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He said the best hydrogen fuel cell technology doesn't compare to the energy density of lithium-ion batteries

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has made his view on hydrogen fuel cell cars clear: they're bullshit.

In a a speech at a new Tesla service center in Germany, Musk told employees and enthusiasts that those who oppose electric vehicles (EV) but are onboard with new technology like hydrogen fuel cell cars need to know that it's more of a marketing gimmick than a real clean energy solution. 

 “And then they’ll say certain technologies like fuel cell … oh god … fuel cell is so bullshit. Except in a rocket," said Musk.

More specifically, Musk said that even the best hydrogen fuel cell technology doesn't compare to the energy density of lithium-ion batteries, such as that found in Tesla's Model S. 

Check out the video below for Musk's comments, which start at the 29-minute mark:


Musk may hold this opinion because his company only offers EVs for the time being, but not all automakers feel that hydrogen fuel cell is a waste of time.

Earlier this month, Toyota said it was passing up EVs in favor of more hybrids and its first hydrogen fuel cell release in 2015. According to Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, EV batteries need at least two major breakthroughs before they can replace gasoline or hybrid vehicles. 
 
"The reason why Toyota doesn’t introduce any major [all-electric product] is because we do not believe there is a market to accept it,” said Uchiyamada. "I personally expect a lot from this hydrogen fuel cell technology. If government and industry work together, this might be part of the long-term solution."

Back in July, General Motors (GM) and Honda announced that they'd team up for fuel cell vehicle technology as well. They hope to commercialize the technology by 2020. 

However, GM still has a foot in the EV market as well. In fact, it wants to directly compete with Tesla by offering a 200-mile affordable EV. Tesla said it is working on a new vehicle with the same range, which aims to be more affordable than the current Model S. GM is also gunning for Tesla with luxury Cadillac EVs

Others onboard with Musk's love for EVs is Volkswagen, which wants to lead the EV market by 2018 starting with the eGolf and eUp!, and Nissan, which has upped its EV efforts by cutting purchase and lease prices of the all-electric Leaf and even offering free charging for a year to Leaf owners in Texas (and eventually other states).

Tesla is certainly a superpower in the EV startup realm. The company successfully paid off its $465 million government loans nine years early, pulled a surprise profit for Q2 2013 with a revenue of $405.1 million, unveiled new tech for its Model S (swappable battery tech) and the Model S even snagged the highest safety rating from the NHTSA. It makes sense that Musk would try to keep this momentum going by advocating EVs over hydrogen fuel cells. 

Source: Wired



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*boom*
By Motoman on 10/23/2013 1:33:40 PM , Rating: -1
There's lots of problems with hydrogen other than the energy density of a fuel cell...

Namely the cost to extra hydrogen from something else, like seawater, where it normally resides. That's expensive.

And then you have to transport and store it. And hydrogen likes to explode a lot. So it's dangerous as f%ck just to keep it around - let alone move it around from one place to the other, like to fuel stations across the country.




RE: *boom*
By lagomorpha on 10/23/2013 1:37:53 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
And hydrogen likes to explode a lot.


So do lithium ion batteries :D

Hydrogen actually tends to float away faster than it explodes because it's so light and most actually comes from natural gas not by cracking water though if there were a huge demand that might change.


RE: *boom*
By Motoman on 10/23/2013 1:41:41 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
So do lithium ion batteries :D


Yeah, but mostly only in iThings.

But seriously, the point is taken but I think it's an unavoidable fact that storing, transporting, and handling pure hydrogen is a lot more problematic than carrying around lion batteries.


RE: *boom*
By chmilz on 10/23/2013 1:47:03 PM , Rating: 5
Also, there's the fact that the entire planet has electricity distribution systems, and none of the planet has hydrogen distribution systems.


RE: *boom*
By Shig on 10/23/2013 1:57:37 PM , Rating: 2
Hydrogen has always been a gimmick. Back in the early 2000s GM had just brought out the EV1 and oil companies were scared. They lobbied California to ditch EVs and go to hydrogen, knowing that it was always a dead end.


