Avoid Tesla because hydrogen is the new electric

“FCVs (Fuel Cell Vehicles) started out over a decade ago as technology that was in its infancy stage, and clearly not ready for prime time,” Joseph Ghanem writes for Seeking Alpha. “A decade later, and it appears the time has come for fuel cell vehicles to reclaim the mantle as the most energy efficient, practical and realistic choice for the zero-emission car-buying consumer.”

“Arguably, the most challenging issue facing Tesla is the further development and prevalence of FCVs in the global automotive industry. Fuel cell vehicles are gaining traction,” Ghanem writes. “And with major auto makers, such as Toyota, Hyundai and Honda starting to invest, it is only a matter of time before the technology becomes mainstream. The existential threat that could derail Tesla is not just smoke and water. The eventual shift from EVs (Electric Vehicles) to hydrogen-powered FCVs is real, and Tesla may be in serious trouble.”

“While fuel cell technology has advanced in recent years, the infrastructure for hydrogen refueling stations is currently not where it needs to be for fuel cell vehicles to become mass-market. This issue seems to be the Achilles heel of fuel cell vehicles, as a lack of refueling stations would lead to marginal sales volume. However, major investment into hydrogen fueling networks have begun in California and the Northeastern states. With time and capital, the network of hydrogen refueling stations will continue to grow as fuel cells gain efficiency and popularity,” Ghanem writes. “The difference comes down to practicality and convenience. In the end, the consumer is what drives the market for any new technology. I fully anticipate that once the infrastructure for hydrogen refueling is sufficient FCVs will catch on with car makers and consumers. The advantages FCVs offer over EVs are numerable, and with each passing day fuel cell technology improves.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote over a year ago:

Chemistry and physics have laws that can’t be broken… What if the secret to the “Apple Car” isn’t the battery, but the fuel cell? — MacDailyNews, February 25, 2015

SEE ALSO:
Apple leases 96,000-square-foot industrial facility as car talk swirls – March 3, 2016
Apple’s lease of old Sunnyvale Pepsi bottling plant hints at Project Titan expansion – March 1, 2016
Apple silent on mysterious noises coming from clandestine complex – February 27, 2016
Loud, late-night ‘motor noises’ emanate from Apple’s secret vehicle testing center – February 11, 2016
Apple Car: Forget ‘electric,’ think hydrogen fuel cells – February 20, 2015
Inside Apple’s top-secret ‘Titan’ electric car project – March 13, 2015
Apple working with Intelligent Energy on fuel cell technology for mobile devices, sources say – July 14, 2014
North Carolina regulators approve Apple’s 4.8-megawatt fuel cell facility at Maiden data center – May 23, 2012
New aerial images of Apple’s planned NC fuel cell, solar farms published – April 7, 2012
Apple’s massive fuel cell energy project to be largest in the U.S. – April 4, 2012
Apple patent application reveals next-gen fuel cell powered Macs and iOS devices – December 22, 2011
Apple patent app details highly-advanced hydrogen fuel cells to power portable devices – October 20, 2011>

80 Comments

    1. You’re not wrong about electric cars, but keep in mind where hydrogen comes from. We can’t mine it – it has to be made. You make it by using electricity to split it out of water, or worse, out of hydrocarbons. So at best hydrogen is a form of battery, where it’s only as clean as the electricity used to make it, and at worst, it’s just another use for fossil fuels.

      ——RM

      1. That’s old style thinking. It’s not the only way to generate hydrogen. I know that a few years ago the EU was funding research involving hydrogen extraction. Just a few days ago I attended a presentation by a Technion researcher and one of his doctoral students dealing with a novel method utilizing lithium infused aluminum and … water. It’s early research, but they’re already looking to prototype a mini fuel cell for UAVs using this technology.

        Note that such an approach means there are no issues involving storage or fueling a low energy density fuel under high pressure. The Technion, for those who don’t know, is Israel’s MIT, and the technology was recently presented at a high level gathering in Europe.

