Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars — #FAIL, In Depth −

100% Electric Vehicles

Published on June 28th, 2015 | by Zach


Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars — #FAIL, In Depth

“Hydrogen: It’s the fuel of the future — and it always will be.” That’s the longstanding joke about hydrogen fuel cell cars, and it’s probably the best way to sum up the story.

But this isn’t a short summary. This is the article I intend to reference every time I feel I need to respond to an article or comment about hydrogen fuel cell cars. It is still going to be a summary (of my favorite hydrogen fuel cell car articles, information, and quotes), but it will be a much more thorough summary than that.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Costs Relative To Performance

No doubt about it: people expect a certain level of performance, comfort, and convenience when they buy a car, with the overall quality of those based to a large degree on how much they pay. There are common phrases people use that argue that everything comes down to money. Of course, for most of us, everything doesn’t come down to money, but many decisions are made according to what you get for a certain amount of money (and how that compares to other things you could get for the same amount of money). And this is fundamentally why hydrogen fuel cell cars are always the cars “of the future” — they simply can’t compete with other cars, cost-wise, and they very likely never will.

Yes, there is always room for scientific breakthroughs, but the bottom line is as Elon Musk has put it: current lithium-ion batteries offer better results than the theoretical best hydrogen fuel cells. More specifically, “the reality is that if you took a fuel cell vehicle and you take the best case for a fuel cell vehicle in terms of the mass and volume required to go a particular range, as well as the cost of the fuel cell system… if you took the best case of that, it does not even equal the current state of the art of lithium ion batteries, and so there is no way for it to become a workable technology.”

I guess this is a good time to note that cars utilizing lithium-ion batteries and cars utilizing hydrogen fuel cells are electric vehicles. They are simply equipped with different energy storage mechanisms and drivetrains.

Looking at the red horsepower bars in this chart (also below), you can see that Toyota’s coming Mirai fuel cell car has even less horsepower than conventional hybrids despite costing much, much more (and note that Toyota is massively subsidizing the price of the Mirai in order to keep the price “low”). The Tesla Model S, on the other hand, has jaw-dropping performance for a similar price.

hydrogen fuel cell car performance

Credit: Julian Cox

In other words, the performance you get per $1,000 of car is much worse with a hydrogen fuel cell car than either a gasoline car or a battery-electric car.

As Dr Joe Romm summarizes, “It is very safe to say that FCVs are the most difficult and expensive kind of alternative fuel vehicle imaginable. While R&D into FCVs remains worthwhile, massive investment for near-term deployment makes no sense until multiple R&D breakthroughs have occurred. They are literally the last alternative fuel vehicle you would make such investments in — and only after all the others failed.”

But What About The Environment? And Efficiency?

If your concern is efficiency or protecting the environment, things don’t get any better.

While hydrogen is abundant, it still has to be obtained from somewhere, produced. Theoretically, it could be obtained by splitting water via electricity generated from solar or wind power. However, commercially, that’s not how we get it. Financially, it makes much more sense to get hydrogen via natural gas reformation. In other words: “let’s stick with fossil fuels.”

The overall effect is that hydrogen fuel cell cars aren’t even as efficient or environmentally friendly as conventional hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Again, see how they compare in this chart (also below). Also note that battery-electric vehicles, even plug-in hybrids, are much “greener” even on today’s grid, and the electricity grid is getting greener and greener every day. “The hydrogen car is more like one third as efficient as the EV,” Dr Joe Romm (who used to oversee and promote hydrogen funding in the US Department of Energy) writes. “Put in more basic terms, the plug-in or EV ‘should be able to travel three to four times farther on a kilowatt-hour of renewable electricity than a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle could’!”

hydrogen fuel cell car efficiency

Credit: Julian Cox

If you care about efficiency, clean air & water, or a livable climate, that chart shows pretty clearly what type of car you should buy or lease. And that’s the key reason why I’m a huge fan of battery-electric cars and started this website.

But if you want another source, here’s a chart from the Advanced Power and Energy Program at UC Irvine:

hydrogen fuel cell cars vs battery electric cars mpg


And note Dr Joe Romm’s addendum: “The two best cases for FCEVs in the chart — a hydrogen pipeline system from central station renewable generation and onsite renewable generation and electrolysis — are wildly implausible for many decades to come, if ever.” Case closed.

Convenience? Who Needs Convenience?

Now, we’ve already seen that the performance and environmental friendliness of hydrogen fuel cell cars don’t even match current conventional hybrids, but if you want to pretend that they are better because they are “zero-emissions vehicles,” then let’s have a look at one more factor influencing consumer choice and satisfaction. The biggest trump card hydrogen fuel cell cars (and gasmobiles) theoretically have over battery-electric cars is that you can fill up their tanks and then drive for hundreds of miles, and that you can fill up their tanks in a matter of minutes.

