Toyota vs. Tesla – can hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles compete with EVs? | RenewEconomy

Toyota vs. Tesla – can hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles compete with EVs?

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Toyota is hoping to take a leaf from the Tesla playbook, and encourage an ecosystem of fuel cell suppliers and hydrogen fueling stations. But is this just the fossil fuel economy repackaged?

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TonySeba

The world has been abuzz about the recent Toyota (NYSE: TM) announcement that the company opened up licensing of its 5,680 HFCV patents (although only until 2020.) By taking a page from the Tesla playbook, Toyota  is hoping to encourage an ecosystem of fuel cell suppliers and hydrogen fueling stations.

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Is this the last hurrah of a dead-end technology? Or will it re-invigorate the HFCV market which has gone nowhere for decades? Does the Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicle (HFCV) Matter anymore?

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has called the HFCV ‘bullshit’. “Hydrogen is suitable for rockets but not for cars,” said Mr Musk. (Video, starting min 29:20.)

But Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America says that his company is betting big on hydrogen fuel cell cars. Does the Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicle (HFCV) have a chance against the Electric Vehicle (EV)?

I don’t even mention Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles in my book “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation”! There are multiple reasons for that. Let’s look at the facts, starting with the basics.

1) Hydrogen is not an energy source.

Many industry insiders talk about hydrogen as if it were an energy source. For instance, they might compare it with, say, petroleum products like gasoline and diesel, and say that H2 produces no emissions. Hydrogen is not an energy source. It’s an energy carrier. It’s a form of storage. You need primary energy sources like the sun, coal, natural gas, or uranium to generate the power needed to extract Hydrogen from a source material like natural gas or water.

2) Electric Vehicles are at least three times more energy efficient than Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Assuming that at some point fuel-cells will be cheap and Hydrogen production will reach critical mass, it will still be at least three times more expensive to power an HFCV car than an EV. This figure from fuel cell expert Ulf Bossel explains how wasteful an HFCV is compared to electric vehicles. (Source: http://phys.org/news85074285.html)

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But not all hydrogen vehicles are made alike. You can use compressed or liquefied hydrogen. You can also use either internal combustion engine of fuel cells to power the car. The following chart shows that whatever choice of type of hydrogen and engine results in the electric vehicle going three to six times more miles for the same energy when compared to hydrogen-powered cars. (Source: BetterPlace)

rsz_hfcv-v-ev-better-place-fig1

3) You need to build a multi-trillion dollar hydrogen delivery infrastructure.

To build a so-called “Hydrogen Economy” you need to build a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure with large factories/refineries, pipelines, trucks, storage facilities, compressors, hydrogen gas stations, and so on. If you haven’t noticed, this mirrors the existing oil & gas infrastructure. (Source: http://energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-delivery)

rsz_hydrogen-delivery-pipeline-doe

Electric vehicles, on the other hand, have a ready infrastructure: the power grid. Everyone who lives and works in advanced economies has access to electricity. Yes, our grid is aging and we need to upgrade it, but it works today. Some readers may remember that the Internet started with the plain old telephone system. It wasn’t fast but it worked. Then we upgraded it to get the fast pipes that we have today. We also built a brand new wireless infrastructure that required no pipes at all.

Distributed Solar PV and EV Charging Station. Copyright @2014 by Tony Seba
Distributed Solar PV and EV Charging Station. Copyright @2014 by Tony Seba

The electric vehicle equivalent of the wireless power infrastructure is distributed solar.

The multi-trillion dollar hydrogen infrastructure would have to be built from scratch.

4) Hydrogen is Not Clean.

About 95% of hydrogen in the US is made from natural gas in large central plants, according to the Department of Energy. It’s a method called natural gas reforming.

rsz_hydrogen-methane-steam-reforming-process
Hydrogen Methane Steam Reforming Process – Source HYFleet:CUTE – Global-Hydrogen-Bus-Platform

As I wrote in Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation:
Methane (the main component of natural gas) is 72 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas (when measured over twenty years). Natural gas leaks throughout the supply chain. It leaks when it is lifted from the ground, when it is stored, and when it is transported in hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, three trillion cubic feet of methane leak annually. That figure represents about 3.2 percent of global production. This methane leakage is the global warming equivalent of half the coal plants in the United States.

Today, hydrogen is basically a repackaged fossil fuel – a fossil product line extension, if you will. If you like natural gas and fracking you should love hydrogen.

5) Hydrogen is not ‘Renewable’!

Hydrogen is classified as ‘renewable’ when it’s extracted from water by means of hydrolysis. This method involves applying high voltage electricity to split water into Oxygen and Hydrogen. When you apply conventional electricity to do the hydrolysis you still have to burn coal, natural gas, nuclear, petroleum, and so on, so you still have dirty hydrogen.

We need to pause to consider the water-energy-food nexus. Conventional energy is thirsty. In my books Clean Disruption and Solar Trillions I write at length about the obscene amounts of freshwater that coal, natural gas and biofuels consume. By adding Hydrogen to that list we would have yet another way for energy to dry up our planet.

A well-to-wheels analysis by University of Texas Professors Carey W. King and Michael E. Weber found that a HFCV would need to withdraw 13 gallons of water per mile driven. The same study concludes that a gasoline car would need withdrawals of needs 0.63 gal H2O/mile and a diesel car would need 0.46 gal H2O/mile. That is, gasoline petroleum-based transportation is 20 to 28 times more water efficient than hydrogen.