      2. but what if the hydrogen is split off of the carbon backbone, leaving basically graphite, and you can “burn” the hydrogen producing nothing but graphite and water from hydrocarbons?

      3. True, we still can’t beat the laws of Entropy.

        But in counterpoint, consider that Hydrogen can be generated virtually anywhere where you have access to power and water, which means that a lot of the classical infrastructure challenges to compete against the status quo aren’t necessarily as bad.

        For example, contemplate a home solar system & domestic water line: your home makes your fuel while you’re away at work. Come home, plug in and 5 minutes later, your H2 tank is full.

        Drive down the highway, time to refuel: a commercial ‘gas’ station just needs a water line, electrical service and storage tanks: they generate their H2 on site, which eliminates that whole logistics supply infrastructure.

        FWIW, there’s been work for the past two decades for a MILSPEC fuel cell which could transform right from JP-8 (“diesel”): making power from H2 is comparatively easy … it dates back to the 1960’s and NASA’s Apollo space program.

        1. EDIT:

          First point of clarification to the above: to observe that something is “easy” from an Engineering point of view does not also mean that it is cheap. For example, NASA used high pressure storage tanks, whereas the technology we probably want for the general consumer is probably going to be more like a low pressure nanotube “sponge”, which gets rid of high pressure H2 and simplifies a lot of stuff (safer, too), which drives down costs…but only if the sponge technology can be mass-produced cheaply.

    2. A fuel cell doesn’t magically reduce fossil fuel consumption. The hydrogen you put into a fuel cell was generated by breaking water into its hydrogen and oxygen components using electricity produced from — fossil fuels, or nuclear, or solar, most likely fossil fuel for the very same reasons we use that to generate the majority of our electricity.

      1. Depends on how you generate hydrogen.

        There are several companies developing bio-reactors that use algae or other genetically-engineered micro-organisms to attack waste to liberate the hydrogen contained therein.

        And there’s a company called Joi Scientific – http://joiscientific.com/ – who claim to have a decentralised, cost-competitive method – which they call Hydrogen 2.0 – that generates hydrogen ‘without the use of chemicals or electrolysis’.

        Now, either they’re lying or some people in Texas, Canada and most of the Arabian peninsula are about to get a lesson in how disruption works.

        1. You also have the problem of hydrogen embrittlement, which to my knowledge, has not been solved. It affects a number of different metals. It can diffuse into steel alloys and seep into micro fractures, expanding them and structurally weakening the metal.

          This is a showstopper in a production environment, where reliability and maintenance are a concern. Significant problems need to be addressed with storing hydrogen too. They may be showing off prototypes. But productionizing it is a whole different ballgame. My money is still on electric winning the day. But hey, I’m all for competition.

          1. Wouldn’t that matter only for the components that come in contact with the hydrogen. Mainly the storage, transport and fuel cell and would have no effect on other components of the car?

      1. The article is a load of wishful thinking. EVs are here today, fuel cells are a technology that’s still on the test bed as far as cars go at least. To say “watch out Tesla” is silly. I’m in the market now for a Tesla, have driven several and absolutely LOVE the electric motor. It’s a torque monster that even gas powered cars can’t generally compete with. Add in all the other fun bells and whistles (self driving, everything controlled electronically, monitoring from phone and watch…) and there’s a lot more reason to buy a new EV than just the fact that it runs on a battery and doesn’t require gasoline.

    3. Not so fast. Hydrogen has that exact same potential problem.

      When free standing hydrogen is found in nature, it’s unstable and short lived. Hydrogen forms strong molecular bond with just about anything in the environment.

      Harvesting free standing hydrogen for fuel requires energy. It’s made by using energy to separate water into pure hydrogen and pure oxygen. The energy source used to turn water into hydrogen fuel could come from any energy source, such as solar panels or a stationary bike, but an industrial scale, the energy source used to create hydrogen fuel often comes from burning fossil fuels.