Theoretically, this makes hydrogen and gasoline cars “more convenient.” Ironically, I think convenience is the #1 or #2 biggest selling point for battery-electric cars, the #1 or #2 benefit that will spur the EV revolution on. (The other benefit is this one.) With a battery-electric car, you generally plug in when you get home and then go inside, spending all of a few seconds “refueling.” When you leave in the morning, you leave on a “full tank” (full battery). With hydrogen fuel cell cars and gasmobiles, when you run out of fuel, you need to go and find a refueling stations, and then wait there as your car refuels (generally while sucking in some harmful fumes). It’s one of the things electric car owners dread when they have to drive a gasmobile from time to time.

And note that there are almost no hydrogen fueling stations out there (12 in the US, according to the US Department of Energy), while there are already tens of thousands of battery-EV charging stations… plus all of those home and work electricity outlets and EV chargers.

So What Do Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Have Going For Them?

Honestly, very little. I think the biggest thing they have going for them is that the technology sounds cool. It sounds cool to say that oxygen is going to mix with hydrogen to propel your car forward, and out will just come water vapor.

Of course, if you are an auto company that would like to delay any significant changes to the dominant technology, or if you are a natural gas company that doesn’t want to see fossil fuels staying in the ground where they are most beneficial to humanity, than hype of a future about hydrogen fuel cell cars is very valuable. It has been going on for decades, and it can go on for several more decades, all while we suffer the effects of burning oil and natural gas. The media and much of the public have picked up on the messaging and is running with the idea as if it is the coolest thing since sliced bread… and they have been for decades.

Luckily, we do now have a cost-competitive alternative that is much cleaner, offers superior performance, and offers much greater convenience100% electric cars. And even stepping-stone plug-in hybrids generally offer those benefits over conventional gasmobiles (and hydrogen fuel cell cars). So hopefully this is the last article I ever feel compelled to write about hydrogen fuel cell cars. 😀

I’ll just end with some great Elon Musk lines (first accumulated here):

  • Hydrogen fuel cell cars “are extremely silly.”
  • “Hydrogen is an incredibly dumb” fuel.
  • “Fuel cell is so bulls**t, it’s a load of rubbish. The only reason they do fuel cell is because… they don’t really believe it, it’s something that they can… it is like a marketing thing.”
  • “There’s no need for us to have this debate. I’ve said my peace on this, it will be super obvious as time goes by.”

Other recommended reading:

1. Tesla Trumps Toyota: The Seven Reasons Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Are Stalled

2. Tesla Trumps Toyota: Why Hydrogen Cars Can’t Compete With Pure Electric Cars

3. Tesla Trumps Toyota Part 2: The Big Problem With Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

4. Tesla Trumps Toyota 3: Why Electric Vehicles Are Beating Hydrogen Cars Today

5. Elon Musk Is Right: Hydrogen Is ‘An Incredibly Dumb’ Car Fuel

6. Nissan & Renault’s Carlos Ghosn & VW’s Rudolf Krebs Slam Hydrogen Transportation At Auto Shows

7. Time To Come Clean About Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles


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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009.

Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity.

Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, SCTY, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB. After years of covering solar and EVs, he simply had a lot of faith in these companies and felt like they were good companies to invest in as a portion of his retirement strategy.

To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

  • Kacper86

    Interesting article.
    I also prefer EVs over FCEVs, but please don’t use quotes like “hydrogen cars are silly” without context. They really do not help in objective arcticles.
    The other thing which should be addresed is the cost (in terms of ecology and price) of batteries and their disposal.

    • vdiv

      10,000 PSI on-board storage tanks and you don’t think they are silly?

      That’s right they are not, they are dangerous. I call them hydrogen bomb cars and that is “silly” too.

      • Kacper86

        I totally agree with you and with @BradMueller:disqus . I think, however, that words like “silly” shouldn’t be placed in scientific articles. The collection of Elon Musk’s lines is unnecessary – it makes the whole article look like a flame war. Science doesn’t need such adjectives to be convincing.

        • neroden

          I’m going to leave you with a link to a classic Krugman column:


          When one side of an argument is not arguing in good faith, when they’re being deliberately misleading and dishonest, it is *appropriate* to mock them. This is how you get other people to stop listening to them.

          The advocates of hydrogen cars are, for the most part, not arguing in good faith; they are being deliberately misleading and dishonest. They are working for the oil industry. They are immune to rational argument. It is appropriate to mock them.

          Incidentally, this is also true of typical nuke advocates.

        • eveplayer77

          True and not. If some other dimwit said it, it would be a flamewar. Elon we listen to.

    • BradMueller

      They are inefficient. If hydrogen were an optimum fuel we’d already be using it. Making hydrogen is one of the major components of any oil refinery. Dangerous to use. Difficult to transport and store.

  • BradMueller

    Hydrogen has always been an inefficient idea to power automobiles. gasoline has more btus per unit than hydrogen. There is, however another fuel cell fuel that looks promising-you can tell I like the idea of a fuel cell- it’s methane. There are already companies that are experimenting with trucks and stand alone industrial power supplies.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    I’m thinking you meant to say financially instead. It’s much cheaper to make the hydrogen this way.