If we use solar or wind power as the source of the electricity for hydrolysis then you could have ‘clean’ and technically ‘renewable’ Hydrogen. I say ‘technically’ because the world is already pumping water at non-sustainable, non-renewable rates and the massive amounts of water you’d need for hydrogen would just contribute to the world’s water crisis. A 2015 World Economic Forum report ranks water crises as top global risk, up from number three the previous year.

Powering EVs using solar and wind would use no water, according to Prof King and Weber. Plus EVs are at least three times more energy efficient than Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles.

6) Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles can’t compete with Electric Vehicles.

It makes sense for the fossil fuel industry to lobby for the hydrogen car because hydrogen is essentially a product line extension for them. In other words, the “Hydrogen Economy” is the “Fossil Fuel Economy” with a green sheen.

The HFCV is a substitute technology. If successful, hydrogen would just substitute the fossil fuel infrastructure with a mirror hydrogen infrastructure.

Former DOE Secretary Steven Chu said: “We asked ourselves, ‘Is it likely in the next 10, 15, or 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy?’ The answer was no,”

It’s obvious why I don’t even mention HFCV in my book “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation”! Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles are neither clean nor disruptive. At best, a hydrogen economy would still be a massively wasteful economy that would at best use three to six times more energy than an electric vehicle and solar/wind infrastructure and many times more water than even gasoline uses. There are many good reasons why hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are stuck in reverse while electric vehicles are on hyper-drive.

By 2030, 100% of cars will be electric and they will be 100% powered by solar and wind. (Watch my AltCars keynote here)

It’s time to move on from hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Source: TonySeba. Reproduced with permission.

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272 Comments
  1. Charles 5 years ago

    Excellent article – great rebuttal to the false claims of hydrogen being the future! It is an inefficient dead end technology.

    • suthnsun 5 years ago

      and what us Toyota thinking? I’ve never been able to work it out..

      • onesecond 5 years ago

        Well, they are in bed with companies that want to sell expensive hydrogen. Vested interests, what else.

        • suthnsun 5 years ago

          AFAIK Toyota is a vehicle manufacturer and little else, so one would think proposing a route that makes your core product very difficult and expensive is extremely foolish but I don’t know about the politics of Japanese corporate relationships.

          • Miles Harding 5 years ago

            I think of the FCV as an EV with a complex and heavy range extender that uses an intractible fuel, so haven’t been able to determine a rational motovation for the Fool cell mania that seemingly has overtaken these Japanese car makers.

            I got to the complex product position precisely because they are a car maker and make their money from unit sales, so a more expensive unit is to their advantage, as well as maintaining dependent customers in their parts and service departments**. The FCV is proving to be very expensive to develop, which will limit the number of possible competitors.

            EVs, on the other hand, are more efficient, mechanically a lot simpler and have minimal maintenance requirements — mostly wiper blades and tyres.

            **Some years back, my local Toyota parts department had these sales awards on the wall “$1M parts”, “$2M parts” etc. It always made me laugh and cringe at the same time. They suddenly disappeared when the penny finally dropped with the dealership management.

        • Miles Harding 5 years ago

          Got it!
          The car company stays relevant through a complex product, Shell stays relevant, Halibutron (and others) get rich delivering the Hydrogen infrastruture and the consumer pays for it all through the public purse and their own hip pockets.

      • nakedChimp 5 years ago

        Toyota&Co only have your best in their mind – your money.
        They try to arrange it for you to live and breath in a rent-enabling-cage where they get the rent.
        The more options you get, the more freedom, the less happy they are with you.

      • Julian Cox 5 years ago

        The Japanese government is lured by the possibility of dredging methane hydrates in Japan’s costal waters as a route to energy independence. Methane Hydrates is literally wet methane and the ideal way to process that would be steam methane reforming (SMR) the world’s most carbon intensive refinery process – vastly exceeding the emissions related to gasoline. As Tony has pointed out methane leakage in the US has the green house gas equivalence of half of the nations coal fired power stations (even with official methane leakage numbers that are collated from grossly underreported industry figures and not independent research). If Japan goes ahead and dredges offshore methane hydrates for a ‘hydrogen economy’ the methane leakage alone WILL be an environmental end-game for humanity and SMR will exacerbate the issue.

        What Toyota is aiming for is a terminal event in mankind’s collective struggle to bring emissions under control for the sake of profits in a way that make’s the despicable conduct of VW look like a lame effort by comparison. It is also done in pursuit of a misperception of Japan’s national self-interest. Japan’s 2020 Olympics is reportedly going to become a Japanese propaganda piece to promote this appalling travesty. Never forget that this is the same government that lobbies AGAINST efforts to ban the slaughter of whales and has even gone as far as to turn a blind eye to putting the products of ‘scientific’ harpooning on meal tables in Tokyo in an effort to evade agreements on environmental protection. This is a culture that views the environment with utter contempt.

        To promote a hydrogen ‘clean energy future’ is global genocide by way of fraud. Hydrogen is not something to be dismissed lightly, it is literally one of the biggest existential threats to mankind that we face and more so because of its propensity to mislead. Even in California there is both political support and taxpayer funding diverted from genuine clean energy solutions to the promotion of hydrogen as a clean energy solution. That is how dangerous hydrogen is.

        • suthnsun 5 years ago

          I have a dim view of human frailty but long ago dismissed the notion that we would be insane enough to attempt methane hydrate harvesting. The fact that you are viewing it as an underlying motivation is very disturbing .