RE: *boom*
By EnzoFX on 10/23/2013 2:16:46 PM , Rating: 2
No doubt they want to replace the current ecosystem of ICE's, where it costs a lot to regularly service vehicles, etc etc.


RE: *boom*
By maugrimtr on 10/25/2013 10:01:29 AM , Rating: 2
Hydrogen has a lot of problems:

1. You need to generate it which, due to simple conservation of energy, means it costs more power to create than it eventually outputs. This concern is irrelevant for hydrocarbons which have a stable state as crude oil.
2. Fuel cells are inefficient - a lot of the energy output is lost as waste heat so it's not the best energy transport. Efficiency for fuel cells is 60% at the high end. Lithium ion batteries are 90% at the high end.
3. Hindenburg! Hydrogen is a volatile gas with a low ignition point which likes to explode. In a crash, it won't pour out of a tank - it will billow out as a gas. Even air containing 4% hydrogen is combustible. A 40% mix would explode really well (hydrogen combusts into water - so you know what the perfect Hydrogen to Oxygen ratio must be to produce the best fireworks :P).
4. There is no large scale hydrogen transportation network. That's not to say it's not transportable - one source suggests 700 miles of piping already existed in the US. There is however an electricity network reaching almost every single home in the nation.
5. Energy density. Lithium Ion has a high energy density for a battery with improvements under research. Hydrogen is a light weight gaseous element - a single atom is literally one proton and one neutron. You can liquify it at extremely low temperatures (uses more energy) or compress it (uses more energy though not as much!) but it's still far off from batteries which are both dense and have far better energy efficiencies. Transportation and storage can make use of both approaches (e.g. transport as a compressed gas, liquify on site, return to gas and compress for vehicle fueling). Each state change towards a liquid requires more energy to perform.

So, basically, hydrogen is nowhere near being competitive at this time. To fuel cars, you need a cheap and clean method of generating it (otherwise what's the point?), a safe way of economically transporting and storing it in bulk, and bumped up safety features for the cars to prevent piercing of high pressure tanks or fuel cells.

For the moment at least, Elon Musk is quite right.


RE: *boom*
By JKflipflop98 on 10/25/2013 7:06:57 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, it's not like you can use the power output from a nuclear generator to crack water into hydrogen or anything. Nah, lets keep burning coal and deal with all the radioactive fly ash. Because there's already wires there. Derp.


RE: *boom*
By jimbojimbo on 10/23/2013 2:56:32 PM , Rating: 3
The oil corporations know that oil won't last and they want to control the infrastructure for hydrogen cells like they do now with oil. They know that that battery operated cars can be recharged by the user at home easily and with solar no less. They also know that for an owner to refuel hydrogen cells they must buy it from refueling centers since the equipment to not only produce but compress hydrogen safely would be far too expensive for owners to buy on their own. By controlling the infrastructure for hydrogen they'll continue to get rich regardless.


RE: *boom*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/23/13, Rating: 0
RE: *boom*
By slunkius on 10/24/2013 1:10:47 AM , Rating: 2
not disputing/supporting original theory, but..

why old billionaires keep investing, accumulating wealth? they will be dead in a decade, why bother making their empires even bigger, when they can just relax in their private islands? why Buffets, Adelsons, etc. are still working?


RE: *boom*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/24/2013 1:23:55 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
why old billionaires keep investing, accumulating wealth?


Because they get an immense personal satisfaction from doing so. There's also a big ego component at play as well, more than likely. And who DOESN'T like more money, even if you don't need it?

Humans at their core are very simple creatures that way.


RE: *boom*
By StormyKnight on 10/24/2013 2:27:36 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
why old billionaires keep investing, accumulating wealth?

Because he who dies with the most toys wins, of course.


RE: *boom*
By tng on 10/23/2013 6:06:22 PM , Rating: 2
All theory, but now that you mention it... who already has networks of convenient stations where getting a hydrogen refill would be ideal? Oil Companies!