    Fundamentally, it makes much more sense to get hydrogen via natural gas reformation

    • Yes, thanks, correcting.

      • Brandon Fouts

        Fuel cell all about ZEV credits – see California regulations. Also search for IMF report on oil industry subcedes – $10M/minute. I expect better research from you. Follow the money.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    You missed a couple points under what fuel cells have going for them.

    1) Possibly more range.

    2) The greatest financial kickbacks from government because the oil lobbyists have already greased the politicians. This may be the only reason companies like Toyota are pushing hydrogen.

    3) And then as you have already noted, the oil industry loves hydrogen because it uses more of their dirty fuels. Possibly more than they are currently selling to the ICE segment.

    • jeffhre

      1. Possibly? (your hearts not really in that one!)

      2. Yep. But not for everyone forever.

      3. Love – but no money for station building?

      • Ivor O’Connor

        1) The FCEV backers claim they get more mileage than Tesla BEVs. I’d like to see the mileage on a Tesla tripled. So maybe a little competition here might help my cause of getting a real car, Tesla, to focus on constantly extending range rather than self-driving BS.

        2) Oil lobbyists can keep the kickbacks coming forever. Or until our country goes totally broke. They’ve been doing it for 100+ years already.

        3) Yea. Such a shame. I know I will never buy another Toyota simply because of their FCEV support.

        • eveplayer77

          I will never buy another toyota also, because of their hydrogen support , Well said man !!!

  • Marion Meads

    If plugging in at an outlet or at the office where you work is truly convenient, which I agree that it truly is very convenient, then why all the fuss about having to install supercharging stations all over the US? Those supercharging stations are in fact inconvenient compared to gasoline dispensers at the current state of technology. So consider this basic inescapable fact when discussing convenience. Plug-in cars have the supreme advantage of convenience only when you charge at home or at work (where most EV owners have charging access to both places), but no convenience at the publicly accessible charging stations (apartment renters will have to suck it all up the inconveniences of locating charging stations if your apartment doesn’t have a charging station).

    • Rick Danger

      If my favorite bar had a place to charge, I think I could survive living in an apartment. 🙂

    • neroden

      Superchargers are for road trips. For road trips, you aren’t at home or at work. For road trips, they provide convenience compared to a gas station.

      Apartment renters are a different issue.

    • jeffhre

      They would be convenient under one circumstance: If you were on a long trip and running out of charge. Which as Nerodon wrote, is what the were installed for.

  • Dragon

    One of the administrators from AQMD (South Coast Air Quality Management District – they handle air quality for LA, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange counties) gave a talk at the drive electric event I attended. She seemed really nice but at one point showed a graph where they expect fuel cells will grow to dominate like 50% of the market by 2050. I found that really strange and should have asked her about it. But it makes me wonder if they’re assuming, in the distant future, that fuel cell costs will become so low and renewable electricity so cheap that it makes sense to throw the extra energy into hydrogen…

    It sounds sort of plausible, but by the time fuel cells and the ability to make hydrogen from renewable energy is cheap and widely available, we’ll almost certainly have batteries that are so advanced they can charge as fast as it takes to pump a tank of hydrogen and take you just as far. The charger technology needed to dump 300+ miles of range into a battery in a couple minutes would be challenging and very expensive to build out… at least with today’s tech and infrastructure. But it should still be cheaper than pumping hydrogen from a central location. The only way hydrogen might compete is by using local solar panels to generate the fuel on site, but since there’s some conversion loss you would always need more solar (and a backup power source for dark days) for hydrogen fuel than for battery charging.

    Anyway, it was just weird that AQMD’s in-house graphs were predicting hydrogen domination and I wonder how much of that is based on anything scientific and how much is based on the oil lobby. I really wish I’d asked about it.

    • My take/understanding is that anything beyond 10 years is a wild guess. People just can’t know what scientific breakthroughs will or won’t occur, nor what broader macroeconomic factors will come into play. It’s just guessing disguised as something more.

    • jeffhre

      Sort of plausible?

    • Michael G

      What you saw named “Fuel Cells” could better have been called “Unknown Technology”. The articles on EV and FC tech from even 3 years ago are laughably far off in their predictions – 35 years out is anyone’s guess. I personally think batteries will power most people the most miles in the future, but here’s my guess on why Toyota and a (very) few others are looking at fuel cells.

      In short energy density. The attached chart shows that energy density (to go long distance) is much higher (like 10x) for Fuel Cells than for Li-Ion batteries while power density (for quick acceleration) is much higher for Li-Ion batteries (up to 100x). (Note it is a logarithmic scale chart). So an EV running on only Li-Ion batteries will have great pick-up but need lot of space for batteries and weigh a lot to go far. On the other hand, a pure FC car will go a lot further per kg of fuel but with no acceleration (also no regen capabilities).

