well just have a hybrid type system, surely?


December 22, 2009, 5:07 am

@Matthew the problem is, you are converting petrol/diesel to kinetic energy (an inefficient process), then to electrical energy and BACK to kinetic energy again...... Any energy change will result in some energy loss, so it just doesn't make sense!

Plus, i dont think you have to worry about the hydrogen in your tank spontaneously fusing to make Helium.... if it does please tell someone as you might win a Nobel prize (cold fusion FTW!).

Oliver Levett

December 22, 2009, 10:38 am

Some of the comments on speed, acceleration etc seem slightly misplaced. The Hydrogen is just a storage method (like a battery, but different chemicals). Using a different source for your electricity doesn't change the fact that you're still using an electric motor to drive the wheels. That is unless someone has made an internal combustion engine based on hydrogen.

All of these are just ways of storing the energy. It still has to be generated somewhere.

Finally: would it not be better just to not drive for no reason at all and instead maybe walk? That way, we wouldn't be in such a hole...

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