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Auto watch: All-electric vs. hydrogen fuel cell debate gets interesting

  • Hydrogen cars are a waste of time, according to Tesla Motors (TSLA -2.5%) CEO Elon Musk
  • During a speech in Germany, Tesla's founder says fuel cell technology is a "marketing thing" that powerful companies such as Hyundai (HYMLF), Mercedes-Benz (DDAIF), and Toyota TM don't really believe in.
  • He notes the high cost factor of a hydrogen distribution system compared to lithium ion batteries.
  • Musk's speech in Germany (Note: Skip to 37-minute mark in video)
Comments (45)
  • You're missing the most important. Tesla made sure Panasonic will have its battery production raised to produce 1200-1500 Tesla cars per week. And they have 2 additional battery suppliers (Samsung & LG). Tesla's official plan say they will ramp up production to 800 cars per week in 2014. Seems they might increase production even more.
    23 Oct 2013, 10:40 AM Reply Like
  • Elon Musk do not tell you the truth. Hydrogen fuel cars do not have any cell on board. The gas is tanked as any other LPG gas. The advantages of hydrogen :
    - can be refueled at any fuel service station
    - no battery who has to be replaced any 40,000km
    - maintenance at any other traditional car service
    - hydrogen is obtained from water, so full availability
    23 Oct 2013, 10:52 AM Reply Like
  • mate41: Besides missing many important technical aspects, you just threw yourself out of any credible/intelligent/i... discussion by claiming that Tesla's batteries will have to be replaced after 40,000km (<25,000 miles). Talking about "not telling the truth".....
    23 Oct 2013, 11:28 AM Reply Like
  • You do NOT know or understand the science....


    A TESLA charged with a SUPERCHARGER fills faster than any
    Hydrogen car with the same or more range.


    Why ? Because contrary to the overt absence of science in the pro FRACK-MOBILE cult you CANNOT pour Hydrogen into a tank at the same speed as gasoline if you do... it FREEZES !!. 400 mile Hydrogen car is going to take 20 minutes to full up anyway. A 250 mile Hydrogen car takes 14 minutes to fill up.


    By the time a 300 mile mass production Hydrogen car comes out TESLA SUPERCHARGERS will be up to 150kw DC power charge
    recharging a MODEL S that will by then have 480 miles not KM range and will fill in less than half the time of a Hydro Frack Mobile.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:32 AM Reply Like
  • Wrong - there were six in CA now that number is down to 3 or 4 - My son-in-law works in the industry and says the fuel stations can be very dangerous - hydrogen is not visible and has no odor, yet is highly flammable - that's why when entering the fuel control spaces they must carry a straw broom or the like, lit on fire like a torch, out in front of them so they don't become the torch - I personally don't have room for a broom - and the cost of electricity to produce the hydrogen is staggering - so lets see, expensive to produce, dangerous to deliver, yep, I see it, every manufacturer is all over this fuel source, NOT -
    23 Oct 2013, 11:33 AM Reply Like
  • Erm, H2 fuel cell vehicles do have a cell onboard, it's why they're called "fuel cell vehicles".. And the only way to refill H2 at current service stations is to install reformulators that take hydrocarbon fuels and convert them to H2 gas. That's far more cost-efficient than trying to crack H2 out of water locally. The jury's out on fuel cell membrane maintenance. And batteries in modern EVs are warranteed out to 100,000 miles or more.


    Do try and educate yourself a bit before posting in future..
    23 Oct 2013, 11:34 AM Reply Like
  • No battery ? Every Hydrogen car has to contain the workings of an electric car that is why it is so stupid there is an EV battery in every Hydrogen car that is how they work.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:37 AM Reply Like
  • Here are some major problems with hydrogen:
    - Obtaining hydrogen from water is generally not that efficient. While experimentally it is possible to get up to around 80% efficiency it is very expensive requiring platinum catalysts. Most hydrogen is produced by steam reforming natural gas due to cost.
    - 95% of hydrogen is generated from natural gas. For each pound of hydrogen produced, 11.9 pounds of CO2 are produced.
    - Fuel cells are generally not that efficient. The ones used in cars are typically 42-53% efficient.
    - While fuel cells are more efficient than gasoline powered vehicles they are not as efficient as battery electric vehicles.
    - Hydrogen is a lot more difficult to deal with than either electricity or gasoline. It must be either cryogenically cooled or kept under very high pressure. It cannot be transported in regular pipelines since it will leak through any joint and causes metal embrittlement. If cryogenically cooled there will be a loss of hydrogen over time.
    - It will require a significant investment in refueling infrastructure compared to electric vehicles which can be charged at home.