      The real environmental advantage of using hydrogen, compared to lithium ion batteries, is that there are no dead batteries. The same hydrogen fuel cells can be keep being reused without losing capacity indefinitely.

      1. FCV still have a big battery (like a hybrid car). A FCV is an EV with a fuel cell because the fuel cell cannot produce the high current required for acceleration. A FCV is essentially an hybrid car.

    4. Hmmm, but where does all that cracked hydrogen come from, I wonder? I’m suspicious of this drive (oh titter) for hydrogen. Europe goes sold a pup with the promtion of deisel as it solved an oversupply problem for the oil industry. Nothing wrong with that necessarily (for obvious ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ reasons), but it does make you wonder about FCVs. We pretty much already have the network for EVs (the National Grid), and more charging points won’t be to tricky to sort out (see National Grid previously). There are, however, problems in making such ‘fuel stations’ for EVs profitable. No such issues for FCV supply, of course, as it’s a lot more expensive, not least because all the supply issues (tankers, fuel lorries and so on) are so similar to those of petrol and deisel. Yes, I know you can produce hydrogen on site using wind turbines and so on (they have a couple of such stations over here in Blighty), but is that really going to work in cities and so on. So although I applaud the effort, I do wonder about the intent behind FCVs. It all gets turned into electricity anyway . . . so why stick in another tricky middle-man if not to appease oil companies panicking about a nuclear+renewable grid-based EV future?

      1. Most people simply don’t like sharing cars. Unlike the urbanite hipsters who don’t want the responsibility of a car, most people don’t live in Mountain View or Cupertino or Manhattan, nor anywhere with practical public transportation. That is the first reason most people in the world, rich or poor, strongly prefer the freedom that a private automobile grants them.

        Then there is the reality that shared cars become very gross with the constant traffic of who-knows-what that uses them. Uber simply doesn’t have the vehicle quality/cleanliness control down yet.

        Then there is security. More than ever, criminals love to use your exciting networked technologies against you. Don’t think it’s not already happening to social media addicts. Your Uber driver knows exactly when you’re out of town. Do you trust Uber’s management to know whether that information is passed on to Vinnie, the light-fingered friend of a cousin of your friendly Uber driver?

        Third, flexibility. It’s just not possible to Uber for all your needs, nor is it cost effective in most cities to pay for delivery or vehicle rental for everything you do. Families in America need at least one car to handle the kid hauling, the family vacations, the commuting, the runs to the hardware store, and everything else that modern families insist on doing.

        So personal car ownership is preferred, and that prevents manufacturers from successfully selling $200k+ cars to the masses. Tesla is struggling to get its conventional electric cars down to a price the average buyer can afford. They won’t ever be able to outsell gasoline powered cars until the price of oil increases to new record highs, which will happen in our lifetimes but not in the next several years. Tesla is completely dependent on fashion image to sell its cars today to urban users who simply don’t like to visit gasoline stations and like the feel of an electric car. For the same price, though, you could be driving a Porsche or Steve Jobs favorite, a Mercedes.

        I don’t see Eddy Cue turning in his Ferrari anytime soon.

    5. @sherm66
      Where does the hydrogen come from the fuel cell vehicles?
      A fuel cell vehicle consumes per Mile 3-4 times as much energy.

      Is this profitable?

      Gretings from Germany

  1. I’ve always felt that electric cars could never be anything but a stop-gap. While they reduce pollution in cities, they simply move the pollution to another place (wherever the power is generated). As long as the electricity isn’t coming from wind or solar, it’s the same amount of pollution.

    1. Even if we assume that most of electricity comes from fossil fuel (which isn’t quite the case in many countries of the world), there is a massive difference between ICE cars and powerplants. Engines in today’s cars very rarely run at a most efficient regime of operation, having the maximum efficiency of just around 15-20 (the rest of the energy being dissipated through heat and friction). Meanwhile, coal-fired power plants operate at most optimal conditions, with efficiency approaching 40%. Electric cars convert stored electrical energy into power at the wheels with over 60% efficiency.

