Severe Issues with Fuel Cell Vehicle GHG Emissions Claims and Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure Grants

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Editor’s Note: one of our readers sent the following letter on May 19, 2014 to the person and office noted below. However, we thought it deserved as much attention as possible and are thus publishing here on CleanTechnica as well. We advise you to share widely.

Severe Issues with Fuel Cell Vehicle GHG Emissions Claims, Detailed Analysis in Open Letter to California Energy Commission Proposing Urgent De-Funding of Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure Grants to FirstElement Fuel Inc. and Others

F.A.O. And for circulation.

Rachel Grant Kiley

Grants and Loans Officer, California Energy Commission, 1516 Ninth Street, MS-1 Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: PON-13-607 Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure / Severe Issues with Fuel Cell Vehicle GHG Emissions Claims.

Dear Rachel,

This is Julian Cox, thank you for taking a moment by telephone and, crucially, for your assurances that funds have not as yet been awarded to Hydrogen Refueling contractors per PON-13-607.

Thank you also for your kind attention and assistance in escalating the matters summarized hereunder to parties responsible for determining on PON-13-607.

Contrary to the impression given in numerous reports in the media, I understand that it remains the case that ‘Funding of proposed projects resulting from this solicitation [including the $27.6 million funding proposed for FirstElement Fuel Inc.] is contingent upon the approval of these projects at a publicly noticed Energy Commission Business Meeting and execution of a grant agreement.’ – and that this meeting has not yet occurred.

I would like to remark that this is out of the ordinary — that an applicant hopeful of receiving significant grant funding should declare the foregone conclusion of a publicly noticed Energy Commission Business Meeting bypress release in advance of receiving approval. This looks like a cross between deeply questionable overconfidence and a worrying attempt to de-advertise the availability of due process.

I would like to make a contribution to that process herewith.

I am writing to you as a result of what I am confident the Commission will agree are material and severe discrepancies between the rationale for awarding any funds to Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure and the independently verifiable facts that are brought to light in this document.

Background and Introduction.

Consistent with a career-long vocation focussed on the positive convergence of economics, energy, transportation and care for the environment I have taken a keen interest in developments and challenges of all kinds facing the electrification of transport in California.

More recently I have observed some troubling conduct surrounding the auto and fossil fuel industry promotion of Fuel Cell Vehicles. Primarily that of a singular preoccupation with targeting aggressive comparative marketing statements at the initially tiny market opportunity to displace other ZEVs (Electric Vehicles) posing the least of the problems that ZEVs could reasonably be expected to solve for consumers in terms of contributions to vehicle emissions. This aggressive stance against Electric Vehicles seemed to be accompanied by evasion of public transparency with respect to the intrinsic link between hydrogen and its almost invariably natural gas feedstock and the GHG emissions resulting from its conversion to hydrogen. Accordingly I was moved to produce some basic research into like-for-like energy and emissions equivalences to look into the issue more closely and the closer I looked the more the facade unravelled.

One thing that was swiftly discovered besides very evidently bad science gives probable cause as to why. That is to say that by far the most influential scientific advisor in seemingly all matters leading to the appearance of PON-13-607 would appear to have worn a variety of hats and filled a chain of key roles surrounding this process. These roles include academic advisor to the CEC on Hydrogen policy, the role of lead author of the California Fuel Cell Partnership’s Hydrogen Roadmap and culminating in the role of Co-President of the principal awardee. I refer of course to Dr Tim Brown currently Co-President of FirstElement Fuel Inc.

Simply put, while the fact is incontrovertible that FirstElement Fuel Inc., stands to gain $27.6 million from public funds, under the most basic forensic examination the academic advice received by the CEC to support that outcome does not hold up.

Real-world well to wheel emissions calculations for Fuel Cell Vehicles produce figures that are so entirely at odds with assumptions at the heart of both public policy and broad consumer awareness that I am compelled to bring this matter to attention.

This is a long document. Thank you sincerely in advance for your most valuable time and attention, and for those who can, your decisive action in defense of the public interest as good judgement and conscience dictates.