    Part of the problem is that hydrogen is not a fuel. It is an energy carrier and generally not all that great of a carrier. It is expensive to deal with.


    The only advantage of hydrogen is that it can be refueled quickly. The advantage of electric cars is that they are refuelled at home where it's far more convenient than driving to one of the few hydrogen filling stations.


    For example, when I get home at night I spend about 10 seconds plugging in my Tesla model S. In the morning I spend 5 seconds unplugging it (I've timed it) and have a full tank. I don't have to get out of my car and stand out in the weather to fill my car up at a gas station and dig out my credit card.


    Electricity will always be significantly cheaper than hydrogen as well.


    With hydrogen you basically go through the following sequence:


    electricity -> electrolyze water -> hydrogen -> transport to filling station -> store in storage tank -> drive vehicle to filling station -> pump hydrogen into vehicle -> convert hydrogen back to electricity (50% efficient).


    With an electric car:


    Plug in vehicle -> electricity stored in battery -> extract from battery (> 80% efficient).


    All of those other steps are removed. The battery electric car is a lot simpler so there is a lot less maintenance.


    Fuel cells also age as well and lose efficiency over time.
    23 Oct 2013, 01:53 PM Reply Like
  • In addition, hydrogen fires are nearly invisible. They are typically only visible in the ultra-violet spectrum (or infra-red). Hydrogen also leaks more than any other fuel source. It causes metal embrittlement and must be handled very carefully. You can't fill it like gasoline.
    23 Oct 2013, 01:56 PM Reply Like
  • mate41 your comments are just plain wrong and half of them cannot even be easily understood.
    23 Oct 2013, 05:39 PM Reply Like
  • Aaron,
    -electrolyzing hydrogen requires no platinum at all, you just pass an electric charge through water, you are referring to the other end of the process, turning the hydrogen back in to water, that requires a catalyst, in motive applications like cars, platinum is used because it is rugged, in other applications other catalysts are used
    23 Oct 2013, 08:12 PM Reply Like
  • Not just any water......requires distilled water.
    23 Oct 2013, 10:40 PM Reply Like
  • I think you are getting mixed up between Hydrogen (fuel)powered cars and Electric cars powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Power Plug (PLUG) manufactures Hydrogen Fuel Cell " Batteries" that can replace normal lead acid batteries in carts, palette trucks, fork lifts, etc where lead-acid batteries are used. They run at full capacity as long as Hydrogen is fed into them. These are shown to be more efficient, cheaper and most cost-effective than lead acid or re-chargable batteries
    24 Oct 2013, 05:31 AM Reply Like
  • No need to fuel with hydrogen. The tech is producing electricity by hydrogen locally.
    24 Oct 2013, 06:10 AM Reply Like
  • A. Series Hybrid system for H2Auto
    A1. has small fuel cell, large battery Bank. battery drives motor all the times.
    A2. Fuel Cell operates continuosly and keeps battery charged.
    A3. Fuel cell is not "load following"
    B. Parallel Hybrid system for Auto
    B1. Large fuel cell, small battery bank
    B2. Fuel cell drives motor at all times, it "load-following"
    B3. Battery provides boost power as and when required.
    Source: Center for fuel cell research Univ of D


    ======= I can see Type B, 200 KW system for Tesla like the range extender that will be used Refrigertaed trucks..
    I can see Type A for all smaller Honda, Toyota, Hyundai 100KW system..
    You can come back here in one year and say...yep I read that here...
    As hard as it is, Hydrogen economy is here folks. Enjoy.
    27 Mar, 01:20 PM Reply Like
  • solar produced electricity used to generate H2 is cost efficient.
    You can get a Joule box or a Panasonic H2 system
    27 Mar, 01:22 PM Reply Like
  • I wish I could use the exact words that Elon used to describe fuel cells but I would get reported for abuse. I agree with Elon completely.