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Explain why Japanese car companies are going the H2 route otherwise. Importing hydrogen makes no sense. Japan has ample solar, wind and geothermal resources to power EVs.

          • Julian Cox 5 years ago

            Thankfully they also have battery expertise that is being put to good use.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            Japanese wind, eh, Bob Wallace?
            I see that you are still beating that horse.

            Everyone, Bob Wallace has been touting and cheering the Japanese wind energy revolution for about three years now. It never existed and is nowhere on the horizon. And he just can’t give it up, apparently.

            And here, he insists that importing hydrogen makes no sense. I have an idea. Instead of assuming that Japanese people make all the wrong decisions for all the wrong reasons, why not just look at what they do and try to figure out why?

            If your presumptions lead you consistently to incorrect conclusions, and if your worldview leads you to believe that leading professionals are consistently wrong, consider that your presumptions and worldview are flawed.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            It has been estimated that Japan has the potential for 144 GW for onshore wind and 608 GW of offshore wind capacity.[4] – Wiki

            2012 electricity usage in Japan was 851 TWh (Japan) to 1,003 TWh (EIA). 1,003 annual TW is 2.75 TWh per day or 2,748 GWh per day.

            286 GW (nameplate) wind turbines running at 40% CF would produce 2,748 GWh per day.

            2,747.95GWh6,87040% CF286GW nameplate.

            That’s potential. Far, far more than needed.

            Here’s present.

            August 3, 2015
            “FUKUSHIMA, Japan — Engineers in Japan have installed the world’s largest floating wind turbine, a towering 344-foot structure that is billed as being able to withstand 65-foot waves and even tsunamis.

            The 7 megawatt turbine was fastened to the seabed last week by four 20-ton anchors about 12 miles off the Fukushima coast.

            Its installation was delayed four times because of consecutive typhoons in the region. But one of its chief engineers, Katsunobu Shimizu, told NBC News that the turbine — which is about the same height as London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral — would be able to withstand even the most extreme conditions.

            “These turbines and anchors are designed to withstand 65-foot waves,” Shimizu said during a sea tour of the turbine given from a boat off the coast. “Also, here we can get 32-foot-tall tsunamis. That’s why the chains are deliberately slackened.”

            http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/japan-builds-worlds-largest-floating-wind-turbine-fukushima-n402871

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Here are some more updates on Japan’s offshore wind industry –

            Hitachi will add a production line at its facility in east Japan to manufacture nacelles for its 5MW offshore turbine.

            Hitachi has completed the construction of its 5MW downwind offshore turbine at a coastal site near Kashima city in central Japan.

            The Japanese government has identified four areas it will look at with the possibility of developing up to 1.45GW of wind projects.

            A ten-company consortium headed by Hitachi Zosen Corporation (Hitz) has received the go ahead to explore the possibility of an offshore project off the coast of Niigata prefecture in Japan.

            Japanese conglomerate Marubeni has been awarded the licenses to develop two offshore projects totalling 145MW off the north west coast of Japan.

            The first project to use Siemens’ 3MW turbine, the 18MW Eurus Akitako project that has one turbine located 100-metres offshore, has come online.

            The Japanese government has announced plans to spend JPY 7.9 billion ($67.8 million) on offshore technologies this year, according to reports in the Japanese press.

            http://www.windpoweroffshore.com/japan

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            One of the things you learned at CleanTechnica is to hold close to every press release and treat it like truth. And if nothing ever comes of it, well it must have happened, right?

            These are teeny tiny projects and early tentative plans that hopeful people would cling to. But I see elsewhere on this page that you are encouraging other people to be as objective and realistic as you are.

            You need to follow your own advice.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            More estimates Bob? And projects that will never be done Bob?

            When that one turbine was installed, I thought of you.

            One turbine, Bob. Did you think of me and how that one turbine proves your point about Japan’s wind revolution you have waited all these years for? I am delighted that you have used it to keep your dreams alive. Stay gold.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Here’s your claim, Rockne –

            “Everyone, Bob Wallace has been touting and cheering the Japanese wind energy revolution for about three years now. It never existed and is nowhere on the horizon.”

            Exists. Horizon cleared.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            Bob. Have you ever even visited Japan? I really doubt it. All the press releases in the world are not going to convince me that some wind revolution is in the offing here.

            One pylon and a few contracts do not an Iowa make.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Rockne, you have a choice. You can either search out facts,then base your opinions and posts on facts or you can continue pulling stuff out of your neither regions and flinging it on the page.

            Looking at the number and quality of your comments on this page in the recent past I am led to believe that you might be suffering from a serious case of intellectual digestion disruption leading to extensive typing diarrhea.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            Well, Bob, you “believe” many things that aren’t true, so I guess I will just throw this on the pile.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Rockne, if you believe any of the statements I’ve posted are not factually correct then please furnish me the correct facts.

            Please use only publicly verifiable facts. Not opinions.

          • Andrew Woodroffe 5 years ago

            From no lesser authority than Windpower Monthly ($60/issue), we know that Japan installed net 119MW of new wind plant to bring the accumulated total to 2,739 MW onshore and 50MW offshore. Not that impressive for the 4th biggest economy and one so dependent on importation of energy. However, according to the Japan Wind Power Association there is a pipeline of 6.5 GW over 98 projects awaiting approval.