      So why not combine the two? Simpler to have a Chevy Volt-type arrangement with Li-ion cells for the 90% of the miles that are local and a FC for longer distance driving. That may be what Toyota and others are thinking.

      Further, if you typically only go 35-45 miles in a day why haul around all those heavy batteries for the extra range that you only occasionally use and that slowly degrade and lose charge? Simpler to rely on batteries 90% of the time but carry around an empty FC tank and only fill up (in a few minutes) the few times you need it to go far.

      Consider the GHG effects in worst case where you make the H2 out of natural gas. The version 1 Volt only had 35 mile range and covered 66% of the avg. owner’s miles. If you can up the Li-ion battery range to cover 90% of the miles then automobile contributions to GHG are reduced from the current 20% of GHG to 2%. That is so negligible you can declare victory (for now) and move on to eliminating coal and NG (combined = 65% of GHG).

      Chart from:

      • Hendo337

        A fuel cell as a rarely used back up for a small bev is like having a $20,000 4 cylinder pickup that is hauling around a $50,000 race engine in the bed as a “back up”.

        • Michael G

          I’m assuming fuel cells continue their remarkably rapid fall in price and improvement in technology which so far exceeds that of batteries. FCs start from behind but they are catching up rapidly and by 2020-2023 should be comparable in cost to battery tech. If not, then it won’t happen. Maybe bio-fuels will take off. Maybe Li-air batteries will finally work although research has resulted in little or nothing in the last 35 years.

          We’re all just guessing about the future. It will come at it’s own pace. What anyone predicts won’t matter in the slightest.

          • Martin Lacey

            Three things we do know:

            1) Tesla’s Gigafactory will drastically reduce EV battery pack prices going forwards.

            2) Tesla have introduced better capacity packs in the Model S since it’s introduction. Max capacity in 2012 was 85KWH. Today it’s 90KWH, but we all know that 100KWH isn’t far away , following a hack of the software. Same number and type of cells but 5KWH improvement in 3 years demonstrates significant improvements.

            3) CHADeMO is moving to 150KW charge rates next year and 340KW in 2020. CCS is considering 350KW. What does this tell us? BEV manufacturers are looking for faster charging rates.

            To summarise:
            Near future BEV’s will be cheaper, have more range and recharge faster.

            Range anxiety – what range anxiety?

          • Michael G

            Battery prices will go down, so will fuel cell costs. Which one wins long term I don’t care to guess – and I don’t take any other guesses seriously.

            One Gigafactory can produce batteries for 0.5M cars per year. We will need 35 Gigafactories for US annual car/SUV production and roughly 180 for the entire world. I don’t see that happening soon. In addition, recharging stations for the many, many people worldwide who do not have convenient home charging will take many more years to put in.

            It will take 20 years to replace all the ICE cars currently on the road now. That process won’t start until we have 180 Gigafactories and BEVs are cost competitive with your basic Corolla, F-150, and Minivan all of which is quite a few years in the future. Speculating further than 5 years out is more science fiction in rapidly changing techs like these.

            In the interest of hastening a carbon-free world, an interim approach of PHEV with a FC (for range) charging a battery (for power) would bridge the years between the current “nascent” state of alternative power sources and the ultimate carbon-free world we all desire.

          • Martin Lacey

            I was looking at less than 5 years with my previous statement. Like you I’m not too concerned with predictions beyond that.

            If Tesla can maintain the reservation interest and add significantly too it after the big reveal part 2 then I expect they will consider their global options. I would expect a gigafactory and manufacturing plant side by side in Europe and China going forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if manufacturing was moved nearer to Gigafaxtory 1 either.

    • Hendo337

      Even if fossil fuel splitting wasn’t used to produce the hydrogen. If the hydrogen was split from water with electricity. The ineffency of using the electricity for that, then using an extreme amount of electricity to compress massive amounts of the hydrogen to ship it with a truck I am guessing, then pump and compress it into the tank at the massivly expensive to be safe hydrogen fyeling station then pumping it into a vehicle tank. They’re talking 10,000 psi…it takes an incredible amount of energy to compress 5 gallons of air to 110psi. Imagine 10,000. I have looked into pumps capable of filling scuba tanks and whatnot because I had an idea to use an engine driven pump to fill tanks with air so the compressed air could be used as a power adder for short bursts of power. Any equipment capable of filling at those pressures is ridiculously expensive, takes a long time to fill and used significant energy to function to just 1,500 psi or so. Hydrogen as a vehicle fuel is and always will be vaporware. It is only being discussed to detract from BEVs because BEVs in the hands of the intelligent means billions of lost profits to oil companies. Not just in fuel sales, they want to sell you hydrogen now. It sales of the crap they sell in gas stations, that’s where they make their money. Those olitical people who are furthering the idea of FCVs are highly suspect and are either being paid off or are ignorant. BEVs offer the chance to actually drive off the grid with power you self generate. A battery doesn’t care where the electricity comes from or how its made.