The following bedrock statement at the heart of public policy concerning Fuel Cell Vehicles as published here by the California Fuel Cell Partnership, is a pivotal mischaracterization of core research conducted by NREL. If taken on its face value, this statement of comparison on behalf of Fuel Cell technology vehicle versus Gasoline technology vehicle is categorically and unequivocally false:

‘When making the hydrogen from natural gas, as most hydrogen is made today, the GHG emissions are cut in half compared to a conventional vehicle using gasoline’.

This statement is false by omission of the contextually absurd specification given by NREL to the term ‘conventional vehicle using gasoline’. This is a 23 mpg gasoline vehicle that in the modern era generates typically twice the power output of any 122hp to a maximum of 134hp FCV either tested by NREL, presently available or proposed for market introduction. To give an example, a 350hp 2014 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 is a 23mpg EPA vehicle. It should come therefore as no surprise that any modern 122-134hp fossil fuel powered vehicle of any kind is bound to produce at least approximately half of the emissions per mile no matter if those emissions come out of the tailpipe or elsewhere. Far more surprising is that such a revelation of the ordinary could reach the verge of triggering a rethink of public energy policy costing $100s millions if not many $billions before someone eventually points to this most obvious fact.

In plain English and for the avoidance of any doubt. In accordance with the facts and figures brought to light in this document, Fuel Cell Vehicles currently on the roads of California cannot be relied upon to require the production of any less GHG emissions per standard EPA combined mile in the making of hydrogen from natural gas than would be produced from a directly equivalent gasoline vehicle. There can be no ambiguity when the direct equivalence in question is the same make and model of vehicle substituting only a Fuel Cell system with a Gasoline or Diesel Internal Combustion Engine of the same or similar power output.


One of the key figures missing from public debate on this topic, and the one that must be well understood for transparency is the CO2 per Kg figure for Hydrogen production from natural gas.

For those unfamiliar with hydrogen production, here is a highly recommended brief and accessible click-through animation presented (in English) by French-held Air Liquide, a member of H2USA and the lead hydrogen contractor for Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest global-scale exporter of hydrogen. For those concerned about foreign fuel dependency, yes, Saudi Arabia has figured out how to export Hydrogen aboard oil tankers in a liquid petroleum-based H2 carrier called Methylcyclohexane. A perfect illustration of the fact that energy independence and measures to maintain fossil fuel dependency are competing objectives. Air Liquide is also a proposed awardee under PON-13-607.

These are the step by step well to tank calculations for steam methane reforming: Wellhead emissions: (2.450Kg) SMR furnace: (3.704Kg) SMR process: (5.072) Grid emission for compression: (1.175Kg). Subtotal 12.401 Kg CO2 per Kg of Hydrogen, prior to transportation.

This is cross checked with total Natural Gas inputs of 3.629 Kg CH4 per Kg Hydrogen representing a 66% rate of well to product energy efficiency (using a standard 50MJ/Kg figure for NG and a standard 120 MJ/Kg figure for H2, both LHV numbers). To complete the picture requires an acceptable estimated figure for transport. Figures originating at Argonne National Laboratory and republished in graphical form by hydrogen fuel cell lobby group Californian Fuel Cell Partnership arrive at 62% efficiency inclusive of transportation. Hence a final tally of 0.66/0.62 * 12.4 = 13.20Kg CO2 / Kg Hydrogen.

Key number:  Hydrogen consumed well-to-wheel produces 13.201 Kg CO2 per Kg.

Note, this is a best case figure from industrial-scale centralized production.

With reference to distributed and mobile steam reforming contemplated by some of the PON-13-607  proposed awardees, the NREL long term fuel cell study indicates an emissions intensity factor of 356:237 or 150% when producing hydrogen on-site from natural gas at refueling stations. That raises real-world CO2 emissions per Kg of Hydrogen from 13.20Kg CO2 to 19.8 Kg CO2. In order to highlight difficulties with the claims made for Fuel Cell Vehicles, I will proceed with the most generous case at 13.20Kg CO2/Kg H2, not the worst case or even the average case suggested by NREL.

This 13.201 Kg CO2 / for 1Kg Hydrogen lends public transparency to gasoline equivalent emissions simply by putting this figure alongside Well To Wheel numbers for Gasoline. 

The EPA standard figure for CO2 tailpipe emissions per gallon of gasoline is 8.887Kg CO2.