            What really is impressive, and indeed could be considered revolutionary there, is PV. Ten years ago, the Japs led the world in installations and manufacturers, then the Germans passed them, then the Spanish, the Americans and, finally, the Chinese. However, it appears they are now back. From the September issue of Photon International, they installed just under 10GW of PV, last year. Only the Chinese put in more. In 2013 it was 6.9GW, dramatically up from 1.7GW in 2012. In just 2 years, they have installed nearly 17GW of PV – total end of 2014 was 23.3GW. That is the thing about PV, today, it can be installed at an incredible rate.

            As for governments making silly decisions, check out Hinkley C in the UK. UnF$%^&*(believable.

          • Barri Mundee 5 years ago

            I see others here have provided at least some evidence to support their view. Please back up your claims.

          • Julian Cox 5 years ago

            If you look at the mandate and membership of H2USA you can see that it is all about the lure of shale fracking as a cheap feedstock for hydrogen. The problem we have is that government policies are unduly influenced by existing industry as opposed to existing voters whose interests do not coincide. California has actually joined H2USA and its Hydrogen roadmap is being managed, literally devised and managed, by the California Fuel Cell Partnership – a lobby group whose membership is almost exclusively Toyota plus the Natural Gas industry. In fact the number one awardee of Californian infrastructure grants (First Element Fuels Inc) has as its co-President Dr Tim Brown, the Author of the California Hydrogen Roadmap for the CaFCP and was self-awarded those grants, and obtained a loan from Toyota. What have they done with the money? 19 H2 gas stations ($1.45 Million each) in partnership with Air Products Inc – a SMR refinery for GOD’s SAKE.

          • jeffhre 5 years ago

            It is a much faster start for plug-ins than it was for hybrids. One more reason Toyota wants FCEVs to work well, so badly. It gives them a chance to dominate in green cars again – if they pushed for battery EV’s they would immediately trail the field. I wrote that yesterday seems appropriate here – combined with a cheap local source of frozen wet methane and government support from METI, CARB, the Denmark Energy Plan 2020, and the Baden-Wuerttemberg state Environment Ministry – bada bing bada boom, done deal.

          • Miles Harding 5 years ago

            I have long thought this as well, but the other side has tempted me via global warming:
            Is it worse to allow the methane to escape directly or to burn it to the less greenhouse intensive CO2?

          • Michael DeAbreu 5 years ago

            Good question. Methane has a 12 year lifetime in the atmosphere whereas CO2 is 200 years and acidifies the oceans.

        • Victor Popolitov 5 years ago

          The main of RES capacities are far from the cities and towns: wind, solar, hydro. Hydrogen technologies will make it possible to use this resource, including nuclear and thermonuclear future. I repeat: the hydrogen car is not the enemy of the car battery. Confirmation: Japan will purchase hydrogen in the north-east of Russia. There are no people but lots of energy: wind, hydro. It is an alternative to methane hydrates. What is worse for Japan to produce hydrogen from renewable sources or energy from gas hydrates?

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Victor, you need to ask yourself why Japan would want to spend very much to drive with hydrogen since Japan can make all the electricity they would want from their own resources.

            Russia would have to build 2x to 3x as many wind turbines as would Japan. Russia would have to build electrolysis plants to produce the H2 and then liquify it for shipping. Then Russia would have to get it to Japan where it would need to be distributed around the country.

            Cost per mile to drive with Russian H2 =

            2x to 3x as much electricity input
            + Hydrogen production/liquefaction plants
            + Shipping costs
            + Distribution costs
            + Profits for the Russians.

            Cost per mile to drive with Japanese electricity =

            1x electricity

            Someone would have to really, really be in love with H2 in order to justify spending that much extra to drive a mile.

        • jeffhre 5 years ago

          Wet (frozen) methane, safely sequestered as long as the oceans don’t heat up too much (cascading vicious cycle?).

        • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

          You exaggerate. Steam reformation of methane is not the world’s “most carbon-intensive” anything. It’s a reasonably efficient way of putting all the carbon emissions from combustion of methane up front, while yielding a chemically pure and carbon-free energy hydrogen stream which still bears most of the energy in the input methane.

          Since the CO₂ stream is also chemically pure, it’s an excellent process to use if you’re intending to attempt carbon dioxide capture and storage.

          You aren’t going to emit more carbon than was in the methane in the first place, so you can’t talk of it as more carbon-intensive than any other process involving emitting the carbon in methane, whether that’s generating electricity with it, roasting vegetables with it or using it to fuel a bus engine.

          What matters is whether it’s more efficient to burn the methane directly, or whether hydrogen does better what you’re trying to achieve.

          In the case of automobiles, hydrogen fuel cells are probably not a net win if the hydrogen is to be sourced entirely from methane. However it can also be sourced from clean electricity and from biomass, so hydrogen vehicles are more about making energy fungible (enabling a transition away from liquid petroleum derivatives to other energy sources) than they are about efficiency per se.

          Battery-electric cars would certainly seem to be a better way to go about this, but batteries are unsuitable for long duty cycles (seasonal energy storage) so it’s not so completely one-sided a comparison as the headline article and most people engaged in the discussion seem to think.

          • Miles Harding 5 years ago

            CH4 reforming…
            While losing half the energy in the process.

            I think TT Abott suggested putting all the CO2 in fizzy soft drinks. Perhaps we should add CCA to his list of benefactors.

          • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

            Where did you read “losing half the energy”? Steam reformation of methane has a thermal efficiency CH₄ → H₂ in excess of 66%, up to 80% depending on the specific technique, and as part of a larger industrial process (such as oil refining, which is where most steam reformation is done) its “waste heat” is more a valuable co-product than something that needs to be discarded, so the effective efficiency of methane consumption (H₂ plus heat) can be even better.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Forget reforming methane. The planet cannot tolerate us continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere.

          • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

            We’re doing this *now*. It’s efficient *now*. We’re not talking about some hypothetical emissions-free future (in this subthread), we’re talking about today’s industrial chemistry.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Jonathan, what do you not understand about global warming?

          • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

            Why assume I don’t understand? A billion people used petroleum products for personal transportation today. Three billion used electricity produced with fossil fuels. We need to stop doing those things, but we aren’t about to stop doing them all at once, overnight.

            I comment on threads like this not out of some contrarian impulse but merely to correct factual errors and nonsensical statements like “steam methane reforming (SMR) [is] the world’s most carbon intensive refinery process – vastly exceeding the emissions related to gasoline” — which is erroneous not least because SMR is *part* of the everyday process of producing gasoline from petroleum. Some 80% of world hydrogen production is in petroleum refineries, for use in refineries, for desulfurisation of sour crudes and for hydrocracking of heavy crude fractions to make lighter products. (Most of the rest is used in the manufacture of nitrogen fertilisers, which are another necessary part of the everyday way we live and feed ourselves).

            I’ve allowed myself to be distracted from that simple purpose of sorting fact from poor comprehension into this tit-for-tat with you, but it wasn’t your error that caused me to weigh in in the first place.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            If you are not pushing H2 FCEVs, fine.

          • Miles Harding 5 years ago

            Half may be a bit mush, but possibly not when the pipe to pipe performance is considered.
            The real problem is that methane reforming is a furphy. It is already common to make use of CH4 directly in heaters, engines and turbines without turning it into hydrogen.

          • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

            Well yeah — but steam reforming is also already common, so let’s not get carried away making up numbers about it when it’s well-understood.

          • Ian 5 years ago

            Jonathan, you seem to now your beans when it comes to hydrogen production by reforming various fossil fuels, but you are buying Japanese whale meat supporting this gaseous industry. Julian seems to be talking about the surreptitious use of hydrogen fuel cells( likened to whale research) to massively exploit hydrated methane, up to now, safely ensconced in the bottom of the ocean. The little cetovores will be very efficient at converting methane to hydrogen, no doubt, but it will be methane all the same. We already have way to much burning of all sorts of carboniforous fuels, as you point out oil, gas and coal, and now these whale-hunters want to use up what little air we have left. Why do you think people are so desperate to switch to next to useless battery cars, utility bashing solar and Abbott’s view- spoiling windmills. It’s so our children can breath without choking and walk outside without baking to death!

          • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

            I don’t support the industry, I just reject inaccurate characterisations of well-understood industrial processes.

            The racial slurs and hyperbole regarding wind, solar and battery-electric vehicles do you no favours. It’s not remotely clear which phrases are meant to be ironic.

          • Julian Cox 4 years ago

            Jonathan, FYI you made an error in stating or strongly implying that the carbon intensity of Hydrogen production is limited to the carbon content of the methate feedstock. You are forgetting wellhead carbon emissions, the heat energy of the SMR furnace and the energy for compression. The feedstock carbon is less than 50% of just these – and then if you include something for transporting either the methane to the SMR or the hydrogen to the tank and GHG equivalence of non-CO2 gasses especially CH4 leakage from wellhead to SMR then the Hydrogen production carbon intensity is genuinely the worst oranges to oranges when compared to anything else in the fossil fuel spectrum on a GHG emissions per unit of energy basis. Really this is not an overstatement or any kind of inaccuracy and that is just fracking as a methane source. One of the most “respected” I.E. Egregious hydrogen promoters Dr C.E. (Sandy) Thomas puts CO2e per Kg H2 at 16.58Kg per Kg WTW. This has the energy content of 1 US gal gasoline that is 11.132Kg CO2e per gal (US DOE / NREL / EPA) and 11.3Kg by his figures. Coal has bad GHG emissions as well as nasty particulates and toxins but on GHGs alone it cannot compete with hydrogen for GHG intensity – neither can anthracite or peat. Hydrogen is the absolute worst bar none. 3% of total global emissions or 10% if transport emissions for only 50 million metric tons.

            Japan has its sights set on Methane Hydrates – at gross and acknowledged risk of producing megaton if not gigaton methane plumes from undersea landslides of unstable sediments that teter at the edge of continental shelves.

            Something to think about. Nothing to be taken lightly.

          • Carl Raymond S 4 years ago

            Julian,
            I watched a video of yours today on Cleantechnica, and was impressed by your insights. Specifically, the reasons why ICEV manufacturers simply could not promote the EV as a better vehicle, and the looming problem with ICEV leases should EVs become highly sought after and thus devalue other used cars – a ‘small’ GFC.

            I have learned a lot about clean tech by throwing ideas at this forum and reading the feedback from others. Something I read recently was that Germany intends to use power2gas for seasonal storage, which led to the idea of using p2g for other purposes, such as heating, gas peaker plants (a grid ‘gap-filler’), long haul trucking (using CNG in turbine hybrid trucks such as the Nikola).

