Electric Cars are Far More Efficient Than Hydrogen

Decarbonizing energy and other industries globally using hydrogen will require investment of almost $15 trillion between now and 2050 according to European Transitions Commission.

More than $2 trillion of investment would be required in equipment and infrastructure to sustain the accelerating global momentum towards establishing hydrogen as a competitive element of a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050, the Green Metals and Hydrogen symposium.

IEA report that expects the world to require 322 million tonnes of hydrogen by 2050 to meet the emissions targets set out by the recent COP26 conference. The IEA also expects the world to require 3,585GW of electrolyzer capacity by then.

According to the Hydrogen Council’s ‘Hydrogen Insight 2021’ report, global investment in hydrogen projects reached more than $500 billion for 69GW of electrolysis capacity in 2021.

ITM Power has the largest capacity of PEM electrolyzers in the world, and to meet the IEA targets, the figures equate the equivalent of 35 centuries of current production in the next 29 years to meet that requirement. That’s the equivalent of $2 trillion in capital investment.

Hydrogen was used in cars and buses in small volumes before the battery electric vehicle boom. Now there are over 6 million electric cars per year while there are just over 60,000 hydrogen cars per year in 2022.

Japan and South Korea have some hopes for a hydrogen fuel cell success. Japan wants it because they have Toyota and Honda hydrogen fuel cell cars and some of the hydrogen vehicle business looks like the gasoline business. Some of the engine and engineering technology transfers. There needs to be over $2 trillion spent to get to a meaningful starting point to compete with battery electric today. Battery electric continues to improve and will be 30-80 million vehicles per year in 2030.

Hydrogen has no efficiency advantages as shown in the top chart. Hydrogen has no cost advantages.

All of the pipeline and old school companies that will get wrecked with battery electric domination can try to bribe politicians and get more billions of dollars (already $500 billion). However, this will fail and end up being a wasteful dead end.

Storing Hydrogen

Storage of hydrogen is a key component of the hydrogen energy infrastructure and includes both long-term storage for future distribution as well as short-term storage for transport applications such as PEM FCEVs. Hydrogen can be stored as a gas in compressed high-pressure tanks (350-700 bar) or underground caverns, as a liquid cryogenically (-253°C boiling point at 1 atm), or as a solid within a variety of powdered materials. Storage methods for both long- and short-term face a set of significant scalability challenges.

Gaseous hydrogen has almost 3x the energy of gasoline fuel (120 MJ/kg vs 44 MJ/kg), it is also 4x less dense (8 MJ/L vs 32 MJ/L). Lightweight but crash resistant compressed gas containers capable of withstanding high pressures and large enough to meet consumer needs.

Moving Hydrogen

There are several ways to transport hydrogen, varying by application and distance. Chemical and industrial applications tend to use pipelines, which direct the hydrogen from production sources across relatively short distances to large users. The US currently has over 2500 km of H2 pipelines and the EU plans to have 6800 km by 2030. It is a challenge to monitor these long stretches of pipeline for leaks and damages.

30 thoughts on “Electric Cars are Far More Efficient Than Hydrogen”

  1. Arguments over efficiency as the sole metric to select a source of energy fall in the realm of those over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We make technological choices for many reasons where efficiency is irrelevant. What if you cannot do direct electrification where you need to power a vehicle? What happens to efficiency when you store on-site and then transmit later? Would you reject on the basis of efficiency? Of course not.

  2. The pathway from H2 production to actual use is far more simple than mining and drilling and refining to obtain the resources to produce the fuel/batteries for gas/diesel/electric cars. Hydrogen will win as the energy source for cars and trucks in the future. A trucking company can produce their own hydrogen — they can’t drill and refine oil – they can’t mine the material and produce their own batteries.

  3. Imo the disadvantages of batteries have a very good chance to be worse than those of fuel cells. Talking material, firehazard, weight, recyclability, energy grid strain (especially with trucks) to name a few.

    This article is not considering any of that when it compares the two.