      • Dragon

        That’s an interesting point that I don’t remember seeing mentioned in any significant way in any of these articles. On the other hand, I wonder if they can make those high pressure pumps more efficient if they’re huge and heavy. That would explain why the mobile hydrogen stations can’t get the pressure very high but the very expensive fixed stations can get higher pressure. I do suspect that it’s always going to be expensive and complicated to build and maintain super high pressure hydrogen pumps and that we’ll have endless problems with hydrogen leaking just as we now have with natural gas leaking.

  • SparkEV

    Nice article. What isn’t clear is if H will reduce US dependence on imported energy. We know electric grid is energy independent, and slow growth of EV will spur alternatives to imported energy (even fracking helps). But H being less efficient via electrolysis (if using renewables) and using nat gas reformation using fossil fuel, not to mention whole transport issues, how much imported energy will it need?

    I bring this up, because I don’t think we’re going to die from man-made climate change, but far more likely to destroy the planet from energy import related foreign policy.

  • kanjizai

    When I read discussions like this, I always point out that you don’t need a fuel cell to run a car on hydrogen. Internal combustion engines powered by hydrogen have been around for at least a hundred years, and require only off-the-shelf technology. This apparently is such a novel idea that no one ever responds to my comment.

    • neroden

      See the link I gave earlier. The insoluble problem is compression and storage of the hydrogen.

  • John_Kurmann1

    I can’t understand what Toyota is thinking foregoing on EVs and pushing FCEVs. The only thing that makes sense is the refueling advantage of FCEVs, that is, they can be refueled more quickly than an EV can be recharged, even with a supercharger, just 3-5 minutes for a Mirai, which hypothetically makes them much more equivalent to petrol-powered autos than EVs currently are and maybe ever will be. Of course, you have to actually build a hydrogen-fueling infrastructure at filling stations around the country for that to work in practice.

    • jeffhre

      No, the only thing that makes sense is their dreams of recreating the glory days of the Prius. And the public perceptions of them as the most green company – which developed and marketed it. Jumping into plug-in electrification, would only put them far behind the pack.

    • Agreed, which is why I basically just see this as a delay tactic.

    • Michael G

      My personal guess is that Toyota and Honda are responding to the Japanese govt infatuation with Fuel Cells. MITI has been replaced with METI but still you do what they say if you want the govt. backing that keeps everything running.

      When I researched aluminum-air batteries (potentially 30x better than Li-Ion) the best research seemed to be from Toyota (who knew?). They are into every possible tech and take a very, very long view. The head of Toyota said he can wait 20-50 years for FCs to work out.

      Toyota lost tons of money on hybrid research before it finally paid off in the version 2 Prius. Even now the Prius doesn’t even make the top 10 vehicle sales list in the US and you see very few hybrids in Europe. Yet they’ve sold 8 million hybrids. They should get some credit for that. They seem to be about to announce a 30 mile plug-in version of the Prius.

      I don’t know why everyone is so down on Toyota. GM and Honda are looking at Fuel Cells too but no one criticizes them. If you don’t count compliance cars almost no one is making real mass-market EVs. Certainly not Fiat-Chrysler, Mazda, Honda, Subaru, etc. Honda had a nice Fit-EV and Accord hybrid but only sold enough to meet govt mandates and then dropped both. Yet Toyota gets all the negativity. Why is that?

      • John_Kurmann1

        I’m down on Toyota because they’ve announced they have no plans to sell BEVs, Michael, which I think make much more sense than hydrogen FCEVs.

        • Michael G

          I understand that American Toyota exec really irked people but I never take statements like that seriously. It’s just a way of saying “we don’t have an EV yet” and then make it sound like a grand strategy. Besides, Toyota is run from Japan. Americans do marketing – mainly busy with this quarter’s sales.

          I think it is better to look at what cos. are actually doing. What Toyota is actually doing is coming up with a plug-in hybrid with about 30 miles EV range. Their first attempt at a PHEV was a pathetic 12 mile range so really just developing some engineering expertise. But 30 miles is starting to get serious.

          The original Volt had roughly the same range. GM’s billion-miles of customer data shows 66% of customer miles were on battery, effectively 100 MPG. Suppose the 2016 Volt’s 53-mile range covers 90% of driving miles. If all US cars were magically turned into similar PHEVs the auto’s GHG contribution of 18% in the US would be reduced to 1.8% – trivial! This would be at much lower cost than having every car have 250 EV range. That would be a very, very good thing. If Toyota reaches that 90% EV goal in 4 years as GM did, then we are well on our way and 100% “pure” EV can come later.

          What is more, the main auto sales world-wide is mostly going to be from “emerging markets” (poorer countries) where cost is paramount. (see chart below).

