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Mercedes-Benz Sustaineer: An eco-friendly concept van

This heavy hauler is made of sustainable materials, reduces noise pollution and even cleans the air as it drives.

The Sustaineer concept is chockablock with eco-friendly features.

Mercedes-Benz

On Wednesday, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its Sustaineer commercial van concept. Short for "sustainability pioneer," this all-electric design study is based on the automaker's eSprinter and is loaded with features intended to conserve resources, improve the health and safety of city residents and even protect the climate.

What's interesting about the Sustaineer is that none of these items is outlandish or overly complicated. Many of its eco-friendly features could be implemented in short order and at relatively low cost, something Mercedes-Benz will likely do in its vans going forward. In markets where it's possible, the division is aiming to be fully electric by the end of this decade. By 2022, production should be carbon-neutral at all company-owned van factories worldwide; they will only use renewable electricity. Finally, as part of its Ambition 2039 strategy, the Mercedes-Benz Vans group wants to be carbon-neutral throughout the life cycle of its vehicles, from manufacturing to charging to service and everything in between. Concepts highlighted in the Sustaineer can help the automaker achieve these ambitious goals.

One of this van's signature -- and most curious -- features is its particulate filtration system. The Sustaineer features two particulate filters, one mounted behind the grille and another underneath the body. You might think these units are part of some emissions-control system, but remember, this van is all-electric. Instead of cleaning up exhaust, these filters are actually used to scrub the air while driving and charging, trapping particulates down to 10 microns in size. This can dramatically improve air quality in densely packed urban areas with lots of vehicular emissions, especially if there are large fleets of vehicles equipped with such filtration systems.

There's plenty of space -- and renewable materials -- inside this concept van.

Mercedes-Benz

But it's not just internal-combustion engines that emit particulates. According to Mercedes-Benz, they only account for around 12% of them. Tires, brakes and the road surface itself all produce fine dust that hampers air quality. To further reduce these emissions, the Sustaineer features low-rolling-resistance tires and ceramic-coated cast-iron brake discs. Fleet customers will also appreciate these components, as they should last longer in service, which reduces maintenance costs.

The Sustaineer cuts down on another type of pollution as well: noise pollution. This van's electric powertrain is quieter than a combustion engine, but that's not all. The low-rolling-resistance tires are not only more efficient, they also produce less noise than other tires. Finally, the Sustaineer features what Mercedes-Benz calls a Speed Delivery Door, which opens automatically. This improves driver efficiency, but it's also much quieter than conventional sliding doors. For drivers with around 150 stops on their delivery routes, not having to manually open and close a door can save up to 25 minutes per day, a huge amount of time.

Reducing its carbon footprint, this commercial van concept's roof is lined with nearly 52 square feet of solar panels. In oftentimes gray and cloudy Germany, this can deliver about 828 kWh of additional energy annually, which equates to around 1,500 miles of free range per year. In sunnier locations, like Spain, those panels can crank out 1,200 kWh of juice, enough to provide more than 1,700 miles of off-the-grid range.

Two external particulate filters help clean the air as this vehicle drives.

Mercedes-Benz

In EVs, climate-control systems can gobble up loads of electricity. Running a resistive heater in the dead of winter is a great way to savage your car's battery capacity in short order. To improve efficiency, the Sustaineer features an innovative heating system, one that delivers warmth directly to the driver. This van features a heated seat and steering wheel, but the seat belt is also heated, lined with fine wire filaments that put out 70 watts of energy. All this is designed to directly warm the driver, rather than the air inside the Sustaineer. For commercial delivery vans, which have large interiors and doors that are always opening and closing, this could dramatically improve efficiency.

Direct body heating can improve safety, too. That heated seat belt encourages the driver to remove his or her coat in the winter to better feel the warmth, something that reduces seat-belt slack for enhanced protection in crashes.

Further burnishing its green image, this van concept includes many eco-friendly materials that are either recycled or sustainable in origin. The underbody paneling is made of old tires and polypropylene; the partition between the cab and cargo area is constructed of straw, a renewable agricultural biproduct that's recyclable, biodegradable and formaldehyde-free; all the Sustaneer's wooden components are made from timber harvested from responsibly managed forests; and finally, the steering wheel cover is vegan leather.

Aside from its efficient all-electric powertrain and air-filtration system, use of recycled materials and smart heating, the Mercedes-Benz Sustaineer also features intelligent software designed to make fleet management easier, it has digital mirrors inside and out that provide a greater field of view and it can even monitor the roadway for potholes or other damage and report issues to relevant municipalities. There are many clever ideas packed into this concept, many of which will probably find their way production vans in the not-too-distant future.

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