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Naysayer Alert – the hydrogen crimson herring

(Visitor Put up by John Murray)

There was a lot dialogue for over thirty years or extra round using hydrogen gasoline cells as an alternative choice to the interior combustion engine.  Gas cells had been promoted in some sectors as the very best various to the interior combustion engine.  Proponents consider such a automobile may very well be simply refuelled with hydrogen and assumed it might have larger vary than a pure all-electric automobile.  Latest developments in lithium ion batteries, and the consequential vary enhancements of EVs has considerably dampened enthusiasm for hydrogen gasoline cells.  Little appears developed in any large industrial sense and positively to not the extent of the pure electrical automobile.  Honda have produced the Honda FCX Readability FCEV, a hydrogen powered Gas Cell Electrical Car (FCEV), which they’re leasing in restricted numbers to chosen prospects in specifically chosen areas solely.    Equally, Toyota launched its Hydrogen Powered Mirai, however once more solely in chosen areas and to chosen prospects. There are a number of causes for this method and understanding a little bit extra about gasoline cell automobiles could clarify why.

You will need to understand {that a} gasoline cell automobile is definitely an electrical automobile.  The Honda FCX Readability FCEV and the Toyota Mirai FCEV, each use an electrical drive motor and a battery pack.  So, gasoline cell automobiles have a number of the benefits of pure absolutely electrical automobiles.  The motors are extremely environment friendly, they’ve the identical torque traits and they’re silent.  The hydrogen gasoline cell within the FCEV acts to maintain the battery charged, however can straight energy the electrical drive motor, just like the perform of a gasoline-powered vary extender.  In essence the FCEV is firstly an electrical automobile with a hydrogen gasoline cell vary extender added.  Each the battery and the gasoline cell use chemical reactions to provide electrical energy.  Extra considerably it have to be realized that hydrogen, similar to a battery, will not be an power supply in itself, however merely a way of storing power.  The power saved inside hydrogen has been imparted from electrical power by means of the electrolytic hydrogen manufacturing course of or extra seemingly within the refinement of fossil fuels comparable to coal seam (methane) gasoline – each are power intensive processes in themselves.       

The FCEV takes on hydrogen gasoline in a compressed gasoline cylinder just like, however a lot stronger than an LPG cylinder.  As hydrogen has a particularly low power density it needs to be extremely pressurized (over 700 atmospheres) and this course of in itself takes a whole lot of power past the precise manufacturing of the hydrogen.  Throughout journey, hydrogen is routed to the automobile’s gasoline cell which, by means of using a catalyst, separates its protons and electrons on the anode.  The electron circulation goes by way of the automobile’s lithium-ion battery, in essence protecting it charged, and recombines with the protons and oxygen on the cathode.  The one by merchandise are water and a good diploma of warmth, the latter indicating a level of inefficiency and wasted power.  Nonetheless, hydrogen gasoline cell automobiles are, like pure battery powered automobiles, classed as Zero Emission Autos (ZEV).

So why haven’t FCEV turning into as prolific as different electrical automobiles?  The explanations are quite a few.   

First, hydrogen will not be as readily attained and positively not as obtainable as ubiquitous electrical energy.  Mostly it’s refined from standard coal seam gasoline, usually termed ‘pure gasoline’ to greenwash what it truly is, in essence simply methane discovered with different fossil-fuel deposits. If taken from such sources, hydrogen is a fossil gasoline, and isn’t a renewable useful resource.  As well as, it’s topic to comparable refining, storage and distribution prices at the moment related to petrol and diesel, together with upstream CO2 emissions the place the electrical energy required is often generated from fossil fuels. As already talked about, it additionally must be extremely pressurized to realize any helpful power density and this takes additional power.  Therefore its provide wouldn’t be low-cost, renewable nor sustainable in the long run.  Thus, if taken from such sources, hydrogen represents a silly power pathway and an costly and short-term answer at finest.      

