It Seems Elon Musk is Not a Fan of Hydrogen Fuel Cells, We Agree.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells ( Solar Thermal Magazine)

There is a lot of talk and speculation about electric cars giving way to hydrogen fuel cell cars and hydrogen being the fuel of the future. However is hydrogen really the super clean fuel of the future?

Here are some facts about hydrogen.

1- Today there is really only one way to get relatively pure hydrogen, and that is from the fossil fuel industry as a byproduct of petroleum cracking. To make hydrogen at the purity levels required for an automotive proton exchange membrane fuel cell you will need to make it by the electrolysis of water. This involves using electricity to break the bonds of water so that oxygen and hydrogen are released. If and only if you use clean electricity for this can the hydrogen be considered sustainable.

2- Hydrogen at room temperature and pressure has a very low specific energy which means we need to cool and compress the gas to a liquid which is expensive from an energy perspective.

3- Hydrogen does not travel well. When stored or transported in metal pipes or tanks the hydrogen atoms tend to get in between the metal atomic lattices which results in what is known as hydrogen embrittlement. The metal tends to weaken and crack.

It seems that Elon Musk shares a similar opinion of hydrogen as an automotive fuel, keeping in mind that Tesla is all about electric only vehicles.

Check out this video about the 10 minute mark.

This does not mean that there are not better clean liquid fuels in our future. For example how about mixed alcohols or biobutanol into a fuel cell?

Lots to think about.

About Gordon Smith
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.