            I have two questions on my mind:
            1) Will there come a day when solar is so cheap and widespread that energy between the hours of 9am and 3pm is essentially free. If this is the case, then hydrogen and CNG can only be discounted for reasons other than inefficiency. If we project into the future and take free (occasional) energy as a given, is methane as bad as hydrogen? If hydrogen were produced from water and (surplus solar) energy, then immediately methanated, is that a virtuous process?
            2) When those leases reach maturity and the goods are worth less than the residual, will that hurt the leaseholders, car companies, or finance companies?

          • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

            Let me cut in and address #1.

            It will always be cheaper to drive with electricity than with hydrogen.

            Let’s assume solar falls to 2c/kWh. There’s some cost for getting it to the hydrogen plant. There won’t be enough “surplus” electricity to run a massive fuel industry. It’s highly likely that any less expensive electricity is going to get sucked up opportunistic loads (EVs and storage).

            EVs and hydrogen plants would pay about the same per kWh delivered.

            Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are much less efficient, from solar panel/wind turbine to wheels spinning on the road. They need 2x to 3x more electricity per mile. (Chart below) If it costs 3 cents per mile to drive an EV the electricity for a FCEV will cost 6 to 9 cents per mile.

            Then there has to be a hydrogen ‘factory’ that splits water and compresses the hydrogen. And the hydrogen has to be stored and distributed. There’s buildings, equipment, labor, vehicles, storage tanks, pumps, …. All that has to be paid for. Add it to the 6 to 9 cents.

            .

          • Bob_Wallace 4 years ago

            I think I can field #2 as well. (I just watched the video and found that part interesting.)

            Leaseholders won’t get burned. They sign a contract going in that tells them their total costs. At the end of the lease they hand the vehicle back to the leasing company.

            The leasing company will get burned. They wrote the lease with the expectation that the vehicle will have an approximate value on the used vehicle market when they get it back. If they were expecting $25k but find no one wants to buy the vehicle and it’s actually worth $45 at the crusher they’re going to be out $24,955.

            The company that financed the leasing company may get burned. If the leasing company can’t cover the $24,955 loss then they can’t pay back their lenders.

            We may get a very clear signal that the end is nigh for gasmobiles if it becomes difficult to find new cars to lease. If the banks look out three years or so and see the possibility of leasing company bankruptcies then they might not be willing to finance further business.

          • Carl Raymond S 4 years ago

            Thanks. Burnt before the fire even starts. Tough world.

          • Carl Raymond S 4 years ago

            Thanks, I had overlooked that workplace/day charging will bid up the price of midday solar from zero to ‘something’.
            What I’m trying to work out is whether the Nikola Truck can be branded ‘sustainable’. It needs CNG, and that currently means fracking. I quite like the Nikola Truck – it’s way better than what we have today, but perhaps it can be 100% RE.

          • JonathanMaddox 4 years ago

            Methane hydrates exist, but there’s no commercial exploitation of them today and little likelihood of there being any significant exploitation of them in future. Heavily subsidised pilot projects maybe, but clathrate mining is as mythological and as assured of success as is “clean coal”.

            There are already better ways of doing things: wind, solar, hydro and nuclear electricity are cheaper, more profitable and more ecologically sustainable than any fossil-fuelled variant on the “hydrogen economy” concept could ever hope to be.

            I also think it vanishingly unlikely that an industry will ever emerge that simply does steam reformation of methane, independent of any other energy-intensive industrial process, in order to produce compressed hydrogen exclusively for commodity sale. Compressed hydrogen as a product just isn’t that valuable or useful compared with electricity, diesel, gasoline, other liquid fuels like methanol, nor even methane itself.

            I’ll reiterate the point I made here months ago that steam reformation of methane is almost entirely done as an integrated step either in the refining of sour crude petroleum or in the manufacture of fertilisers. Process heat is required for most of these steps, frequently sourced from what would otherwise be low-value byproducts or “waste” heat.

            I think it’s would be pettifogging to try to apportion the energy consumption and greenhouse emissions of the petroleum or fertiliser industry among individual steps in a complex integrated process which in practice recirculates feedstocks and energy quite efficiently. Inefficiencies in the petrochemical supply chain tend to be much worse at the consumption end or in higher-margin “production”, than in the capital-intensive and low-margin refining business.

            I fully acknowledge upstream fugitive greenhouse gas emissions in the extraction of natural gas and indeed any fossil fuel. They vary greatly depending on the particular upstream source — very low for large “conventional” gas fields in places like Qatar, Iran and Russia, and for associated gas in “conventional” oil fields; significantly higher for fracked shale wells.

        • Jim Young 5 years ago

          Enlightening, but I do wonder what the range of methods of producing hydrogen is in terms of cost and negative impacts.

          I would certainly be against cost trumping overall impact, as it seems from what you have “revealed.”

          Is it in any way realistic to produce usable amounts of it as shown at http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/healthscience/86086-new-jersey-inventor-unveils-affordable-hydrogen-solar-home

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            From your link –

            “the electrolyzer splits it off into hydrogen and oxygen, and this line here feeds it down to that tank,”

            There’s a very large energy loss going from electricity to hydrogen and then back to electricity. Over half the energy is lost compared to about 10% with batteries.

            “This one is different because it’s cheaper, at least relatively, about a $180,000 total investment for the homeowner”

            He’s getting the function of a few thousand dollars of batteries in terms of 2-3 day storage. He’s greatly overbuilt his solar array to cover the H2 inefficiency.