Face it, adding equipment to existing stations would be much cheaper and make more sense than building a whole new infrastructure. Hydrogen pumps could be added, holding tanks and the distributors could just add new trucks to the fleet.

I realize that there are those out there that just hate "Big Oil", but face it they have the money and most of the infrastructure in place to do it. There just has to be a need. There is already some experience with this in SoCal with the FCX, where there were special stations (Shell?) where you could refill one with hydrogen.


RE: *boom*
By Mint on 10/23/2013 7:09:46 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Hydrogen pumps could be added, holding tanks and the distributors could just add new trucks to the fleet.
So basically the same cost as building a H2 station from scratch?

The only thing they save is the simple payment/store part. All the other stuff you mentioned are really expensive, and they're not going to invest in it until there are lots of FCVs on the road to get revenue from.


RE: *boom*
By tng on 10/24/2013 1:20:51 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
So basically the same cost as building a H2 station from scratch?
LOL, no.

City zoning and approvals, cost of land in areas where there are already established traffic patterns, Local and sometimes State permits, Environmental Impact studies, etc...

No it is not basically the same cost.


RE: *boom*
By Mint on 10/26/2013 6:48:23 AM , Rating: 2
LOL yes.

Those factors aren't any cheaper for existing gas stations. If you use some of your space for an H2 pump & tank instead of gas, then you lose revenue to pay for land/permits.

H2 and other fuels have their own safety and permit issues. You think a propane tower & pump can be tacked onto any existing gas station without additional permits?


RE: *boom*
By tng on 11/1/2013 4:26:41 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
. You think a propane tower & pump can be tacked onto any existing gas station without additional permits?
No, but you are making a bad point with that as well.

Propane refill stations in many areas near suburban middle class neighborhoods are very popular. It is not even arguable that they would sell more propane than Hydrogen, yet even though there was a fairly large profit involved, they did not just go out and build a bunch of new stations just to sell it. They leveraged existing gas stations because of land use rules.


RE: *boom*
By Richard875yh5 on 10/24/2013 9:13:53 AM , Rating: 2
If you have natural gas in your home, you can now buy a small machine that converts natural gas to hydrogen. It can not get much more convenient than this. So I think the future really lies in fuel-cell cars.


RE: *boom*
By topkill on 10/24/2013 10:41:10 AM , Rating: 2
Would you mind giving us a pointer to such a beast? We've been trying to find one for a startup I'm involved with and that all sounds good, but I'm very frustrated because the reality is bullshit...you can't go buy a cheap little box to reform natural gas to H2 today.


RE: *boom*
By Nortel on 10/24/2013 10:54:24 AM , Rating: 2
Many Taxi's already run on natural gas... today. The only negative seems to be the large tank required and I suppose the weight.


RE: *boom*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/23/2013 5:16:10 PM , Rating: 3
Ah yes the idiotic oil companies control everything conspiracy theory.

The EV1 was massively expensive to manufacture, and kind of sucked as a passenger vehicle. It was guaranteed to be a sales flop!

That's why it went away!!! Economics, not some dark hand of big oil controlling everyone.


RE: *boom*
By tng on 10/23/2013 5:56:38 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
The EV1 was massively expensive to manufacture, and kind of sucked as a passenger vehicle. It was guaranteed to be a sales flop!
And did you ever see one in person? FUGLY! We are not talking Prius ugly, but much worse.

I think that they only put this car out there as a hedge against the CARB mandate that manufacturers that sold vehicles in CA must sell 10% electric vehicles by the Y2K. That mandate failed as well.


RE: *boom*
By SPOOFE on 10/23/2013 11:16:32 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Economics, not some dark hand of big oil controlling everyone.

Completely true, but just to add a little deeper info: At the time, California's Air Resources Board (oh, how we love them in CA) had their Zero-Emissions Vehicle mandate, which required that the big auto manufacturers offer an electric car in order to do business in the state. One EV, from GM, was offered while the other companies instead pointed out how stupid the mandate was, and the ARB reversed its mandate and suddenly the EV1 became pointless.