    Fuel cells are smoke and mirrors. There is not a network for hydrogen fueling stations. However Tesla is building a network for supercharging stations across the US and Germany.


    Norway already has a network of supercharging stations right now.


    Elon is solving the chicken and egg problem with electric vehicles. Build supercharging stations and the cars will sell.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:05 AM Reply Like
  • A solid-oxide fuel cell that could convert gasoline or diesel with high efficiencies (say 60-80%, with heat reclamation) onboard a car would do an awful lot of good as far as reducing oil consumption goes. The ideal drivetrain would be, say, 400kW worth of electric direct-drive motors coupled with say 40kW of battery, and a 100kW onboard SOFC that gets 24kWh out of a gallon of gas. You get all the benefits of electrification (reliability, simplicity, torque, silence, smoothness, control) and of energy density, and in normal driving a vehicle would require about 25-35kWh/100mi, which translates to roughly 70-100mpg.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:39 AM Reply Like
  • Yes, why don't we have that?
    23 Oct 2013, 12:00 PM Reply Like
  • solid oxide fuel cells are more delicate than PEM fuel cells, making them less reliable for use in cars and other motive uses


    they also run at a very high temperature, making them less safe
    23 Oct 2013, 08:15 PM Reply Like
  • A speach full of positives and you focus on the negative, typical.


    But he does have a point, it is far mor efficient ( by a factor of 2) to uses the hydrogen to generate electricity that feeds a EV over the existing grid than it is to burn it in a car.
    And that dosnt include the whole new refueling infrastructure that needs to be created vs the billions of electrical plugs in the world.


    The same is also true for natural gas. Right now , if you take the natural gas used to steam crudeness out of the Alberta oil sands , turn it into synthetic crude, and then refine it, and instead feed it into a local power plant, a car like the volt can go further on the energy used to create the gasoline than it can on the gasoline!
    23 Oct 2013, 11:09 AM Reply Like
  • You determine where the smoke and mirrors lie...

    23 Oct 2013, 11:14 AM Reply Like
  • To Keith_69, Yes, Lithium-ion batteries are more efficient than fuel cells.


    The entire oil industry is furious at Elon for what he is doing. So what should not be shocking is the anger the industry has at Elon.


    Smoke comes from burning oil, and that is who is spreading the falsehood, the oil burners.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:38 AM Reply Like
  • lithium ion batteries will become obsolete
    23 Oct 2013, 11:15 AM Reply Like
  • Your post may be pointless, but if your point is a jab at Tesla's use of lithium ion batteries, then your statement is a pointless as someone stating 50 years ago that "ferrite core memory will become obsolete" as a jab to IBM and computers in general. If lithium ion batteries become obsolete, it means they will be replaced by something better. Good news fro Tesla.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:35 AM Reply Like
  • Lithium ion batteries may become obsolete. So Don55 what do you think will replace it?
    23 Oct 2013, 11:39 AM Reply Like
  • Extract from the link posted above by Keith_69


    Fuel Cell Problems
    Fuel cells might be the answer to our power problems, but first scientists will have to sort out a few major issues:


    Chief among the problems associated with fuel cells is how expensive they are. Many of the component pieces of a fuel cell are costly. For PEMFC systems, proton exchange membranes, precious metal catalysts (usually platinum), gas diffusion layers, and bipolar plates make up 70 percent of a system's cost [Source: Basic Research Needs for a Hydrogen Economy]. In order to be competitively priced (compared to gasoline-powered vehicles), fuel cell systems must cost $35 per kilowatt. Currently, the projected high-volume production price is $73 per kilowatt [Source: Garland]. In particular, researchers must either decrease the amount of platinum needed to act as a catalyst or find an alternative.