For total well to wheel CO2 emissions we need to accommodate all of the processes prior to the gas station as well as the tailpipe emissions.

NREL gives as figure of 484g CO2 /mile for a 23 mpg vehicle. 23*484 = 11,132g

We can cross check this figure with a DOE study which shows 450g CO2 per mile for a 25mpg vehicle. 25/23 * 450 = 489g. The figures are in excellent agreement.

Well To Wheel Gasoline emissions are 11.132 Kg CO2 for the production and burning of 1 Gallon of Gasoline.

To set 11.132 Kg CO2 / Gal for Gasoline against the 13.201 Kg CO2 / Kg for Hydrogen is a like for like comparison.

The LHV energy equivalence of 1gal to 1Kg is close enough 1:1.

(LHV = Lower Heating Value, just means useful energy not counting exhaust heat, fuel cells have exhaust heat in the form of steam or water vapor).

Now at last we can understand what we are looking at. 

The first thing that becomes obvious is that Hydrogen generates more CO2 emissions than gasoline for the same amount of energy. 13.201/11.132 = 1.186 (18.6% more). The same calculation in reverse 11.132/13.201 = 0.843. This determines that it takes 0.843 of one Kg of Hydrogen to produce the same CO2 emissions as one gallon of gasoline well to wheel. In other words a gasoline pollution equivalent mile is 0.843 of the distance of a 1Kg hydrogen mile.

Researching diesel vehicles in comparison with gasoline, it is possible to locate figures of 14.2g / MJ Well To Tank and 74.1g / MJ for combustion totaling 88.3g / MJ. Where a g/mile or g/km figure is known it is possible to multiply it by 88.3 / 74.1 or 1.1916.  19% of total diesel emissions occur before before it is burned. For gasoline 11132/8887 tells us 25.26% of total gasoline emissions occur before it is burned. For Hydrogen 13201/13201 tells us that 100% of total Hydrogen emissions occur before it is burned.

To illustrate this issue with the most accessible clarity it is proposes that we use a unit of emissions performance termed MPGp defined as miles per gasoline gallon equivalent well to wheel CO2 pollution. (Note the term pollution is used here interchangeably with emissions and is not intended to be inflammatory, simply that the ideal choice of MPGe which might have stood for MPG-emissions is occupied by MPG-energy. A term used by the EPA and others for Gasoline Gallon energy equivalence).

MPGp simply allows for a full 11.132 Kg well to wheel emissions per mile for a gasoline gallon instead of the 8.887Kg EPA tailpipe-only figure. Familiar mpg figures for gasoline-only or gasoline hybrid vehicles remain the same figure for MPGp, other fuel and energy sources such as Diesel, Hydrogen and Electricity require to be divided into quantities that also produce 11.132 Kg of CO2.

So now all we need to know in order to arrive at a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle pollution equivalence to gasoline vehicles is the number of miles any given Hydrogen vehicle can go on a Kg of Hydrogen – and multiply that number by 0.843 as follows (all diesel mpg calculated directly from CO2 emissions for best equivalence):

Hyundai ix35 Tucson FCV 134hp (265mi/5.64Kg) 47 miles per Kg H2    = 39.62 MPGp

Hyundai ix35 Tucson 1.6 135hp 35mpg   (11132g / 318.51 g/mi wtw )     = 34.95 MPGp

Cross check  158 g/km / 0.621371 mi / Km = 254.28 g/mi * 1.2526 = 318.51g  wtw

Hyundai ix35 Tucson 2.0 CRDi 148hp Diesel ww 293.41g/mi wtw         = 37.93 MPGp

Hyundai ix35 Tucson 1.7 CRDi 117hp Diesel EU 266.56 g/mi wtw        = 41.76 MPGp

Mercedes B Class 134hp F-Cell FCV 52 miles per Kg H2  EPA              = 43.84 MPGp

Mercedes B Class 120hp B180 1.6 gasoline 269.47 g/mi wtw                 = 38.44 MPGp

Mercedes B Class 136hp B-200 Diesel 64.2mpg  220.54 g/mi wtw         = 50.47 MPGp

Honda FCX Clarity 134hp FCV 60 miles per Kg H2   EPA                     = 50.58 MPGp

Honda Accord Gasoline Hybrid 196hp 47mpg  EPA                         = 47.00 MPGp

Honda Civic 1.6-litre i-DTEC Diesel 118hp  180.26 g/mi wtw               = 61.75 MPGp

Toyota 2015 90KW/122hp FCV 68.3 miles per Kg H2  (NREL)            = 57.58 MPGp

Toyota Prius gasoline Hybrid 1.8 134hp 50mpg EPA                              = 50.00 MPGp

Toyota Avensis Tourer 2.0 D-4D 124hp Diesel 230.13 g/mi wtw           = 48.37 MPGp

51% Emissions Reductions? No, not even close.