It's true that it wasn't an economical vehicle. The only reason it was offered at all was because of stupid legislation that required it exist. Once the law was reversed, the EV1 became completely unnecessary, and GM was so peeved that they had wasted so much effort that they just scrapped everything they had immediately.

Had nothing to do with "the oil companies" and everything to do with a nosy government thinking it can do better simply by passing a few laws. Blame CA lawmakers, not corporations.


RE: *boom*
By Dr. Kenneth Noisewater on 10/24/2013 12:00:38 PM , Rating: 2
Wrong, there's hydrogen distribution systems that have been around for decades if not centuries.

Of course, that hydrogen's locked up with carbon atoms. But piggybacking local gasoline/diesel/natgas reformulation on the existing mature and pervasive HC infrastructure would be a way to go to H2 fuel cell vehicles. And if you could do such reformulation efficiently enough to get say 20kWh out of a gallon of gas, and a fuel cell EV could get 3-4mi per kWH, then you've got 60-80mpg there.

However, if we can't get fuel cells (or onboard solid-oxide fuel cells that accept hydrocarbons directly) down to $60-80/kWh it's economically a nonstarter IMO. The ideal is to have SOFCs of 100kW or thereabouts, which fit within the space required of a typical I4 or V6, and a battery large enough to bring it up to operating temps fairly quickly along with local travel range (say usable 20kWh with plugin).


RE: *boom*
By YearOfTheDingo on 10/23/2013 5:10:48 PM , Rating: 2
Given that hydrogen fuel-cell forklifts are already in wide-spread use, I would say that these technical challenges are largely solved. It's just a matter of cost effectiveness. For indoor commercial vehicles, hydrogen fuel-cell is clearly the technology of choice. Fast turnaround time means the investment quickly pay for itself. The question is whether it'll move beyond that niche.


RE: *boom*
By Mint on 10/23/2013 2:24:00 PM , Rating: 3
Solid chemicals are easy to encapsulate and make relatively safe. Liquids and gases can leak, so they have more destructive worst case scenarios.

H2 may float, but it's also the hardest of all to contain. There are many places it can accumulate inside a car body or cabin if a path is created from an accident or even wear and tear.


RE: *boom*
By Samus on 10/23/2013 9:43:43 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know about you, but I'd take the reinforced, compartmentalized, non-pressurized, non-explosive battery pack over a cylinder filled with 5000psi of anything.

I've seen too many wrecks at the track to know even the highest-spec NFCRC fuel cell with an inertia cutoff & electric kill commonly cause massive fires. If it weren't for NoMex a lot of those guys would have far worse than the 1st degree burns they usually get away with.

And those tanks are under maybe 40psi of pressure. The carbureted vehicles are usually just 5-15psi and we're talking restrictions that require braided steel fuel lines, AN37 fittings and lots of grounding.

Hydrogen can't be made safely portable.


RE: *boom*
By Sivar on 10/24/2013 12:37:38 AM , Rating: 2
Do you believe that fuel cells imply high-pressure compressed hydrogen?


RE: *boom*
By Arsynic on 10/24/2013 11:26:36 AM , Rating: 2
And so does gasoline. So I don't see what the point is.


RE: *boom*
By superflex on 10/23/2013 1:58:00 PM , Rating: 5
Right,
We transport propane, ethane, methane, hexane, acetylene and countless other flammable gases in pipelines all day every day.
Same applies for these gases in transport trucks and in cylinders.

Hydrogen is stored in large quantities in many industrial applications without incident. Please cite for me the last hydrogen tank explosion.

Heaven forbid you should shut off the natural gas connection to your house since it also is a flammable gas, senor hypocrite.


RE: *boom*
By Shig on 10/23/2013 2:02:45 PM , Rating: 1
The problem with hydrogen is that it has to be stored under pressure, while the other fuels you cited do not.

There is a big difference.


RE: *boom*
By cpeter38 on 10/23/2013 2:37:44 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
the other fuels you cited do not
(have to be stored under pressure)

like propane, ethane, methane, hexane, acetylene .