  4. If efficiency was the only parameter for mobility, all fossil fuels would bite the dust because they are only 16% efficient at best. What drives everything today, fossil fuels. Why? They are 100 better in energy to mass ratio. They can fly jet planes and rockets because they are a momentum energy source. A hydrogen car can easily be made to go 1500 miles range with one fill up. Liquid hydrogen can can make double the range of the best jet. Batteries are for limited range or capability. They are toys for adults. Their present use in trucking was extremely disappointing. The biggest problem is Li batteries are extremely expensive to recycle and in the long run you are going to run out of Li Co and other exotic materials. Hydrogen is infinite. It is time that we stop going technically in the wrong direction.

    • One should feel lucky that we even have real BEVs nowadays that can go more than 100 miles thanks to Tesla. If not for Musk and his ruthless shepherding of the monies, talent, supply-chains, and anti-government lobbying over the last decade and a bit, we would be now on the path to ICE-mostly vehicles less than 2500 lbs and couple of hundred horsepower max, to keep under a constantly tightening emissions mandate/ mileage at min 50+ mpg nationwide and growing. SUVs, Pick-ups and similar would likely be available by special permit only in such dystopia. At least with batteries we have a CO2eq ‘out’ to buy real vehicles – not the glorified golf carts in Europe or the 3-wheel EVgarbage-mobiles in non-China asia. Where’s the hero for FCEVs per Honda and hydrogen-combustion engines per BMWs old Series 7. Great ideas without great people are just autoshow floor room fluff. I am disgusted by the Fred-Flintstone-esque nature of Musk’s personality as much as anyone but he pulled up our ‘road trip’ culture and freedom to buy a Canyonero and enjoy driving. Hydrogen is nothing without a natural-gas scale infrastructure, possibly as western Europe is undertaking.

        • I don’t disagree, but so little seems to be known about other significant players who were able to advance battery tech, range, investment, factory production, even a smidge as compared to Musk. I could be wrong.
          What significant thing was contemporary to Roadster and early S.
          I’d be fascinated to read the story: History of the EV: outliuer to mainstream 1990s to now.

  5. The efficiency argument is nothing but a red herring. I’ll never take that crap seriously. Batteries are a stupid technology that I will never adopt nor will a great many others. People schilling for them seriously just need to sit down and hush.

    I’d love to see hydrogen win out entirely but the reality is that batteries and fuel cells will likely exist side-by-side similar to how gasoline and diesel does today. A fuel cell vehicle still employs an electric motor. The only difference is in how energy is stored and converted. Both types of vehicles can easily be mass produced on the same assembly lines.

    • The design of a fuel cell vehicle and an EV are totally different. All they share in common are motors and axles. A fuel cell vehicle is more like an ICE with a large fuel cell stack that produces a lot of waste heat and needs a cooling system similar to an ICE. Also, battery systems and hydrogen storage tanks have a totally different shape and require a different chassis.

  6. This is specious nonsense.

    Until you factor storage you have no business comparing costs of these things. Hydrogen is the storage medium. Compare 50,000 miles of hydrogen to 50,000 miles of electric battery.

    Compare storage mediums. Apples to apples.

  7. Japan’s love affair with automotive hydrogen is an artifact of a job retention push. Toyota in particular has a gigantic web of supply chain partners in japan, utilizing an enormous amount of small companies to outsource parts and some assembly production. The harsh fact is, EV’s have a smaller parts count, and the remaining parts lend themselves to mass production, effectively cutting out boutique manufacturers making a single part for a vehicle. The economic consequences of dropping all those mom&pop workshops would be massive (japan fundamentally has a high skew towards small companies). So hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were a fig leaf attempt to keep japanese ICE engine parts manufacturers from going bankrupt, and the japanese government fully understands that their introduced hydrogen requirements are actually a jobs subsidy program in disguise.

  8. So, coal is the worlds most popular energy source, with China building a new plant every other day.
    Let’s calculate the efficiency,H atoms fuse in the suns core, and eventually travel to the surface and we experience it as light. Most goes off in all directions, the percent that hits the Earth is minuscular,then photosynthesis is very inefficient, only a tiny fractions of plant and animals are turned into coal, and most of the energy is rejected into the air when combusted, so the efficiency is trillions of trillions of trillions of a percent, yet it is by far the worlds most popular fuel, why do we care when you spout off about batteries?