    Researchers must develop PEMFC membranes that are durable and can operate at temperatures greater than 100 degrees Celsius and still function at sub-zero ambient temperatures. A 100 degrees Celsius temperature target is required in order for a fuel cell to have a higher tolerance to impurities in fuel. Because you start and stop a car relatively frequently, it is important for the membrane to remain stable under cycling conditions. Currently membranes tend to degrade while fuel cells cycle on and off, particularly as operating temperatures rise.


    Because PEMFC membranes must by hydrated in order to transfer hydrogen protons, researches must find a way to develop fuel cell systems that can continue to operate in sub-zero temperatures, low humidity environments and high operating temperatures. At around 80 degrees Celsius, hydration is lost without a high-pressure hydration system.


    The SOFC has a related problem with durability. Solid oxide systems have issues with material corrosion. Seal integrity is also a major concern. The cost goal for SOFC?s is less restrictive than for PEMFC systems at $400 per kilowatt, but there are no obvious means of achieving that goal due to high material costs. SOFC durability suffers after the cell repeatedly heats up to operating temperature and then cools down to room temperature.


    The Department of Energy?s Technical Plan for Fuel Cells states that the air compressor technologies currently available are not suitable for vehicle use, which makes designing a hydrogen fuel delivery system problematic.


    In order for PEMFC vehicles to become a viable alternative for consumers, there must be a hydrogen generation and delivery infrastructure. This infrastructure might include pipelines, truck transport, fueling stations and hydrogen generation plants. The DOE hopes that development of a marketable vehicle model will drive the development of an infrastructure to support it.


    Storage and Other Considerations
    Three hundred miles is a conventional driving range (the distance you can drive in a car with a full tank of gas). In order to create a comparable result with a fuel cell vehicle, researchers must overcome hydrogen storage considerations, vehicle weight and volume, cost, and safety.


    While PEMFC systems have become lighter and smaller as improvements are made, they still are too large and heavy for use in standard vehicles.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:34 AM Reply Like
  • URSF. Great post.


    You had all your info ready to present the case. Fuel cell is a smoke and mirrors done by the oil industry to show that batteries are not the way to go.


    Also it should be noted that Toyota has no plans and sees no market for battery driven vehicles.



    And Toyota will end up like the horse and buggy. Toyota has a very "Amish" outlook.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:50 AM Reply Like
  • Great post. The transportation infrastructure one in particular is mind boggling expensive. H2 is so corrosive, so leak prone, so cold -73F, so high pressure at 10,000psi that it can't be transported reliably long distance over pipes, and the cryogenic tanker trucks are obscenely expensive, and the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure large enough to fuel even a fraction of the cars in the us is comically expensive, especially compared with the fact that electricity is transported practically free and the refueling infrastructure is in your garage and a start up company like tesla is able to build their a super charging network. If Exxon put the $385 billion a year they use to invest in oil exploration into super charging batteries and recharging stations we'd be done with fossil fuels by now.
    23 Oct 2013, 12:12 PM Reply Like
  • Mercedes, BMW, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Audi -- and a host of other companies -- are all using Hydrogen Fuel Cells made by Power Plug Corporation in their factories because they are efficient and cheaper than Lead -Acid or Lithium -ion batteries.
    24 Oct 2013, 05:26 AM Reply Like
  • Fuel cell is already lower then 35$ per kW.
    24 Oct 2013, 06:11 AM Reply Like
  • Passenger cars are not fork lifts, people are not boxes.
    24 Oct 2013, 10:42 PM Reply Like
  • Toyota keeps saying the answer is fuel cells and EV's will never make it----in addition the head of Toyota says the fuel cell cars that they are going to sell in 2015 will be between 50 and 100,000 dollars--


    CA is going to start building fuel cell stations-----


    Who do we believe
    23 Oct 2013, 11:56 AM Reply Like
  • Just imagine what the fire would have looked like if a hydrogen fuel cell had been pierced instead of a battery pack ...
    24 Oct 2013, 10:41 PM Reply Like
  • Here's the issues with hydrogen:


    Infrastructure, storage, and raw materials


    There has be some sort of infrastructure set up for hydrogen for it to take off. Same goes for EVs, but so far most EVs charge at home, it is convenient and easy. There are not hydrogen generators in every house.