      If we do some basic math, we can clearly see that even if all the electricity used to charge car batteries came from fossil sources, the net efficiency at the wheels will still be greater with electric cars than with internal combustion engines.

      1. Very true and whats more it is far easier to improve those figures at the point of production of electricity than it is in an ICE vehicle.

        I was very sceptical about the practicality of using hydrogen in the short term certainly but seeing recent developments in Japan where the pressure to solve them is greater than most and where efforts to enable localised production of hydrogen are making some headway. I rather suspect that Apple is perhaps is indeed going down this route.

        After all even when launched around 2020 a fuel cell Apple car will be at a potential advantage in a market with few immediate competitors on a level playing field (likely in Apple’s favour intact) with them in a market that won’t be the mass one we see now in cars that would be extremely difficult to break into, even the electric sector 4 years from now.

        Yet the market they would be entering if fuel cell, has great potential over a ten year period thereafter to grow exponentially, yet one that mass market players would be equally new to and would actually hate to compete in, as it is the exact opposite to their present mass sales expertise and advantage in the marketplace, while fearing taking profits from those present sales. That as we have seen many times, is the exact technological and consumer marketplace that Apple loves to exploit taking out small players as it brings its power to bear while being years ahead of those big hesitating players because of its focus against inbuilt conflicted strategy dissected by endless committees of the major car companies in such an environment. The puck analogy yet again is clear.

      2. About 1/3 of electricity in the US in 2014 was produced from non-fossil fuels, including: nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. In some lucky parts of the country, more than half of all electricity is produced from renewables (primarily hydro, solar, and wind).

        Plus, whatever happened to old-fashioned conservation? 50 years ago our houses provided on average 1000 square feet per inhabitant. The point of better insulation was to reduce energy consumption, not to be able to build bigger houses that cost the same to heat.

        Same with cars. We can buy cars that achieve 30 to 60 miles per gallon. Yet many choose to buy cars that get barely 20.

        Lastly, it does not seem right that anyone with money is entitled to consume scandalous amounts of fossil-fuels that are destroying our planet. They are peeing in our collective ‘swimming pool’ and, in my view, have no right to do so. I would like to know what the worlds’ leading thinkers on moral philosophy, social rights, political economy and sustainability think about the moral right for those with money over-consuming their fair share of the world’s resources.

        The situation reminds me of a Star Trek episode in which an alien race is encountered that is teetering on extinction due to overpopulation and the ruination of their planet’s ability to sustain life.

        1. You say “power to the people” but you’re all about disallowing individuals from consuming fossil fuels as they wish. Then you bust out the AGW lie which shows that you are not about “people power” at all, but eco-tyranny. Who determines who is a “leading thinker”? Do “leading thinkers” first have to accept the AGW lie? Who determines what is someone’s “fair share”? You have bought into the “static pie” thinking, too.

          I am always thankful that people who want to treat the rest of us like fourth-graders aren’t often elected to office.

          1. 1. It was a play on words …but I don’t think you got it.
            2. Your opinion. And an incorrect one.
            3. Usually it is a consensus opinion of experts in their respective fields.
            4. No. The issue or overconsumption of the planet’s resources is much bigger than AGW.
            5. That is the question I am asking.
            6. What is the “static pie” thinking? Maybe I did buy into it. There is only 1 planet, 1 atmosphere, and existing oceans. We are not going to get any more of them. Sounds pretty static to me.

            7. I would say people like you are acting like a 4th graders. (Is this the Trump demographic?) There is nothing implicit in anything I said that was demeaning.

            You are funny — I am laughing at you. Just goes to show what has happened to general education in this country.

            As for elected officials: “The problem with democracy is that the people, like you, often gets exactly what they deserve.” We could use some brighter civic leaders.