Second, whereas hydrogen will be in any other case produced by means of the electrolysis of water, this course of requires enormous quantities of unpolluted and contemporary water – an important and extremely precious commodity of life that may’t be wasted.  Additionally, electrolysis of water by definition requires electrical energy along with the already talked about pressurization, storage and distribution prices.  It’s really the power within the electrical energy used for electrolysis that’s imparted to the hydrogen i.e. hydrogen is solely a storage medium for {the electrical} power.   Why not merely use the electrical energy on to cost electrical automobiles by way of the already obtainable distribution community – the electrical energy grid?  Each time there’s a conversion of power from one kind to a different there are effectivity losses – an idea referred to as ‘power vector transition’.  It appears fully illogical to make use of giant quantities of electrical energy to provide hydrogen after which have to make use of extra power to extremely compress it, to be then decanted and bodily transported by way of vehicles (much more harmful than present petrol tankers) by means of expensive distribution networks, solely to be decanted once more into automobiles and finally reconverted again into electrical energy within the gasoline cells of these automobiles. This course of can’t be extra environment friendly, value efficient or safer than the direct use of electrical energy from the grid (or the solar) to cost an EV.   Once more, the hydrogen pathway represents a silly power pathway.  The mandating of any system comparable to this might solely be about taking care of the pursuits of ‘middlemen’: oil and gasoline invested corporations who would invariably transition into this market as each provide and/or demand for oil recede.      

Third, the acidity of a substance is set by the quantity of hydrogen ion current in that answer; the extra hydrogen ions, the extra acidic.  Hydrogen ions are extremely acidic and thus extremely corrosive.  For that reason the anodes of gasoline cells want platinum to stop speedy degradation.  The price of platinum makes hydrogen gasoline cells an costly proposition even compared to lithium-ion batteries.  Therefore, hydrogen gasoline cell automobiles are intrinsically dearer than pure battery-electric automobiles. 

Fourth, like all fossil fuels hydrogen is extremely unstable, way more so than petrol.  If present petrol tankers have the title of ‘probably the most harmful automobiles on the highway’ such a title can be outdated by hydrogen tankers.  So growing and working a hydrogen refinement and distribution community brings considerably elevated danger of explosive incidents and loss of life.  In 2019 alone there have been three important explosive incident’s involving hydrogen;

  1. a hydrogen plant explosion in Santa Clara, California, which means Honda and Toyota had to offer rental petrol automobiles to their few FCEV homeowners[8],
  2. a hydrogen tank explosion in Gangrening, South Korea, killing two folks and injuring a number of others[9] and
  3. an explosion of a hydrogen filling station in Sandvika, Norway, injuring two folks and inflicting Hyundai and Toyota to stop gross sales of their FCEV in that nation[6,7].

And these incidents are taking place already with none widespread uptake of hydrogen FCEV as but.  The security components appear by no means thought of with fossil fuels regardless of 1000’s of lives misplaced through the years from important explosive incident internationally[12].      

Lastly, and as already indicated, hydrogen FCEVs require a big and costly distribution infra construction, with a purpose to allow lengthy distance journey.  In essence this mandates a whole billion greenback replication of the oil trade’s distribution community.  Such an infrastructure might be dearer than the present oil infrastructure due to the unavoidable pressurization wants to provide enough power density by quantity.  It’s this infrastructure issue that has meant the Honda FCX Readability is just obtainable for lease specifically areas, i.e. those who have a hydrogen refuelling outlet.  This issue too, means hydrogen powered FCEV will at all times be far dearer to buy and function than a easy battery electrical automobile.  

Compared to a pure battery electrical automobile, FCEVs are extra complicated and heavier.  They require all of the part elements of the less complicated pure battery electrical automobile plus costly gasoline cells and hydrogen storage methods.  Therefore, they’re more likely to at all times have comparatively poorer efficiency, be dearer in preliminary buy, in ongoing upkeep and per kilometre travelled prices. Using hydrogen as a gasoline for automobiles has a really poor Vitality Return on Vitality Invested (ERoEI) ratio in addition to poor greenback return on greenback invested ratio relative to the pure all-electric automobile.

