Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

I recently attended a talk by Woody Clark on the Next Economy – an economy not based on fossil fuels. While I certainly agreed with most of what he said, when it came to transportation he indicated that the future was in hydrogen fuel cell-based cars and pretty much ignored BEVs. He mentioned that Honda and Toyota were going the hydrogen route. He did emphasize that he only wanted to use hydrogen produced on-site via electrolysis using renewable energy, rather than hydrogen made from natural gas, which is a fine goal, but I was concerned that if we go the hydrogen route that there is little to stop the use of fossil fuel-based hydrogen. Some may think burning fossil fuels is good; I don’t.

After his lecture I asked him why he hadn’t even mentioned Tesla or BEVs. I mentioned that I drove about 500 miles to get to the meeting and just charged once during lunch at Tejon and that BEVs were here now as well as the future. He said that BEVs had an end of life problem - what do you do with the batteries once they were spent. I countered that fuel cell also had a finite life used catalysts and could be easily poisoned. He suggested that the fact that the big Japanese automakers were going hydrogen was a clue and said that Tesla was also actively working on hydrogen. I said that I had read some fairly negative comments about hydrogen from Elon Musk, “Hydrogen sucks”, so that would surprise me. He said his source was from inside Tesla. Who knows.

To me a BEV is a much more straightforward way of storing energy and I can easily charge at home – an real advantage of BEVs that the general public hasn’t quite figured out. Making hydrogen takes energy as is not as efficient as charging a better, adding Superchargers is much cheaper and easier than putting in hydrogen stations, etc...... I could go on.

For what it is worth, there is a pretty good (and pro Tesla) discussion on tquestion on the Leaf forum:

One conclusion of that discussion is the Toyota and Honda are simply trying to game the CARB requirements and will not make a significant number of fuel cell-based cars.

shs | July 26, 2013

Don't know how battery became better in the above, but it did.

RedShift | July 26, 2013

I doubt Tesla will go the hydrogen route. To generate hydrogen at home from electrolysis seems to be a round about way to ultimately generate electricity. Also, like you said, people might just choose to generate it off of natural gas lines. Honda has a device to do just that.

It's going to be a challenge but not a significant one, to BEVs.

Can't Li Ion batteries be recycled at the EOL? Is the process fairly efficient?

SamO | July 26, 2013

Elon Musk is NOT WORKING ON HYDROGEN. He calls them "fool cells"

nwdiver93 | July 26, 2013

Elon had a great comment on Fuel Cells... he said that the best theoretical fuel cells you could build still can't compete with current li-ion tech in terms of cost and efficiency. The only thing "good" about fool.... er; I mean fuel cells is that they fit the current refooling... er refueling paradigm. Sorry gas stations... it's terminal, you should get your affairs in order.

EcLectric | July 26, 2013

Dr. Clark is on the board of directors of:

Company Overview
Altergy Systems designs and manufactures proton exchange membrane fuel cell systems for telecommunications, data centers, and other mission-critical power applications in the United States and internationally. The company offers fuel cell backup systems and modules primarily for stationary power systems that provide primary or backup power for commercial or residential use; portable systems, such as generators or battery replacements; and motive applications, such as automobiles, forklifts, buses, and other vehicles. It also provides uninterruptible power supplies for information processing centers, acute medical care, homeland security, and other operations. The company was founded in 2001 ...

I wonder why he would ignore BEVs in favor of fuel cells? Hmmmm...

shs | July 26, 2013


Thanks for that.

shop | July 26, 2013

Woody Clark is an idiot. I don't think he understands how recycling works. Recycling Tesla's batteries is just another manufacturing process. Read this to understand how it worked 2 years ago:

The fundamental flaw all these folks fall into is to ASSUME that their particular critical infrastructure missing piece will somehow be built. For hydrogen, someone has to build all these not-inexpensive electrolysis stations. Not only do you have to have electrical capacity on the order of a supercharger station (and those cost $150K apiece), but you have to compress the gas as well. So, who is lining up to build these?

Meanwhile, Tesla is getting on with the program and by the time other manufacturers who hire consultants like Mr. Clark wake up, Tesla's Supercharger network will be the ONLY game in town. So in two years, these same consultants will pirouette and say, well of course, BEV is the only way since the only infrastructure is electric chargers.

shs | July 26, 2013

Speaking of infrastructure, I understand that California is still spending big bucks and plans on spending lots more putting in Level 2 chargers along major highways. Who do they think will use them? That may be one of my next projects, but I am not sure what the right answer is, other than don't bother.

jackhub | July 26, 2013

About 15 years ago, I toured a test facility sponsored by the State of California North of San Francisco- maybe Marin County. ALL of the car companies had their hydrogen fuel cell cars there, including Honda, Toyota, GM, and Ford. They even had a hydrogen refueling station to demonstrate how easy refueling would be. I drove one a short distance. Really nice performance.

Sooo, where are they? I believe the economics are still wrong or they would be here. Producing hydrogen ain't cheap AND it requires a lot of energy to do so. It is sort of like fusion power-so far, it requires more energy to produce the fuel than the energy contained in the fuel.

ian | July 26, 2013

Like they've been saying for the last 20+ years, fuel cells will be here in 10 years. Ha! ;-)

Mark K | July 27, 2013

As others point out, the only appeal of Hydrogen is that it's the closest proxy for liquid gasoline.

If you're heavily invested in liquid gasoline distribution (or engines that burn it), you think hydrogen is just dandy.

On the other hand, if you hew to logic and reason, you know that BEVs are better.

Skotty | July 27, 2013

You know, I agree with Elon on fuel cells for cars, but there might be more potential for them in some cases.

One case in particular that I find interesting is for large scale grid storage. The achilles heel of renewable power. When producing too much power, wind and solar could take the excess and use electrolysis to generate and store hydrogen for use in large scale fuel cell systems. When generating not enough power, the fuel cell systems supply some power. The biggest questions for such a scheme are the longevity of fuel cells and whether or not they can be used on such a large scale.

I also question whether or not batteries will work for heavy transport, like the trucking industry. Might it be the case that fuel cells could be of use here?

kristof1992 | October 5, 2014

Hi there!
My name is Magyari Kristóf. I'm in my final term of my studies, and my compulsory essay is about fuel cell application in transportation. I'm planning to do an economical comparison between FCEV and cars with different drive-train. Could anyone help me out with some authentic data about the cost of ownership of a fuel cell car for its life span (purchase, fuel, maintenance)?
Thank you for your time

Mark K | October 5, 2014

Choose a different topic.

Hydrogen fuel cells need 3 to 4 times the energy vs. batteries, due to the poor efficiency of producing hydrogen.

The jig is already up, and the smart money knows it. It will take time for governments and automakers to concede this, but this is inevitable based on inescapable physics.

Find a topic with a future in it, and maybe your paper will be much celebrated.

makatron | October 6, 2014

@kristof1992 the thing with hydrogen fuel cells is that first you need to transform whatever mechanical energy source into electricity (well also solar power) and then use it to transform it into chemical energy (hydrogen) so there is loads of energy lost in the process, meanwhile with EV you just plug your car into the outlet you already have in your household or have a high output outlet installed which is by far easier than install your own hydrolysis station.

Captain_Zap | October 6, 2014

Just imagine how much money would be made when those tanks will have to be re-certified for safety every year. Every tank in the wild and in the vehicles.

Would the dealers do it or are they wanting to spawn a new industry group?

Captain_Zap | October 6, 2014

P.S. Or, would it be governmental agencies doing the inspection and certification of the high pressure tanks and systems?