Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle technology is probably even more divisive than electric vehicle technology, but automakers are pushing for this new technology to be mass-produced as soon as 2015.
One of the most influential men of 2013, Elon Musk, said of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, when questioned at a gathering of Tesla enthusiasts in Munich, Germany, “hydrogen fuel cells are so bull**it…” Hydrogen belongs in the second stage of a rocket going to Mars, he went on to say, not in a car.
This might seem harsh, coming from the founder of the most successful electric vehicle company in the world, but it isn’t a matter of Mr. Musk trying to squash the competition. Up until now, and at least for the next decade, I don’t think there is any competition for Tesla Motors.
In theory, hydrogen is a perfectly clean fuel, whether ignited in an internal combustion engine or put through a hydrogen fuel cell to produce electricity. The problem comes in when you consider that hydrogen loves to bond, that is, its nigh impossible to find free hydrogen gas, in spite of the fact that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.
In order to use it, we need to free it from the molecules it’s bonded with. Even if you used solar power to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then to compress it for use in a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, you’re losing better than 70% before the hydrogen even gets to work in the vehicle.
On top of that, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn chimes in, “I would be very curious and interested to see competitors who say they are going to mass market the car in 2015. Where is the infrastructure? Who’s going to build it?” Toyota, General Motors, BMW, and others have hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the works, but how can they overcome the lack of expensive infrastructure?