            Add a wire running to a wind farm and some hydro facilities and he would need nothing over a 2-3 battery bank to store most of the electricity he needs. He could get the deep backup from the grid for a few bucks a month.

            Let’s say that he needed a $40k investment. That might be high. $140,000 invested at 5% would produce $583 a month.

            There’s a Mirai sitting out front in the picture. Almost the cost of a Tesla S70. Not much more range. Harder to find a place to fill it up if one wanders away from home. Takes 2x to 3x as many solar panels to power it.

            I’d say that this guy is demonstrating that it can be done. But that does not mean that it’s the smart thing to do

    • Victor Popolitov 5 years ago

      Imagine an 40-ton dump truck on batteries;-)

      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        You know, battery capacity is growing fairly rapidly. Right now it’s not clear that we could build a very functional battery powered 40-ton dump truck that ran on batteries.

        But we can build a 9-ton garbage truck that runs on batteries.

        http://cleantechnica.com/2014/09/16/first-electric-garbage-truck-in-us-hauls-9-tons-of-chicago-trash/

        And a 30-ton yard tractor.

        http://www.balqon.com/electric-vehicles/nautilus-xe20/

        And a 125 mile range 25-ton electric tractor.

        http://www.balqon.com/electric-vehicles/nautilus-xe30/

        So, as you can see, we’re making progress.

        • Adam Parris 5 years ago

          Good news Bob, the BMW group in Germany have a 40 ton truck that can travel 100kms. http://www.cnet.com/au/news/bmw-puts-a-40-ton-electric-truck-on-the-road/

          • Stephen V. Zorbas 5 years ago

            Well that’s not too bad, only 20% of the human poulation will starve waiting.

        • Victor Popolitov 5 years ago

          Thank you, very impressive this progress. It is interesting how many batteries weigh 40 ton Truck trailer for 300 km or more.

        • Victor Popolitov 5 years ago

          Thank you, very impressive this progress. It is interesting how many batteries weigh 40 ton Truck trailer for 300 km or more. 🙂

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Batteries are almost certainly going to improve. Will store more energy in the same volume and at the same weight. The batteries used in the Tesla EV are about 250 Wh/kg. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that he sees a clear route to batteries with 400 Wh/kg by 2020. That might be good enough for a usable 20 ton dump truck. Over time we might get to 40.

            Or we could make a 40 ton dump truck right now if we used battery swapping.

            I calculated out that we could power an American 18-wheeler with about 5 Tesla S battery packs. Swap out used batteries for recharged ones every 200 miles or so.

            Those big 40-ton dumpsters aren’t going very far. Nor are they going very fast. We could put a few big battery packs in them and swap out the batteries from time to time.

            They’d love the instant torque of electric motors.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Or from Adam’s link –

            “An electric truck has been officially deployed in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, in a partnership between German automobile manufacturer BMW and automotive service provider Scherm. Together, the two companies have put the first 40-ton electric vehicle on public roads.

            The truck, designed and built by Dutch truck manufacturer Terberg, will be charged exclusively using energy from renewable sources. It takes 3 to 4 hours to charge completely, and can travel up to 100 kilometres on a full charge, which will allow it to work for a full day on a single charge.”

          • Victor Popolitov 5 years ago

            I’m on the side of the platform for electric machinery, including vehicles. I am against the opposition of hydrogen technologies – purely an electric. I power engineer and not a car salesman. But in the city is advantageous pure electrical machinery, I agree with that.

      • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

        You don’t need batteries. You use tram cables. (300 tonnes, not 40)

    • Adam Parris 5 years ago

      I think you guys will like our Australian competition to speed up the development of EVs. Check us out at Voltaprize.org

    • Michael G 5 years ago

      Seba’s claim about water usage is misleading to the point of being fraudulent. I checked his source for water usage of FCVs. The huge amount Seba mentions assumes steam generated electricity for electrolysis. You could say the same for steam-generated electricity to charge batteries. The article he cites notes that if PV or wind is used to generate the electricity, water consumption is less than 10% of the amount Seba cites.

      Item 2.6, on Page 7868 of
      http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Webber-water-in-transportation.pdf

  2. Adam Parris 5 years ago

    Great Article Tony, we at Voltaprize.org agree that Hydrogen is not the future.

    Anyone interested in helping us launch our $14 million competition electrifying the transport industry come contribute to our forum. We are located in Canberra!

    Voltaprize.org

    • Stephen V. Zorbas 5 years ago

      Good luck – my “year 2100” plan has been in Canberra since April 2015, and it deals with solar fuels as future mass export for Australia(to the north). I believe even Professor Garnaut has jumped in on the “band wagon” recently-check it out for yourself.Power to gas is another to industrialise our natural gas pipeline network on the way. NBN communication to integrate Australia(K Rudd and I). However goodluck with Vapourprize.org

  3. Peter Campbell 5 years ago

    Whenever I do a show and tell event on electric vehicles there is always someone who insists that hydrogen vehicles are the future. That person is always male and at least 70 years old.

    • Bob Fearn 5 years ago

      That is what Mechanics Illustrated told them.
      Tragically that magazine is no longer available.

      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        They reread their old copies and weep.

        (I’m at least 70 year old. I remember some of the dreams of yesteryear. Cheap nuclear energy, for one. ;o)

        • jeffhre 5 years ago

          I remember reading those articles, loved it. So much grist for the mill. Advice to others waiting with baited breath for the H2 economy – get over it. I have.