          Another thing to consider is manufacturing capability. Tesla’s Giga-factory (GF) is for 500,000 autos. To supply the entire 17.5 Million cars and trucks sold in the US last year we will need at least 35 GFs. For the entire world’s 2015 production of 89 million cars we will need about 180 GFs. By 2025, that will be 112 million cars and SUVs needing 224 GFs. (see chart below)

          The Tesla Giga-factory will cost $5B and take at least 5 years from ground-breaking to reach full capacity. Companies are not going to invest that much time and money to build facilities unless they are sure they can sell the product. So they will build one factory and only after they are satisfied they have sufficient demand will they build another. We are looking at a looong time to build as many factories as needed for a full pure EV fleet of cars. Add another 20 years to replace the existing fleet of cars and we will blow right through that 2 degree C temperature rise and see 3 degree C rise only in the rear view mirror.

          Building 20% as much battery capacity to remove 90% of auto GHG’s is a good interim step which Toyota seems to be committing to, unlike Honda, Subaru, etc., etc.

          The big trick is getting people to buy any sort of EV in large numbers.

          Cost of Giga-factory here:

          • John_Kurmann1

            No, Michael, I think Toyota is quite serious about foregoing BEVs and focusing on hybrids, PHEVs, and FCEVs. They rightly recognize that current and projected battery technologies are still much less energy-dense than gasoline so, in order to provide the range people want in their cars, you have to use a huge, heavy battery pack. Problem is, weight is the enemy of efficiency. And, of course, it will take many hours to recharge those large capacity battery packs except on the rare superchargers.

            Now, if you ask me, the correct response to those facts would be to offer a small BEV with modest range – something like the Scion eQ Toyota briefly offered in small quantities for fleets. Unfortunately, Toyota is likely right to project that such a vehicle wouldn’t sell well enough to bother.


          • Michael G

            What Toyota is “really” thinking is speculation but I think you are right in saying the cost of a 250 mile pure BEV would be out of their target market at this time. Don’t you think that having a PHEV with 90% of the miles on a smaller battery with another 200 miles on a gas range extender might be the compromise they are looking at?

          • John_Kurmann1

            I don’ think we have to guess, Michael. Toyota has very clearly stated their reasons for foregoing sales of any BEVs. They could change their minds if the market demands it, of course, but they’re not inclined to for the reasons I’ve already stated.

            You can’t have 90% of the range of a BEV in a PHEV without having a battery pack that is nearly as large as the one in the BEV. At that point, you might as well just get the BEV from an efficiency perspective. No, PHEVs only make sense with small battery packs.

          • Michael G

            I apologize for not being clear. I meant 90% of the miles actually driven, not 90% of the range. The Volt with only 35 miles of electric range averaged 80% of trips electric-only = 66% of total miles driven. This is based on GM’s data on 1 billion passenger miles. The newest Volt has a 53-mile range. That could provide 90% of the miles driven by a typical user but with less than 25% of the 265-mile range of a Tesla. Wouldn’t you say that eliminating 90% of GHG emissions from autos is a worthwhile first step on the road to zero GHG emissions?

            As you note, if the market changes, Toyota will change too. With EVs + PHEVs stuck at 0.8% market share in the US right now, do you think the market for non-Tesla EVs or PHEVs is compelling for a company that wants to make enough money to keep going?

          • John_Kurmann1

            I’m all for cutting GHG emissions, but I don’t think PHEV’s with battery packs large enough to provide medium-range make sense. The battery alone must weigh hundreds of pounds but you also have an engine and fuel system that weighs hundreds more – an engine that won’t be used at all most days because of the large battery pack. It’s like a Volt driver is carrying around a load of bricks day-in and day-out. It doesn’t get any better on those occasional days when a Volt driver does need to go farther than the battery pack’s range. When the battery is depleted, it becomes mostly dead weight, with far more capacity than the Volt needs from it in hybrid mode. If you ask me, what makes sense are PHEVs like the upcoming Prius Prime with a projected 22 miles of EV range & 120 MPGe and small BEVs with medium-range, 50-60 miles.

          • Martin Lacey

            You make a very good case for hybrid tech, which I have always dismissed as a poor compromise. Perhaps they make a good interim step on the way to 100% zero emissions at source after all.

            Of more encouragement is a softening of Toyota’s stance regarding BEV’s. If they do get a BEV to market, thy have millions/billions of miles driven by the battery in their hybrids to help them get it right!

          • Michael G

            Thank you for your comment. I bought a (used) Prius for my newly graduated son and he and his younger brother compete in seeing how many EV miles they can rack up. If it even affects college-aged males, the appeal of all-EV is visceral and it is only a matter of time for a full transition to BEV – but time is of the essence in our current situation.

            As for Toyota making a BEV, they will go where there is money to be made, just like the other car cos.

  • SparkEV

    Question: Is there any good site to see the advantages of FCEV? I seem to be only getting negatives, and all the positives too ridiculous that they seem to be straw man arguments, even from Toyota. I mean, there _has_ to be some intelligent argument for FCEV, no?