The Vantage pipepline (ethane) engineers disagree with you. They transport at 1440 PSI. I am quite sure that the storage is typically done at significantly higher pressures. Likewise, I haven't seen any non-pressurized propane, or natural gas (methane) vehicles.

Don't believe me, check out http://www.vantagepipeline.com/index.php?option=co...


RE: *boom*
By yomamafor1 on 10/24/2013 10:10:27 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, according to sources, propane turns into liquid at just 127 psi.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, requires 3000 psi or above to keep it from vaporizing, compared to 1440 psi in the Vantage pipeline.


RE: *boom*
By CaedenV on 10/23/2013 3:15:02 PM , Rating: 2
It is one thing for a group of professionals to lug that stuff around, and quite another to have the general public careening down the road at 80mph while stoned and texting on their cell phones.

Pressure or not, still a generally bad idea. Batteries tend to catch fire to be sure, and that is a bad thing, but we have not seen many explode in any hollywood sense of the term.


RE: *boom*
By WLee40 on 10/23/2013 2:48:59 PM , Rating: 2
The Hindenburg. LOL. (incident wasn't funny, the length of time since was).


RE: *boom*
By SublimeSimplicity on 10/23/2013 3:17:08 PM , Rating: 2
That awkward moment when you think you need to tell a German crowd that hydrogen can explode.


RE: *boom*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/23/2013 5:29:10 PM , Rating: 1
Not to spoil your joke, because it was quite good :)

Buuuut, hydrogen actually had nothing to do with the Hindenburg incident.


RE: *boom*
By Captain Orgazmo on 10/24/2013 2:14:56 AM , Rating: 2
It's true, the skin of the airship was what caught fire and burned like mad, but the enormous quantity of secondarily exploding hydrogen surely didn't help either. Human BBQ :(


RE: *boom*
By Mint on 10/23/2013 2:54:13 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Heaven forbid you should shut off the natural gas connection to your house since it also is a flammable gas, senor hypocrite.
Hypocrite? Since when are natural gas leaks not a safety concern?

There are incidents with combustable gases all the time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_propane_explo...
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/cn-carries-...

Hydrogen will ignite with 1/10th the energy of gasoline:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimum_Ignition_Ener...

At least with natural gas, you can put mercaptan in there and smell a leak, but it's possible for H2 to escape through a small leak without any larger gas molecules escaping.

These are all manageable safety issues, but there's substance behind the fears. We do all we can to prevent fires in gas cars, and yet they still happen at a rate of 150,000 per year.


RE: *boom*
By Reclaimer77 on 10/23/2013 5:22:03 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Hydrogen is stored in large quantities in many industrial applications without incident. Please cite for me the last hydrogen tank explosion. Heaven forbid you should shut off the natural gas connection to your house since it also is a flammable gas, senor hypocrite.


Great points.

I wonder if these people realize thousands of people die every year from electrocution. When's the last time you heard of hydrogen killing someone?

Unlike gasoline which is carbon based, hydrogen in its pure form burns no carbon and produces no hot ash and very little radiant heat. It also rapidly rises into the atmosphere, so it has very little time to actually burn.


RE: *boom*
By syslog2000 on 10/23/2013 6:36:44 PM , Rating: 2
Its probably "hundreds", not "thousands". Check out http://www.esfi.org/index.cfm/page/Injury-and-Fata... for the US.

Even if the number is thousands, well, *billions* use electricity every day. So a microscopic percentage might die from electrocution.

Hydrogen is not in general use by consumers, so no real stats for you there.

Please - don't exaggerate. Think of the children!


RE: *boom*
By yomamafor1 on 10/24/2013 10:13:50 AM , Rating: 2
Oh, I don't know...

Maybe Chernobyl?

Or Fukushima if we were unlucky?


RE: *boom*
By flyingpants1 on 10/24/2013 7:00:30 PM , Rating: 2
Lol are you dumb.


RE: *boom*
By FITCamaro on 10/24/2013 1:25:54 PM , Rating: 2
Because gasoline in containers never explodes.


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