The most egregious example above is the Mercedes B Class F-Cell marketed as “invisible to the environment”. The Fuel Cell Vehicle version of the Mercedes B Class is actually 13% worse than the diesel version of the same power output with undeniable equivalence i.e. same aerodynamics, same car. The Hyundai Tucson, again same aerodynamics, the same power, same car, is 13% better than a standard gasoline ICE equivalent but far adrift from the 55%-65% claims made by CAFCP. It is also 5% worse than a 117hp diesel of similar driving performance.

According to the lobby group California Fuel Cell Partnership:  “The well-to-wheels reports show that hydrogen made from natural gas and used in a fuel cell vehicle reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 55%-65% compared to gasoline used in a conventional vehicle, and by about 40% compared to gasoline in a hybrid engine.”

Statements like this are clearly at odds with reality irrespective of the credentials of the source. As demonstrated. These claims made by the CAFCP and repeated by marketers of FCVs are simply not true. They are not a bit on the hopeful side or wrong by an acceptable margin of error. These statements are categorically false and blatantly misleading.

As previously mentioned, the marketing of Fuel Cell Vehicles is targeted squarely at Electric Vehicles on grounds of greater convenience to access lower total green house gas emissions. With trivial actual merit versus gasoline and diesel the real world numbers for Electric Vehicles and Plug In Hybrid vehicles naturally obliterate the real world numbers for Fuel Cell Vehicles.

We can again use MPGp (miles per gasoline gallon equivalent well to wheel pollution). For this we will need some conversions to discover how many KWh is required to amount to 11.132 Kg of CO2 during production to be equivalent to one gallon of gasoline as follows:

US Average Grid (IPCC) is 0.610 Kg CO2 per KWh. 11.132/0.610 = 18.249 KWh.

PG&E in California is 0.524lb = 0.238 Kg CO2 per KWh. 11.132/0.238 = 46.773 KWh.

A 2014 primer of the kind of performance that now possible in the real world:

Norway’s National Grid (IPCC): 0.003Kg CO2/KWh. 11.132/0.003 = 3710.67 KWh.

These figures are ‘well to socket’. To be as accurate as possible we need to introduce a charging efficiency loss between the socket and the battery of an EV, typically 8% is fair.

Then all we need to know is how far an electric vehicle travels on a KWh of electricity.

Tesla Model S P85+ 416hp 330Wh/mile* (0.359 KWh/mile after charging loss).

*Some references are suggestive that this is total usage as measured at the wall inclusive of charging loss but to ensure that this exercise errs on the unimpeachable I will leave in 8% charging losses for EVs throughout.

Tesla Model S P85    US Grid Average 18.249 / 0.359                        = 50.83 MPGp

Tesla Model S P85   California PG&E 46.773 / 0.359                        = 130.27 MPGp

Tesla Model S P85   Norway Grid       3710.67 / 0.359                       = 10,336.13 MPGp

Chevrolet Spark EV 280Wh/mile (0.304 KWh/mile after charging loss), This is a 100KW (134hp) EV, which makes it a useful direct comparison with FCVs.

Chevrolet Spark EV US Grid Average   18.249 / 0.304                          = 60.03 MPGp

Chevrolet Spark EV California PG&E   46.773 / 0.304            = 153.85 MPGp

Chevrolet Spark EV Norway Grid         3710.67 / 0.304                = *12,206.15 MPGp

Comparison to equivalent FCVs

Hyundai ix35 Tucson FCV 134hp (265mi/5.64Kg) 47 miles per Kg H2    = 39.62 MPGp

Mercedes B Class 134hp F-Cell FCV 52 miles per Kg H2  EPA              = 43.84 MPGp

Honda FCX Clarity 134hp FCV 60 miles per Kg H2   EPA                     = 50.58 MPGp

Toyota 2015 90KW/122hp FCV 68.3 miles per Kg H2  (NREL)            = 57.58 MPGp

Honda Accord Plug In Hybrid EPA    = 115 MPGp

*This is what is at stake as a society upon the outcome of PON-13-607.

