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Toyota vs. Tesla – Can Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles Compete with Electric Vehicles?

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.

Tesla Factory - Freemont California

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)

 

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle vs Electric Vehicle - Energy Efficiency

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle vs Electric Vehicle – Energy Efficiency

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)

Hydrogen Cars vs Electric Vehicles - Better Place

Hydrogen Cars vs Electric Vehicles – Better Place

 

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)

Department of Energy - Hydrogen Delivery Infrastructure

Department of Energy – Hydrogen Delivery Infrastructure

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.

Hydrogen Methane Steam Reforming Process - Source HYFleet:CUTE - Global-Hydrogen-Bus-Platform

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.

Keynote at AltCar Expo: 100% Electric Transportation and 100% Solar by 2030

The video of my recent keynote at the 9th annual AltCar expo and conference in Santa Monica, CA, is now available online in its entirety.

The keynote was titled “Clean Disruption: Why the U.S. will be using 100% electric transportation and 100% solar power by 2030”. It’s essentially a distillation of my book “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation”.
• All new mass-market vehicles will be electric.
• All of these vehicles will be autonomous (self-driving).
• Up to 80 per cent of parking spaces and highways will be redundant.
• Taxis as we know them will be obsolete.
• The concept of car ownership will be obsolete.
• Oil will be obsolete
• All new energy will be provided by solar and wind

Here’s the video. Enjoy!

 

Korea’s TV Chosun: the Clean Disruption and the next industrial revolution

I am featured in TV Chosun’s program about the next industrial revolution.

The show, which  aired last night in Korea focuses on Google’s Glass and its self-driving car. The interview took place in late April, so I previewed some of the findings and conclusions of the “Clean Disruption”.  For instance,when they asked me what my message to auto companies Kia and Hyundai would be, I said that the auto industry was going to be disrupted first by the electric vehicle and then by the autonomous (self-driving) car.

Furthermore, the auto industry is going to shrink massively as self-driving cars become ubiquitous. At that point the manufacturing capacity of two of the existing car companies might suffice to produce all the cars in the world. That’s a massive disruption!

The crew came to Silicon Valley in April, interviewed me and  filmed my class at Stanford.  I understand that this is the first of a 5-part series.  I can’t wait for the next four segments.

Enjoy the whole show! Or, if you just want to watch my appearances, go to the segments starting around minutes  1:00, 26:25, 34:46, 37:00, and 42:41.

Let me know what you think!

 

My upcoming keynote on the Disruption of Public and Private Transportation

BYD Electric Bus – Stanford Caltrain shuttle
Copyright Tony Seba (@tonyseba)

Public and private transportation will undergo a transformation over the next fifteen years that will be larger in scope than it has in a century. The tools of the industrial revolution have run out of steam and will be rapidly replaced by the tools of the information technology revolution. History tells us that the cities that lead technology disruptions are wealthier than the ones that don’t.

It’s good to see that California is again on the forefront of this disruption. I’m getting ready to give a keynote to the California League of Cities Planning Commissioners on Friday, March 28th. The title of my talk is “The Future of Transportation: Technology Mega-Trends that will soon disrupt Public and Private Transportation”.

The most visible on-the-ground manifestations of the disruption of transportation will be the electric vehicle and the self-driving car. They will bring the era of the internal combustion engine automobile and the age of oil to a screeching halt. I have written about these technologies in my upcoming book “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation” which I expect to publish by the end of April.

But technologies on wheels are not the only innovations that I will be talking about. The combination of mobile Internet and cloud technologies is already disrupting the taxi business. Unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and nano-satellites will change traffic management. Cars are becoming connected and with ever-cheaper and smarter sensors they are joining the Internet of Things. The huge amounts of data that vehicles generate will help create new industries and disrupt existing ones such as the car insurance business.

The clean disruption of energy and transportation is already happening. Stay tuned for more.

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