Tesla CEO Elon Musk: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars are "Bulls**t"
October 23, 2013 1:18 PM
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He said the best hydrogen fuel cell technology doesn't compare to the energy density of lithium-ion batteries
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.
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10/25/2013 10:01:29 AM
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.
10/25/2013 7:06:57 PM
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.
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