Hydrogen Hype

Posted by Max Dunn Wed, 25 Feb 2009 00:17:00 GMT

Hydrogen Car and WindmillsNatural Capitalism is a terrific book. But it got one thing wrong – its hope for hydrogen cars. Dan Neil at the LA Times put it well: "Any way you look at it, hydrogen is a lousy way to move cars." (Ref) Here are a few of the reasons why hydrogen won’t work:

  1. Hydrogen is only an energy carrier. It is not an energy source. (Ref)
  2. Hydrogen is made from fossil fuels. And this will likely be the case for the next several decades. (Ref)
  3. Hydrogen production produces CO2. (Ref) For instance, the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen car indirectly produces 176g CO2/mile while the Toyota Prius hybrid produces less CO2 at 167g CO2/mile. (Ref)
  4. Hydrogen cars are very expensive. The FCX Clarity costs several hundred thousand dollars and it will take many years to even drop below $100,000. (Ref)
  5. Hydrogen leaks. A hydrogen car left in an airport parking lot for two week could lose 50% of its hydrogen. (Ref )
  6. Hydrogen isn’t very efficient. (Ref) Only 20% to 25% of the energy needed to make hydrogen can be recovered. (Ref) Even using renewable energy, battery powered vehicles can still go 3-times further on the same electricity than hydrogen vehicles. (Ref)
  7. Hydrogen cars fill up slowly. It currently it takes about 30 minutes to fill up a hydrogen tank. (Ref)

In the long-term, maybe the challenges with hydrogen cars will be solved. However, it is also likely that the few remaining problems with battery powered vehicles will be solved too. Physics will then remain firmly on the side of battery powered vehicles and it will be easier and more efficient to just transfer renewable electricity over power lines to charge battery vehicles than to convert the electricity to hydrogen, ship it, and convert it back into electricity again.

Posted in ,  | 4 comments


  1. JJPRO said about 17 hours later:

    Please, please get your facts straight before you publish your comments. First, learn more about hydrogen before you unduly criticize it.

    Be honest about batteries’ shortcomings. Don’t just read a journalist’s point of view. Read what the engineers and scientists have to say.

    I could go on and on like batteries are just an energy carrier, and not an energy source; hydrogen does not leak in systems designed for hydrogen; the Clarity is 50% more efficient than the Prius; fuel-cell cars can go 3x as far on a single charge and take a fraction of the time to recharge over BEVS, etc. etc. Let’s have an honest debate.

    Thank you.

  2. Max Dunn said about 24 hours later:

    Hi JJPro,

    Thanks for your feedback. You made a good point that it is important to get our facts straight.

    To educate myself on this subject, I have done a lot online research, taken classes and attended seminars. I also provided references for each statement I made in this post so that anyone can double-check my sources.

    I am curious about your statement that “hydrogen does not leak in systems designed for hydrogen” – can you provide a reference for this assertion?

    I do recognize the shortfalls of battery powered vehicles (I have an electric scooter and electric car) and would be interested in hearing more about your thoughts on their limitations.

    Thanks for your willingness to discuss this topic!

  3. piersnewberry@googlemail.com said 24 days later:


    1 this is an aside, it does not matter what label you put on Hydrogen

    2 yes Hydrogen comes from fossil fuels currently, but we are looking at a possible future here. I do remember reading somewhere that there is a surplus of hydrogen as it is a biproduct of some industrial process

    3 Yes due to the above, but again if you look at the future where H comes from nuclear etc, H produces no CO2. None.

    4 There is no reason why Hydrogen cars cannot be very cheap too, and over the long term, as there is less maintenance, cheaper than a petrol car. This is definitely true in a combustion engine conversion.

    5 Hydrogen leaks, no, not in compressed gas confinement at least – http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/storage/hydrogen_storage.html


    7 In west africa it still takes 15 mins to fill up a car. There are various ways around this refill time problem

  4. Max Dunn said 366 days later:

    Here is an interesting article that looks deeply into the problems with a hydrogen economy:

    The Hydrogen Hoax

    Here are some interesting excerpts:

    • 96% of hydrogen is produced from natural gas or coal
    • Creating hydrogen produces more CO2 than just using the natural gas directly
    • Liquifying hydrogen takes about 40% of its energy
    • Compressing hydrogen takes only 20% of its energy, but would then would require a 13 ton truck to deliver enough for 10 fill ups.
    • If gas stations produced hydrogen through electrolysis, it would cost them about $6,000 per day which would yield only about $200 in profits.

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