    • Not that I’ve ever seen, which is why it’s hard to imagine these companies are serious. Hard to not be cynical and see this as a big delay tactic to avoid going battery electric.

      • SparkEV

        I might have to write something for FCEV. Nat gas is $2.33 for 293kWh (1mmbtu)=$0.0079/kWh commodity price. But H costs $13/kg retail ($0.39/kWh), a mark up of 50 times! There must be something wrong with this picture.

        Meanwhile, oil is $44/barrel or 1800 kWh = $0.024/kWh while retail gasoline is $3/gal 33.7kWh = $0.09/kWh, mark up of only 3.6 times. I can’t imagine nat gas to H conversion to be more than order of magnitude worse than gasoline.

        Even if one assumes 5 times worse than gasoline (20X markup of nat gas), H would cost $0.16/kWh, cheaper than retail electricity. FC is only 50% efficient (vs 90% for BEV), so it’d still be worse than BEV, but it would be better than gas cars at 20% efficiency.

        I think some people along the chain are making lots of money with current H pricing.

        • neroden

          If you stored the H2 in leakproof form at atmospheric pressure, it would probably be a lot cheaper. But that’s not practical.

          H2 storage costs are very high due to high leakage, and H2 compression costs are higher and make the storage problem worse. That’s where the money’s going.

          • Even at small scale, it can be stored close to atm, and compressed as needed (service 1 or 2 cars a day?). But with large scale that they sell out in same day and cars are constantly coming in for refill, leak isn’t as much a of problem with pressurized tanks.

            Another possibility for large scale could be to store it as liquid with good insulation at filling stations. Boiling would provide the pressure to fill the tanks. If they sell out of liquid H within the day, it may work without much leakage or large pump. If they don’t sell enough, excess would have to be vented.

            But how do you convince people to use H that’s more hassle and expensive than BEV to achieve necessary scale? I just don’t see it. Meanwhile, all those H makers are making tons of money from FCEV and CA tax payers.

    • neroden

      This four-part debunking is by someone who *worked* developing fuel cells for cars. In a certain sense he’s very optimistic about fuel cells, and he lists all the actual positives of them — but even he has concluded they’re no good for *cars*.


    • Michael G

      One site I like as presenting what I think is a balanced view of FC’s is Battery University’s site here:

      They point out that the FC car is really an EV-FC hybrid since the battery is needed to start going and to provide acceleration while the FC provides range. They are quite clear that the FC is not yet ready for prime time. That site is regularly updated and maintained by a company which makes battery testing equipment so they are not “anti-battery”.

      The US Dept. of Energy also has a lot of information on H2 and Fuel Cells. They are looking at H2 and FCs for all uses, not just FCVs, so it includes info on FCs for home electricity storage, industrial uses (like forklifts, etc.). Here is the main site:

      Much of their documentation is old but they have a yearly progress report here: https://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/annual_progress.html

      At the risk of sounding snarky, I got this info way back by “Googling” “advantages of fuel cells”. You can also Google “DISadvantages of fuel cells” for the other side.

      • They talk about FC, but not really talk about advantages over BEV. Here’s an example of “disadvantage”. Nat gas reformation is about 80% efficient and FC is about 50%. Neglecting other factors, that’s 40%. Meanwhile, combined cycle nat gas generators are 60% efficient and battery 90%, 54% for BEV. Things get worse if you talk about making H from generated electricity using electrolysis. And we’re not even talking about distribution and other incidentals such as compression and leakage, not to mention hassle of driving to H station every few days as opposed to “full tank in the morning” like BEV.

        Then there’s the issue that FCEV also requires battery for regenerative braking. Though small, it still needs battery which makes it a hybrid. FCEV may have small advantage over ICE, but not much against typical hybrid and not at all against BEV, and I don’t see any that objectively address these issues.

        My question is, are these insurmountable disadvantages of FC? These seem so obvious flaws that should be addressed, yet I can’t seem to find any.

        • Michael G

          We have to identify what a viable FCV might be. Everyone I’ve read who has really studied it believes that if FCs happen at all (big “if”) then FCs will replace the ICE in a Chevy Volt-like Plug-in hybrid. A “pure” FCV is not going to happen.

          In this EV-FC case, the battery will take care of 90% of the miles driven and 95% of the trips so the FC part will only used for long trips. You know when you are going to take that weekend trip to the sea or the mountains so you leave the tank empty most of the time, only filling up before you travel. 90% of the miles driven locally on battery means only 10% as many fueling stations needed – probably all by the freeway.

          One advantage of EV-FC hyrids over pure EVs is mass (weight). FCs have about 10x the distance capability per kg compared to Li-Ion batteries. The Tesla S85 which has 540 Kg (1200 lb) of battery (out of 2010 Kg total for the car) can go 265 miles. If 95% of your trips are 60 miles or less (US avg is 35 miles per day) you are carrying around 418 Kg of (very expensive) battery you almost never use. And it is gradually losing charge and degrading all the time. Replace it with a tank for H2 (usually empty except for longer trips) and you have reduced your total mass and total cost significantly. Reducing total cost increases market share. Reducing mass extends range.