    • China may be minimally bigger advocates of coal but they’re also one of the biggest if not THE biggest producers/exporters of renewable energy technologies to the rest of the world. When we argue, where’s the sustainable jobs, we drag our butts in that department due in large part to a divided belief that there’s any real cause for ecological concern. We can’t bring back textiles but we could be bigger players in the renewable energy sector than we are currently.

  9. From a purely common sense standpoint, hybrid vehicles are the best approach. Range constraints, charging time, emissions, and upfront vehicle costs are non-problems.
    Practicality and balance should be fundamental considerations, as opposed to mindlessly jumping on the hysterical “zero-emissions” bandwagon promoted by green energy religious zealots.

  10. Europe will go H2-hybrid car and H2-somewhat heat. North America will go hybrid-electric car and gas heat.
    North Amercia will have problems with grid distribution and reliability. There’s no reason to believe they will solve that in CA or the northeast this decade. Spin all the nuclear, solar, and wind fantasies that one wants.
    Europe’s H2 cars will be expensive and hard to maintain even with PHEV backup features. Overall car numbers in Europe will drop, but they don’t care about individualism or personal property/ amenities as with NA.
    North America EV numbers will stagnate, though PHEV may outpace ICE late this decade. No ICE after 2035 regs will die most places.
    Marginal increases and improvement only going forward – No Next Big Future prior to 2030.

    • How can the US have cost or reliability problems when California and the rest are still building natural gas plants?

      • My expectations are that long distance ‘electric’ transmission and local stations are not likely to be upgraded soon or maintained well per P&G nonsense. Makes EV take-up by non-Tesla enthusiasts challenging. Also witness: hydro bills/ unreliable capacities and occasional fires in such states.

  11. Nice story. Only missing the solid hydrogen version.
    This s pellet based storage and released for the pallet.
    Safe to keep in your hand on jeans pocket.

    Also missing the powder hydrogen version.

    Both are in use too.
    Then you will see all will be in favor to hydrogen in stead of batteries

    • That terminology is confusing.

      “Solid hydrogen” is normally related to hydrogen into solid state of matter. The conditions to reach that state are extreme pressures. Nothing out of labs today.

      You probably are referring, in both cases, to hydrides, not “solid hydrogen”. It’s use compounds to bind hydrogen to other elements, but choosing a compound easily reversible, through small heat or pressure change to release the hydrogen again.

      It’s not a perfect solution, and it has advantages and disadvantages. Anyway, if you look the chart, storage is not calculated as a big loss. The biggest lose in the hydrogen chain is in the hydrogen to electricity stage (a.k.a fuel cell).
      Even with that inefficiency, internal combustion engines are worse.

      They can help in other areas like security and long distance transportation (the most efficient hydrogen chain is compressed hydrogen, but that has a very low volumetric density so a bad choice for transportation using vehicles).

  12. Most of the hydrogen used in the world today is made from natural gas, not electricity.

    Hydrogen made from gas with CO2 capture and sequestration can be cleaner than electrolysis hydrogen today.

    Electrolyzers and other hydrogen production equipment don’t have the same production constraints as batteries. They’re literally just sheets of metal or reactor vessels.

  13. Must be more rational to convert wind, solar etc. surplus power into methane instead of hydrogen.
    Clean methane can (also) be used in fuel cells, internal combustion, external combustion, as rocket fuel etc. No advanced metallurgy needed.
    Easier to liquify and transport without leakage.
    The carbon is already in the atmosphere.

      • Ammonia is not perfect either. Pure ammonia requires refrigeration and some pressure to maintain in liquid form.
        It’s works in that aspect than methanol, for example.
        Also is more toxic in vapor leaks. And a bad burning release NOx emissions.

        But, on other side, it doesn’t require a source of CO2. A renewable source of CO2 could be capture the CO2 of burning biomass, but there is a limit in the biomass we can use per time.

        So, ammonia is a reasonable efuel if CO2 is not available. More inefficient than hydrogen in best case scenario, but in others, hydrogen transport costs or adaptation of existing infrastructure can make efuels a cheaper solution.

        • “Pure ammonia requires refrigeration and some pressure to maintain in liquid form.”
          refrigeration *OR* some pressure.
          Ammonia can be stored at modest pressure in tanks like those propane is stored in.

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