Note. PHEVs are complex to dismantle into MPGp in a way that readily verified without special knowledge due to unknown interactions between wall charging, engine charging and charging by regenerative braking. This is not the case for HEVs and FCVs because these are closed systems with chemical fuel as the only input. While some contribution to CO2 emissions at the rate of 138MPGp should be considered for wall charging its 290Wh/mile electric performance, suffice to say that its 115 MPGe EPA combined milage will be a very close approximation to 115 MPGp. As such the Honda Accord Plug In Hybrid is unassailably better in terms of emissions than a 57.58 MPGp Toyota 2015 FCV, at least twice as good. It is at approaching three times as good as the 39.62 MPGp Hyundai Tucson FCV. There is not one FCV that comes even close despite the fact that neither PHEVs or EVs require any public investment in infrastructure.

To conclude the subject of emissions in relation to EVs. According to Dr. Shane Stephens-Romero, the other Co-President of FirstElement Fuel Inc while representing the National Fuel Cell Research Centre / UCI (a hat according to the website that he still wears in the capacity of ‘communications and outreach’). There is 12,500 GWh of ‘Curtailed’ energy in California annually of which 40% is wind power (curtailed = going to waste). Instead of which, as Dr Romero proposed, at $7.5cts per KWh it would be sufficient to power 1.2 Million FCV’s viaelectrolysis without adding to existing emissions. Perhaps that would be interesting if natural gas ever became three times more expensive, however, it seems reasonable to suppose that night time EV charging is a zero net emissions event that is already impinging to a small degree on curtailed night time wind energy. Most importantly, if true, 12,500 GWh would support 2,321,262 Tesla Model S P85+ vehicles at 15,000 miles per year, of which 40% is 928,505 vehicles with zero net contribution to emissions and zero absolute emissions respectively. More on energy efficiency below in the discussion regarding economics.

Drilling down to the sources of the enormous disparity between what we are being told, and what is.

This (dangerously false and misleading) marketing quote from Hyundai is the beginning of an illuminating quest for answers:

“According to UCI’s Advanced Power and Energy Program’s 2013 study, the hydrogen fuel cell provides lower total well-to-wheel emissions than a battery electric vehicle. For the Tucson Fuel Cell driver, this social benefit is achieved with greater utility, versatility and without compromises.”

Firstly excepting that it is a statement of fact (that the study implies what is claimed), the intended message of this statement is 100% false. As demonstrated, FCVs have far higher total well-to-wheel emissions, especially in California. On average similar to gasoline, terrible compared with diesel, and abysmal compared with PHEVs and EVs – despite being identical in concept to any other Fossil Fuel / EV hybrid.

What is more remarkable is the UCI Study itself. Aside from the academically irresponsible comparison with very dissimilar gasoline vehicles, the study is one of a number of similar pieces that illustrate a variety of theoretical but uneconomical methods of Hydrogen production depicted alongside elevated numbers for Grid-powered BEVs and no mention or depiction at all of BEV’s (Battery Electric Vehicles) powered directly from mature and rapidly maturing technologies of solar, wind and hydro electricity in current use on the grid. For a supposedly academic document the level of bias is astounding. This is a sales-support document and it precisely mirrors the same bias seen in materials from the California Fuel Cell Partnership. No mention at all of renewable powered EVs and specious comparisons to modern gasoline vehicles of more than twice the performance of FCVs.

The dots appear to connect in one Dr Tim Brown. Former employee of General Motors Inc.Consultant to the CEC on Hydrogen Policylead author of the California Fuel Cell Partnerships’ Roadmap documentSenior Scientist at UCI’s Advanced Power and Energy Program and finally co-President of FirstElement Fuels Inc, primary proposed awardee of $27.6 million in hydrogen infrastructure grants – and sure enough of it to claim a victory over due public due process by press release prior to those funds being approved.