    Storage- hydrogen is a small molecule, and as such it is a royal PITA to store. Yes, you can store it for a week or 2, but over that it leaks out.


    Raw materials- where do you get they hydrogen? Water conversion at STP is only 18% efficient. Converting natural gas to hydrogen, that is another way, but you still have to compress it.


    Then you get into DOT regulations. Pressurized tanks must be hydrostatically tested every few years. Could they get an exception, possibly; but currently there is no exception for hydrogen vehicles that I know about.


    There are other hydrogen storage mechanisms, but those are cost prohibitive.


    There is sodium boro hydride as a hydrogen carrier, but you wind up with a second waste tank that holds borox after the reaction is done. You run into problems about getting rid of the borox and converting back to boro hydride, which is a rather energy intensive process.
    23 Oct 2013, 12:49 PM Reply Like
  • Oh sure, hydrogen, a fuel we don't have delivered through an infrastructure we don't have to cars we don't have. And all very expensive and impractical to build, while lithium cars are already going 275 miles on a charge that is available anywhere, including your garage.


    This strikes me as purely a diversionary attack on EVs by the oil and ICE auto companies.
    23 Oct 2013, 01:14 PM Reply Like
  • I agree. It's a way for car companies to spend government money on research that they can use as an excuse not to produce battery electric vehicles and keep doing the status quo. They keep saying fuel cell cars are just around the corner without admitting to the significant issues that they need to overcome.
    23 Oct 2013, 02:13 PM Reply Like
  • Can you say "smoke screen" - hydrogen=smoke screen - it is a way the ICE guys can claim to be working on clean energy already knowing they can't get there from here -
    28 Mar, 10:59 AM Reply Like
  • Agreed @azgog @aaronw2 and others. The oil companies collectively make, what, $50 billion per MONTH. Or something like that. What happens to those profits if there are a substantial number of EV's. They might be willing to spend substantial monies to deny science. The dinosaurs died, but they sure created a lot of havoc on their way out.
    23 Oct 2013, 08:32 PM Reply Like
  • The crash dummies are likely going to get burnt with fuel cell technology........too dangerous all the way round. If LPG didn't go over then certainly fuel cells are doomed and everyday we will see advancement in the battery field as well the large numbers are going to lower the costs........EV's will rule ........but will take time....lots of time.......2050 +++
    23 Oct 2013, 10:53 PM Reply Like
  • "Musk's speech in Germany (Note: Skip to 37-minute mark in video)"


    Yah yah...das "Whiskey Store" manses he iss so jolly unt helpful mit his deustch sprechen unt his golden-framed chart on his wall mit der deutsch whiskey boot-el close mit his drinkinz paw!!


    Jawhol !!


    But seriously, Musk is to be listened to, and no question hydrogen infrastructure is a lot farther away than electric, at best.
    23 Oct 2013, 11:46 PM Reply Like
  • There are around 200 hydrogen powered vehicles in California with maybe 10 hydrogen stations publicly accessible, a complete failure. And governor Brown is pouring more money to build up to 100 hydrogen stations. What a waste of money.
    24 Oct 2013, 06:25 AM Reply Like
  • And how two-faced he pretends to be a friend of TESLA and then he pulls that stunt....I have always liked Brown much more than other American politicians but he is still a politician...can't trust anyone of them.
    24 Oct 2013, 11:18 AM Reply Like
  • GenCell Ltd. an Israeli company already achieved a commercial Full Cell (FC) technology and started production of units to installed in the motor industry. The FC will be installed at first at heavy motor systems as trucks and buss. for more details
    24 Oct 2013, 02:30 PM Reply Like
  • Just another reason to think Israelis lack mental and ethical balance.
    26 Oct 2013, 06:03 AM Reply Like
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