Elon Musk’s “Hydrogen is BS” – Fuel Cell Vehicle Myth Ten

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles and Battery Electric Vehicles, BETA and VHS?
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles and Battery Electric Vehicles, BETA and VHS?

Elon Musk has a very bad opinion on hydrogen use in cars. He stated it in one of our interviews with him and with other oca

Up until now, we’ve been covering a number of myths regarding hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and their viability as safe and environmentally-responsible transportation, and I suppose the last is to address Elon Musk’s famous assertion, that “hydrogen is so bs.”

Considering that Tesla Motors, of which Elon Musk is CEO, is the single most-successful automaker to appear in the last half-century, one specializing in battery electric vehicles at that, one may tend to agree with his thinking on the subject. After all, battery electric vehicles are more efficient and, at least slightly, less prone to being powered by fossil fuels. Might this be a little hero worship? Taking a look at Mr. Musk’s investment in solar power and battery electric vehicles, perhaps just a grain of salt is needed before the whole writing-off of fuel cell technology, but why?

Elon Musk himself mentioned regarding his own electric vehicles and the naysayers, those who said “electric cars are never going to happen, we should just be resigned to burning hydrocarbons until they run out.” If Elon Musk were in the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle business, I’m sure he’d be talking about battery electric vehicle naysayers. In the video, he goes on to make statements regarding hydrogen safety, efficiency, and laying out hydrogen fuel cell vehicle refueling infrastructure, all of which we’ve been covering in this myth-busting series.

As the technology improves, both for battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, I honestly don’t believe that one or the other is an obvious win. It won’t be like the way that the compact disc took over for the cassette tape, but more like the way that VHS won out over BETA. Even though BETA was ahead in the game as well as offered better quality, VHS won out for being slightly cheaper and more time per cassette. Battery electric vehicles may have come first, yet that doesn’t automatically guarantee success in the world market place.

Tesla Motors may be worth nearly $30 billion today, but a bigger company, Toyota Motor Company, worth nearly $190 billion, has staked its future out on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. My guess is that both technologies will exist alongside one another for a long time to come, at least until fossil fuels run out and we have no choice but a battery electric vehicle or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, or whatever else comes in the next fifty years.

Editor’s note: Elon Musk has been the right man at the right time with Tesla. Time will tell whether he was right or not, however, his formula works right now and without Tesla we wouldn’t have had neither the Chevy Volt, nor the Nissan Leaf, let alone supercharging from one side of the U.S. to the other (with Europe following). With hydrogen, on the other hand, in our times, people would’ve never adopted the technology because of the fuel cells’ high price and the limited availability of charging stations nowadays. Tesla made a name for themselves with off-the-shelf batteries, that are much, much easier to produce and use than fuel cells, just because everyone has them in their laptops and gadgets, and not fuel cells. In a perfect world, yes – hydrogen would be the ultimate fuel, but until someone like Toyota tries to make it viable, batteries are the gold standard. And right now I can’t imagine evolution without Tesla’s batteries.

Images © Olathe Toyota Parts Center


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