Drilling still further down towards the original source of false policy advice publicity surrounding Fuel Cell Vehicles.

The original source of the disparity between real world numbers, and the policy-defining key assumption of 51% emissions reduction versus gasoline for Fuel Cell Vehicles appears to be this highly authoritative DOE NREL Study (note though that its participants are auto makers and big oil, a most improbable duet of inspiration for fossil fuel replacement).

In section ‘2.2.2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions’  there are two numbers as follows:

“Conventional gasoline mid-sized passenger vehicles emit 484 g CO2-eq/mile (grams CO2 equivalent per mile) on a well-to-wheels (WTW) basis”.

Note the similar language to ‘mid-sized vehicles’ picked up upon by UCI.


“The average WTW greenhouse gas emissions estimate for the Learning Demonstration fleet operating on hydrogen produced from on-site natural gas reformation was 356 g CO2-eq/mile, and the lowest WTW GHG emissions estimate for [off]-site natural gas reformation was 237 g CO2-eq/mile.”

51% is arrived as as follows:  237/484 = 49%  hence 51% less emissions than 100%.

100% of what exactly?

A 23 mpg gasoline vehicle.   (11132g / 484 = 23 MPGp )

Applying MPGp to the other two numbers is illuminating also:

237g = 46.97 MPGp   not exactly stunning for any 134hp HEV vehicle in 2014 or beyond.

356g = 31.27 MPGp  this ought to have been the reason to halt FCVs there and then:

Toyota 2015 FCV is 38.39 MPGp by this measure.

Hyundai Tucson FCV lags at 26.41 MPGp.

This is the result of producing hydrogen at the refueling station thereby losing efficiencies of industrial scale production.

As previously mentioned, an example of a modern 23 mpg EPA-rated vehicle is a 350hp 2014 2014 Porsche 911 Carrera 4.  It is necessary to go back 20 years in gasoline ICE technology to find 23 mpg vehicles of similar 122-134hp performance currently on offer from FCVs. For example a 23mpg 1994 Honda Accord is was a 130hp vehicle.

To state that an FCV has 51% better emissions than a 350hp Porsche 911 or a 1994 Honda Accord is evidently not a like for like comparison facing consumers, neither is it a fair comparison of technologies. A 350hp FCV would clearly require more emissions than a 122hp or 134hp FCV.

As a reminder: EPA figures for the current model Honda Accord PHEV out performs the 122hp 2015 Toyota FCV 2:1 in terms of emissions, while at 195hp offering considerably higher driving performance.

Energy Economics 101. Where does the hydrogen highway lead?

It is perhaps fair at this juncture to conclude that the California Energy Commission, and the public interest is at gross risk of being taken for fools.

Essentially unless environmental policy calls for public investment from the State of California to hasten to the aid of principally Japanese, Korean and German controlled auto makers to eliminate the competitive threat posed byCalifornian industry to the unchained proliferation of hydraulic fracturing, there can be no rational justification for public funds to be applied to un-sequestered steam reforming. Neither to relieving the fossil fuel industry of the capital cost associated with releasing CO2 emissions from natural gas in California in the name of green energy. Unfortunately that is exactly what the hydrogen lobby stands for.

It is impossible to concur with the advice on record to the California Energy Commission from First Element Fuel Inc, that essentially 90% of the commission’s funding for hydrogen should be applied to steam reforming of natural gas on the promise of jam tomorrow in terms of emissions. From the same letter:

‘100% renewable fuel is a goal that the industry must strive for. But, the realities of the developing hydrogen refueling industry necessitate pragmatic near-term solutions.’

On the contrary as demonstrated below, the entirely inevitable economic outcome of funding natural gas based hydrogen infrastructure will be to create a Trojan Horse. That is to invite freely-polluting and super-funded competition to fossil fuel replacement at the heart of the renewable energy and sustainable transportation sectors from where it may best defend shareholder value from the risk of being replaced. Fossil fuel derivatives publicly endorsed as “green energy” is already precipitating a travesty of both public and private sector resource-misdirection as well as media confusion resulting from the blurring of boundaries between investing for emissions and for emissions-reduction simultaneously under the banner of “green”.

Why it is inevitable that the ‘hydrogen highway’ is a one-way street to a heavily polluting fossil fuel future.