          2. His “power to the people” handle could mean he believes in majority rule, and since 70% of the population (U.S. in 2012) believe that man has a hand in global climate change, the statement is viable.

            Some people think abortion is murder, and some believe polluters are committing murder. Is there a difference between quickly killing with a gun, or slowly killing with pollutant spewing vehicles and factories?

            How will you answer God when he says your 15 mpg SUV killed 5000 lives? Will you say, “Oh shucks. I guess the Republican Party was wrong. Can I go to Heaven now?” And then God answers, “If you can fit through this spark plug gap.”

    2. You forgot nuclear power. Anyway, while maybe not saving a whole lot of power, centralised power generating is a much better way to control pollution.

        1. Still the comment is true: pollution is lowered with centralised power generating. And we are already dependent on it whether your ideology fits with it or not. I have no problem with it. I rather plug into an outlet in my house than shuffling coal or chopping wood. I have other things to do with my time …

    3. The only way to stop fossil fuel emissions is to stop burning fossil fuel. So, yes, EVs are stop-gaps. But EVs (and plug-in hybrids) are actually better than burning gas in ICEs in most conditions.

  2. Absolute nonsense. Hydrogen infrastructure would be ridiculously expensive. Hydrogen gas is difficult to handle and store. The amazing leaps with Lithium batteries will continue.

    1. I remember reading about a decade ago when I was researching Fuel Cell Vehicles for a project about a device – about the size of a refrigerator – that could break water into hydrogen and oxygen via electricity. The article claimed that the unit cost less than $10k (including the Hydrogen and Oxygen storage tanks) and could be installed at any gas station that had room for the storage tanks. The Hydrogen would obviously be sold at the station to fill vehicles, the Oxygen could be sold to Hospitals.

      When I started researching that project I was thinking the same as you – that there needed to be a distribution system to get Hydrogen to the stations. Apparently it’s much easier just to make it at the stations. I’m going to go dig around in the basement looking for that paper now – if I can find the article or a link to it, I’ll post.

      1. iFan, that device was an option for Toyota’s first Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle. I believe that the first dozen vehicles were sold tot he state of California. Perhaps that will help you with your research.

  3. If FCV’s expel water out of the tailpipe at a stop light in Northern climates, how’s that going to work when all intersections are slicker than snot during the winter?

    1. Unless they come up with a water collection/recycling solution, such cars would not fly here in Quebec, Canada where winters guarantee your roads would become skating lanes.

  4. They say the earth is getting warmer and the oceans are rising why can’t the split hydrogen out of water and power it that way and use water you already pay for. Using batteries I think is the wrong way, what happens after they fail? They are poisoning to make and get rid of.

    1. So were electric cars but simply the pressure to actually bring them to market and create viable technology in so doing is a relatively recent experience. Only when there is the will to do so will a great leap forward occur based on that otherwise slowly developing/maturing base technology and surely no one can consider we are rapidly approaching that juncture.

      1. Stop lying. The only reason we have electric cars in any quantity is because they are SUBSIDIZED by the government. They were forced on the populace; the populace didn’t want them enough to make them economically viable.

        A “great leap forward”. Oh. You did just refer to Mao didn’t you?

        Typical. People who keep thinking there is a problem despite evidence will embrace anything to fix said problem.

        1. Poster, Tally up all the tax credits, write-offs, and breaks the oil industry has ever taken in its lifetime. Don’t forget sweetheart land-lease deals to drill for oil on US Federal and State government lands. They are yuuge.

          Until the EV industry begins to match those tax credits, write-offs, and subsidies, you should stop whining.

  5. So Tesla couldn’t sell Fuel Cell powered vehicles as well as Electric powered vehicles?

    Isn’t that’s just like saying manufactures of Gasoline powered vehicles can’t sell Electric powered vehicles?

    Given the resources Tesla has chances are if Musk decided that Tesla needed a Fuel Cell type power plant they would make one.