    • Jim Young 5 years ago

      I’m not quite 70 but do hope the hydrogen production does start coming from the less efficient but cleaner conversion of water as enough excess solar power becomes a bit more realistic than the Popular Mechanics type.

      See http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/healthscience/86086-new-jersey-inventor-unveils-affordable-hydrogen-solar-home

      I think I understand Elon Musk’s potential market reality views, seeing methods with a far better chance of incrementally moving to cleaner solutions.

      Some of his Solar City sales people were surprised to learn of 7,000 HFC fork lifts being fielded (with advantages in a much smaller footprint in warehouse space required). Looking at the large solar arrays on Walmart facility roofs, I have to believe they see the benefits (even if they don’t want homeowner’s systems competing, or going too much off grid), and wonder if they will use them for local hydrogen separation, to be used in HFC forklifts, etc.

      • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

        They could be running those 7,000 forklifts with half to a third as many panels. Batteries are going to continue to improve. I suspect HFC forklifts will be an evolutionary dead branch.

        • Jim Young 5 years ago

          I’m certainly not as into the finer details, but I was intrigued by the possibilities and early uses like the HFC packs that were better than existing batteries to power medical equipment on Med Evac flights from Iraq to Germany.

          I also have in the back of my mind, some potential advantage in using what water can be produced as it provides power, not much, but perhaps useful for some applications.

          Who knows, I recall the Swedes and German people using “wood gas” set ups to power farm equipment and cars when they couldn’t get reliable other fuel supplies, and the somewhat similar technology used in the “Quadrafire” stove my daughter’s family uses.

          Anything that improves long term backwoods self-reliance or shorter term emergency self reliance seems worthwhile, even if the optimal cost/efficiency is not reached.

          • Mark 4 years ago

            The water has to be used up to produce the hydrogen first of course. I imagine it would be more efficient to pipe the water in a pipeline next to the hydrogen, but I suppose the electroysis could use non-potable water, and potable water could be captured at point of use.

  4. Dean Laslett 5 years ago

    It would be also good to see a comparison of the range of a fully fueled HFCV versus an EV (which will also depend on a fuel cell and battery energy density comparison, not just km/kWh), and refuel time versus recharge time. The point about water use is really good: to be considered at all, the hydrogen should come from seawater (which might mean an extra desalination step and more energy use – although CETO wave machines can produce both). However there is a lot of renewable energy out there, so maybe the final comparison will come down to cost, ease of use (range/recharge time etc), and the surface area required for the sustainable source energy system rather than purely energy efficiency (although that will have a large bearing on it). Batteries also have an energy leakage rate, that could be compared to any hydrogen energy leakage rate.

    • Charles 5 years ago

      From memory they are capable of 600km, but the variation of hydrogen (compression state or something like that) which is used by the Mirai is only 300km. There is only one refuelling station in Australia, in Macquarie Park in Sydney. If you live more than (as an example) 15km away from it, like most Sydney residents, then you’ve just blown 10% of your range on your return trip to refuel.
      And of course you can’t drive more than half the remaining capacity, since you need to get back again, so you’re limited to half of whatever range you have left.
      This doesn’t take into account the fact that the hydrogen station is owned by Hyundai and I’m not sure if Mirai’s are actually allowed there.

      • Dean Laslett 5 years ago

        Yes, a Tesla already almost matches that 300km figure? so no range advantage to Mirai. Yes, they will have to retrofit existing petrol stations with a hydrogen bowser. I wonder what the cost of that would be compared to putting a solar panel on the roof of the station, a battery storage system, and providing EV charging points. EV’s also have the advantage of a direct two-way V2G capability. Seems like HFCVs will need a lot of improvement to compete with EVs

        • Coley 5 years ago

          What puzzles most people is, given the clear( and rapidly improving) advantages, of EVs is why are they even bothering?

          • nakedChimp 5 years ago

            Who, the likes of Toyota?
            Simple – rent seeking. Keep the Joe’s and Joanna’s in your ecosystem and cash in on the rent forever.

            To bad batteries got good enough so fast – thanks to laptops, mobile phones, battery driven power tools and radio-controlled model-craft.
            They didn’t expect that angle at all..
            Hehehehe

          • Charles 5 years ago

            It’s strange though. They were the leader with the Prius, you would expect that to lead along the BEV path. Disappointing that they are going backwards.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Toyota also had the EV RAV4 which many people loved.

            Some think it’s because Toyota got involved with NiMH batteries and missed the lithium-ion train. Personally I finding it very puzzling. But we’ve see very large, dominant companies crash and burn because they stubbornly stuck to the wrong path.

            Remember how Wang Systems owned corporate desktops for word processing? (Pres. Wang – ‘people would never want computers on their desks’.)

            And most are aware of Kodak being the inventors of digital photography and then being killed by their own invention when they did not take it seriously enough.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            Or how about when Tesla saw that AC, not DC was the way forward despite all of Edison’s infrastructure? THAT Tesla was wise enough to see that DC was good for short distances, like a modern Tesla vehicle, but not good for long distances. I think the irony is delicious.

            You see. It cuts both ways. And the truth is that Apple Computer has brought us back to the era of thin clients and idiot users tapping into network apps and network databases. Turns out Wang was right.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            “Toyota also had the EV RAV4 which many people loved”

            Yeah. They loved them so much that they stayed away in droves. Toyota could not sell them. Jointly developed with Tesla. Toyota learned from the experience, Tesla… not so much.