Direct compatibility with renewable electricity strongly favors a continuing trend towards an emissions-free transportation future (i.e. real well to wheel) in the case of Electric Vehicles owing in particular to the cascading price of solar electricity.

Despite much misleading references in marketing materials (and sadly a rash of economically-disconnected idealism in well-meaning scientific circles that is readily seized upon by lobbyists to divert attention from natural gas), there are no such parallels to an economically realistic pathway towards primarily emissions free transportation based on Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles. The price of hydrogen feedstock in the form of natural gas is extremely low averaging around $5 per mmBtu = (293KWh or 1055MJ heating energy). That translates to about 3.4 US Cents as electricity or about 91 US Cents per Kg Hydrogen in energy costs alone (not counting operational expenses, return on capital to bring it to market).

Thanks to prolific hydraulic fracturing the universal abundance not of hydrogen but of natural gas is overwhelming. If it were not for the unwanted emissions of CO2 and CH4 (as well as mercury vapor, hydrogen sulfide, radon etc) and groundwater pollution with anything from barium to benzine primarily related to associated gas drilling and ablight on the natural landscape, natural gas could be an energy panacea. Hence the strong incentive to deal withvoter and consumer concern for the environment as an economic nuisance.

Chemical energy for transportation, hydrogen included, inevitably favors the economics of chemical feedstocks.Abundant natural gas feedstock from the hydraulic fracturing of shales contains the energy potential for self-disassembly into Hydrogen and CO2 via the process of steam methane reforming and as a result it is the simplest, cheapest and most economically unassailable source of hydrogen, best equipped to see off meaningful competition from electrolysis, biofuels and waste-stream reformation – so long as vehicles are chemically and not electrically powered.

Some calculations to get at the specifics:

Renewable energy offers 2.57 miles for every 1 KWh of renewable energy even in a powerful (300KW) EV after grid and charging losses, and 3.03 miles for an FCV-equivalent (100KW) EV.

The same 1 KW of renewable energy (at 54.65 KWh/Kg) after 39% conversion losses via hydrogen would carry a modestly performing 100KW (134hp) FCV only 0.86 miles (47mpKg Tucson) or 1.24 miles (68mpKg Toyota).

In reverse, the disparity is significant but far less marked.

1 KWh of natural gas heating energy (1/13.1KWh/Kg LHV energy/3.629 Kg Ch4 per Kg Hydrogen) producing 0.021Kg of Hydrogen will take a hydrogen FCV between 0.987 miles (Hyundai) and 1.428 miles (Toyota).

The same 1 KWh of natural gas heating energy after a typical 50% conversion loss in natural gas electricity generation and distribution will take an EV, counting an additional 8% charging loss, between 1.39 miles (300KW Tesla Model S EV @330Wh/mile) and 1.63 miles (100KW Chevy Spark EV @280Wh/mile).

From these figures it is possible to calculate fundamental cost per mile economic break-even in either direction in three different hypothetical scenarios comparing a 100KW Chevy Spark EV to a 90KW 2015 Toyota FCV.

  1. If EVs entirely dominate FCVs.  Renewable energy hits break even per mile vs Natural Gas electricity generation at 3.03/1.24 = 244%  of the cost of natural gas. For example if natural gas costs $5 per 293 KWh (true on average) Solar can compete in terms of cost per mile at $12.20 per 293KWh or 4.16 US Cents / KWh.
  2. If EVs and FCVs co-exist. Renewable energy hits break even vs fossil fuel powered FCVs at 3.03/1.428 = 212% of the cost of natural gas. (3.61 US Cents / KWh).
  1. If FCVs entirely dominate EVs as a result of publicly funded anti-competitive practices. Renewable energy converted to hydrogen hits break even with fossil fuel powered FCVs at  1.24/1.428 = 86% of the cost of natural gas. This is the disaster for renewable energy for transportation and the environment that PON-13-607 and initiatives like it will bring about at the public expense assuming consumers cooperate in the purchase of FCVs. The answer is 1.47 US Cents per KWh to be competitive with natural gas.

These numbers represent the economic life and death of our generation’s bid for emissions free and renewable powered transportation. 