    BTW, how many Tesla Charge Stations exist right now, are actually being used daily by it’s consumers right now? How many recharging stations are there in private homes?

    I don’t know the exact number but there’s a lot.

    Now how many Hydrogen refueling stations are out there?

    It’s the infrastructure stupid.

    1. Thank you very much for your voice of sanity, Photoflight1. I was searching through the comments hoping that someone spotted the flaw in the article. Tesla makes nice electric cars. The car does not care if the electricity comes from a battery, a super capacitor, or a fuel cell, as long as the power source meets the requirements of the system. In fact, it is reasonable to believe that FCV electric cars will have all three – the fuel cell for generating power, a modest amount of battery capacity as a buffer and to heat the fuel cell and get it going from a cold start, and super capacitors to collect bursts of energy received from regenerative braking and them dump it back in during acceleration.

      Someone seems really desperate to dump on Tesla’s future…perhaps this article is backed by an investment group??

      1. Tesla has to endure relentless “pump-and-dump” attacks. It is a week away from the announcement of the Tesla Model 3, the (high-end) mass market offering, so this nonsense can be easily calibrated from that data point.

        As you said, an electric car doesn’t care where the electricity comes from, and a fuel cell is just another generator. I wonder if the fools posting replies here think the hydrogen is going to be burnt in an ICE, if it ever becomes available. The key with hydrogen is, that to get enough on board a car to go very far, you have to compress the hell out of it. Plus, anyone with a solar system on their house can produce all of the transportation energy they will ever need, for free, with zero pollution, once the system is in place.

        Further, I’ve read nothing about a “network of hydrogen refueling stations” anywhere. I think Ghanem is making this stuff up.

    1. .. and we all know that petrol powered cars never burst into flames.

      It’s worth bearing in mind that if a petrol tank bursts, the petrol drops to the ground, spreads and catches fire over a large area with the car above it. If a hydrogen tank bursts, the hydrogen rises and catches fire in the air above the car.

      Neither scenario is particularly pleasant, but I think I would fancy that my chances might be better with a fire raging above me rather than below me.

  6. I believe that the future of cars will be “networked” cars which function similarly to the Kiva robots you now see in warehouses. Basically, imagine self-driving taxis, which you summon with a phone app. In that paradigm, “individual” cars don’t matter. Thus, if one car breaks down, you will be sent a different car. Also, the network will manage the charging and refueling of these vehicles . . . thus, when we consider the feasibility of electric vs hydrogen, we also need to consider whether everyone will have a personal car in the future.

    1. Not only that. With networked cars, there will be much less need for stoplights and stop signs, and braking will be much-reduced. Your car will never be stopped at an intersection when there is no cross-traffic. Merges will be easier, with less braking and less hammer-down acceleration. Construction zones won’t get backed up (which is usually caused by people waiting to the last second to merge into the line, causing the whole line to decelerate rapidly and eventually stop). And then, of course, the fatigued, senile, inexperienced and intoxicated drivers will be gone, once autonomous becomes the only vehicle available (see Rush’s “Red Barchetta” lyrics for that vision of the future).

    2. LOL. You act like people don’t like to drive cars. You really love it when people don’t get to control their own stuff, don’t you? All hail a responsibility-free choice-free existence! Uhm, no.

      If you don’t like cars, then don’t own one! (Adopted from the left’s abortion rhetoric.)

  7. Is there some reason why Tesla couldn’t just drop a fuel cell into their cars, instead of a battery? The whole car is not just battery. It’s stuff that runs on electricity. Shouldn’t matter where it comes from, and if the other car companies pay for the gas stations that’s even better for Tesla. I must be missing something.

    1. I’ve worked on H2 refueling technology.

      H2 is tough to work with. It always leaks because it’s so tiny. H2 even embeds into metals making the metal brittle. (See hydrogen embrittlement).

      H2 has to ultra ultra pure otherwise it will foul the fuel cells.

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