          OTOH, the advantage of batteries over FCs is power density (acceleration). See chart:

          Another advantage of EV-FC hybrids is cold weather performance. Batteries do not function as well in cold weather but FCs behave no differently in cold.

          Difficulties in charging Li-ion batteries in below zero weather:
          “Most Li-ion cannot be charged below freezing” from:

          The reason for an EV-FC hybrid is that it would combine the best of both – power density per Kg of EV for pick-up and energy density per Kg of FC for range. The attached chart illustrates that. Chart from article at:


        • Michael G

          The short answer to your question about efficiency is that no one knows right now if the problems you mention are insurmountable. They haven’t been surmounted yet but there has been rapid and dramatic progress in these areas so perhaps they will be solved in the next 5-10 years. Or maybe never.

          The long answer is that you are thinking of only 2 techs (electrolysis and gas reformation) out of 9 different ways to get hydrogen and even then somewhat limiting yourself by current technology.

          Below is the chart of DoE’s hydrogen production map. It comes from DoE’s


          where links to more info on the technologies listed can be found.

          If electricity goes all solar and wind, there will be the same overcapacity during most of a week that there is now in order to meet peak demands. Unlike peaker gas plants, these will still generate electricity when not needed. We already have had cases in Germany where on windy and sunny weekend days electric rates went to zero or negative. With the advent of thin film solar built into exterior walls and windows the cost of electricity may become a non-issue. If that happens efficiency won’t matter.

          There is also the question of overall cost of the vehicle and driving. Steel is $1/Kg. Batteries weigh a lot so to lighten the overall car, Tesla uses aluminum which is $3-$6/kg. BMW uses carbon fiber which is $40/Kg. FCs weigh much less per mile driven so there will be savings in structural costs that might make up for inefficiencies in electricity generation.

          FCs are at least 10 years from being cost effective and anything can happen in that time period. Maybe algae-derived bio-fuels that burn like gasoline and are net carbon-negative.

          (Click on graphic to enlarge)

  • Slappy Cocoa

    I’ve made a few hydrogen fuel cells. Some are incredibly simple, just a couple bolts in a pickle jar. Some are incredibly complex, like the ones that use mesh layers and produce a ton of hydrogen. I was interested in adding a few cells to my truck to get better gas mileage, but didn’t want to overkill it with tiny cells or blow something up with a huge one. I did find one really nice guide online from a place that had a money back guarantee http://tinyurl.com/hj4eboc <– that one. It answered a lot of the questions I had about making things safe enough to put in my truck and how the weather affects things. It was definitely worth the investment as now I get over 50% of my fuel from water! It makes a HUGE difference in a gas guzzler for sure. I don't know why more people don't use these, or make them mandatory in newer cars that aren't designated as hybrid already.

  • Norbus

    “the reality is that if you took a fuel cell vehicle and you take the best case for a fuel cell vehicle in terms of the mass and volume required to go a particular range, as well as the cost of the fuel cell system… if you took the best case of that, it does not even equal the current state of the art of lithium ion batteries, and so there is no way for it to become a workable technology.”

    That is so loaded a statement you should be ashamed to publish it; Cost of fuel cell system will be decimated when production in volume kicks in

  • Dan8

    Why go to electricity to hydrogen and back to electricity to drive a motor. Makes little sense and wastes a lot of effort along the way.

  • Timothy

    In my opinion fuel cells are no more electric than if I had a gas powered vehicle that generated only electricity to drive the electric motors on the wheels all the while not being able to plug it in. We don’t call freight trains “electric trains” even though they are diesel/electric. It would seem to me if I have a true electric car the energy put into it is only electricity and the energy coming out of the storage system is also only electric and then the electric motor turns the wheels.

  • microm

    One problem I have with the idea that 1 technology must rule is that it is based in the petroleum monopoly business bubble. It is a good technology until its profit motive actively blocks all competition. Japan & Iceland are going strong on Hydrogen fuel cells and being tectonic islands with much geothermal & hydro resources, it’s a good match. In desert regions, using solar makes real sense. Where I live there’s an average of 292 sunny days/year. Many areas, like the US plains states and elsewhere around the world, could provide all their power with wind. But even this misses the mark. Push all these and new breakthroughs wherever they work best and then mixing technology will work for us all. We could have a big head start if the corporatocracy hadn’t blocked development. The Carter White House put solar panels on the roof and if we used a push for alternate energy then as a start, we could be about 50 years ahead of where we are now and petroleum would have years to reach peak.

  • kjellbirgerberge

    Great objective article on the subject. Nice to see quotes by Elon musk too. He really has nothing to lose if hydrogen cars start thriving.

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