It’s simpler and cheaper to drive an all-electric Kona or Tesla throughout the nation than it might a hydrogen powered FCEV.  In reality, when in comparison with the Honda Readability FCEV, the all-electric Tesla Mannequin S has each larger vary [Tesla 100D 572km (355mi) vs Honda 386km (240mi)] and larger effectivity (Tesla 89% vs Honda 60%).  The Toyota Mirai can nearly match the Tesla Mannequin S 100D on vary (Tesla 100D 572km(355mi) vs Toyota 512km(312mi)) however it doesn’t exceed it and is actually much less competent in all different standards, together with efficiency and effectivity (Tesla 93mpg-e vs Mirai 66mpg-e).  

Reinforcing this angle, a 2018 paper from a staff of Queensland college researchers “The place are we headed with electrical automobiles?[5] evaluated the comparative efficiencies of varied energy trains together with ICE (petrol and diesel), FCEV, PHEV and the pure EV.  This research didn’t simply have a look at the efficiencies of the stand-alone automobiles but in addition the efficiencies of the total ‘well-to-wheel’ power pathways. The hydrogen FCEV was proven to have a well-to-wheel effectivity of solely 22%, in contrast with 20% for diesel and 14% for petrol.  The pure EV had an effectivity of 67% throughout the total well-to-wheel evaluation, thrice that of the FCEV and nearly 5 instances that of the petrol-powered ICE[5], once more highlighting the silly power pathways of fossil fuels.  Hydrogen’s fuel-path inefficiency issues are additionally mentioned in one other paper by Tom Baxter of Aberdeen College, “Hydrogen automobiles received’t overtake electrical automobiles as a result of they’re hampered by the legal guidelines of science[10].   Baxter particulars the unavoidable effectivity losses of the hydrogen gasoline pathway because of the power vector transition whereby power is transformed from one medium, electrical to chemical (hydrogen), again to electrical and eventually to kinetic power.  Baxter places the theoretical effectivity of hydrogen FCEVs at 38% at finest, in comparison with 80% for a full battery electrical automobile, mainly exhibiting that the conversion losses for hydrogen power pathways are little higher than fossil fuels and essentially, inescapable.

“…and hydrogen automobiles include the opposite nice drawback of inside combustion powered automobiles, not with the ability to refuel them at house”


A FCEV additionally has a lot bigger drive prepare elements than a pure EV thus encroaching on inside and space for storing and considerably limiting design flexibilities.  And hydrogen automobiles include the opposite nice drawback of inside combustion engined automobiles – not with the ability to gasoline them cheaply at house.  However there’s yet one more more and more mentioned benefit to the battery electrical automobile: the power to be charged/fuelled from one’s personal home photo voltaic panels.   This primarily free and infinite provide of power is, and can more and more be proven to be, one of many biggest benefits of EVs over any various energy trains together with over-hyped hydrogen. 

Levi Tillemann in his ebook, The Nice Race: The World Quest for the Automobile of the Future writes,

        “In reality, there was a operating joke within the automotive group that hydrogen was the gasoline of the long run, at all times had been the gasoline of the long run and at all times can be the gasoline of the long run” (Tillemann, L. 2015, p127)[1].    

Some consider that the promotion of hydrogen gasoline cells for cars is little greater than a distraction and delay technique, seeding in folks’s minds the notion that an alternative choice to gasoline is ‘simply across the bend’.  A hydrogen powered transport trade has been termed the “alternative-energy crimson herring” (Fletcher , S. 2011,p66)[3] and Tesla’s Elon Musk has known as the idea of hydrogen FCEVs as “extremely dumb”[5].   Intriguingly, Toyota’s chief engineer in control of the Toyota Mirai undertaking, Yoshikasu Tanak, not too long ago acknowledged “Elon Musk is correct…. it’s higher to cost the electrical automobile straight by plugging it in”[4].  In impact, hydrogen instead gasoline supply for passenger automobiles could merely be mooted to attenuate any sense of urgency round peak oil and international heating, and so extend fossil gasoline dependence whereas tempering any momentum in the direction of an early shift to pure electrical automobiles. 

In abstract I’ll depart it to the current phrases of futurist Tony Seba from an interview with David Orban. 

“Principally, it’s storage [not an energy source].  So, the query is then ‘Can hydrogen compete with batteries?’, particularly lithium ion batteries and what’s coming, and the reply is ‘No’.  Hydrogen is a basic one to 1 substitution.  Principally, [replacing] pure gasoline for hydrogen, [replacing] gasoline for hydrogen.  It’s not likely a disruption.  It’s extra political than something, however in the event you have a look at purely the economics it doesn’t make any sense.  In the event you have a look at the environmental points it additionally doesn’t make any sense.  You understand as a result of 95% of hydrogen comes from pure gasoline however even when it got here from water, the water utilisation the useful resource utilisation is simply insane. I imply from a water perspective mainly it might be preferable to make use of gasoline than to make use of hydrogen after which you need to construct this trillion-dollar infrastructure, which once more ‘Who’s going to pay for it?’.” ……..  “So the hydrogen infrastructure…..consider it as like a pure gasoline infrastructure. You want large refineries, you want pipelines, you want gasoline stations.  So it’s a model new infrastructure in any respect ranges, whereas the electrical energy community….we’ve an electrical energy community.  We’re going to enhance it however we have already got an electrical energy community.  So the charging stations, you simply have to plug into the present community.  So if you’ll, it [EV charging infrastructure] is a marginal funding within the present community versus a model new infrastructure community. You understand I have a look at issues from purely financial causes and you recognize, from an financial perspective it is not sensible. I imply you will have all of the hype however you ask me that if in ten years we’re going to have a hydrogen community, my reply is an unqualified ‘No’.”                (Seba, T. 2020)[11]


John Murray



  1. Tillemann,L., (2015) The Nice Race: The World Quest for the Automobile of the Future. Simon & Schuster. New York.
  2. Fletcher, S., (2011) Bottled Lightning: tremendous batteries, electrical automobiles and the brand new lithium financial system. Hill and Wang.  New York
  3. Lambert, F., (2017) Toyota admits ‘Elon Musk is correct’ however strikes ahead with gasoline cell anyway accessed  27/10/2017
  4. Muoio, D., (2016) Elon Musk explains why hydrogen automobiles are ‘extremely dumb’ Enterprise Insider
  5. Smit, R., Whitehead, J., & Washington, S. (2018) The place Are We Heading With Electrical Autos? Journal of Air High quality and Local weather Change Vol 52 No 3 Sept 2018https://researchgate.web/publication/328782184_Where_are_we_heading_with_electric_vehicles accessed 4/12/2018
  6. Lambert,F., (2019) Hydrogen station explodes, Toyota halts gross sales of gasoline cell automobiles, is that this the tip?  Electrek accessed 19/5/2020
  7. Szymkowski, S., (2019) Following hydrogen facility explosion, fuel-cell automobile homeowners left stranded. CNET Roadshow  accessed 19/5/2020
  8. KPIX CBS SF Bay Space Explosion Units Off Hearth at Chemical Plant in Santa Clara Jun2 2019.  accessed 14/6/2020
  9. The Korean Instances. Hydrogen tank explosion kills 2 in Gangrening The Korean Instances  accessed 14/6/2020
  10. Baxter, T., (2020) Hydrogen automobiles received’t overtake electrical automobiles as a result of they’re hampered by the legal guidelines of science. The Dialog accessed 4/6/2020
  11. Tony Seba (2020) on Looking for the Questions Reside with David Orban – Rethinking Humanity with Tony Seba STFQL63 accessed 14/8/20
  12. Oil Spills and Disasters Timeline on accessed 10/8/20




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