We are within three to six years of it being cheaper to run an EV fleet on utility scale solar than it is to power an EV fleet via natural gas. But with an artificially imposed societal choice of FCVs based upon false promises of emissions reduction that very goal is pushed out by approximately 12 years of additional entrenchment in a fossil fuel transportation economy with corresponding emissions and loss of investment in useful progress on the subject of emissions reduction.

There are two economic conditions for these cost comparison scenarios to remain true and these are as of this moment both in the hands of the California Energy Commission to determine the outcome and to set the precedent:

  1. The cost of hydrogen infrastructure must be free of charge to the fossil fuel industry (paid for by public funds). Amortizing that cost and risk of consumer rejection of FCV technology is never accounted for in the cost of Hydrogen.
  2. There must be no accounting for the cost of CO2 sequestration during the production of hydrogen – instead there must be a carte blanche license to pollute. At an incremental $3.50 per Kg H2, 90% clean hydrogen as a result of sequestering the CO2 outputs of SMR cost between 50% and 100% more than the $7.00 to $3.50 figures typically cited.

While it may well be the case that neither the national energy budget nor the US economic budget in the broader appears possible to balance without efforts to displace foreign oil imports with domestic natural gas, it clearly does not follow that a massive public private partnership convened to starve out innovation in US generated renewable energy and tremendous advances made in California in the Electric Vehicle business serves any purpose that is supportable in the broad light of day

It is not as though there is no easier solution for the Auto and Natural Gas industries either:

While it is true that renewable electricity cannot compete to fuel FCVs, natural gas is currently highly competitive 14 – 65% better off supplying electricity to EVs than Hydrogen to FCVs. Meanwhile:

Turbocharged CNG vehicles are a far superior technological answer to the use of natural gas in transportation and far closer to the native skills of the auto industry to produce at an attractive product at an attractive price. This(Hyboost) technology is the perfect technological solution for a mild-hybrid, low emissions, high performance CNG vehicle with regenerative breaking that will certainly exceed the performance of Fuel Cell Vehicles in every regard, including emissions, without having to lie to consumers about emissions credentials. It is beyond reprehensible that this technology has been overlooked. Even without Hyboost:

“With a dedicated solution, you get much better performance and efficiency,” says Wach. He points to the attributes of a Volkswagen Passat with a 1.4L engine using both a supercharger and turbocharger, rated at 150 hp and emitting [190.4] g/[mile] of CO2, the equivalent of 51 mpg”

Best case NREL performance? 237g/mile for a 134hp (probably the 122hp) FCV.

Fact, natural gas is an economically important fossil fuel (we know) that includes the equally fossil hydrogen ions. How does that excuse missing a trick like this?

A very straight forward example of an approach to natural gas emissions reduction with public funds:

It is very hard to ignore the fact that $200 Million of emissions reduction budget could provide the taxpayer with the guarantee of millions of tones of CO2 reduction at precisely $193Kg CO2 per tax payer dollar just by going to where the pollution can best be found. Were that budget to be applied to sequestering the emissions of a single 500 MW combined cycle gas generator running at 85% max load, this would be enough to power 640,055 high performance 300KW EVs or 754,350 100KW EVs on natural gas 90% emissions free with nothing to spend on refueling infrastructure. Alternatively the same natural gas would deliver hydrogen power for 698,301 modest performance Toyota 90KW FCVs while releasing  38,846,462 Metric tones of CO2 into the air over California during a 20 year period with no budget to spare after paying for 100 hydrogen refueling stations as an enabler – if $200 million is enough (average 1995 refueling per station per day). All vehicles 15,000 miles per year.

These choices are of course within the remit of the California Energy Commission at this moment. Whether or not to defray the cost of entry for a polluting cuckoo in the nest in green energy sector, and whether or not to impose or to waive the mandatory sequestration of CO2 during SMR as a gatekeeper to entry. 

Ultimately, the defining advantage for hydrogen produced by natural gas for Fuel Cell Vehicles is the ability to pollute while claiming to be green. It is not good enough that images of celebrities drinking distilled exhaust emissions sets the standard of public education on such a pivotal societal choice.

Naturally it does not help matters that the jurisdiction of the CARB Zero Emissions Vehicle program is simply a dividing line that defines where to pollute and not whether or not to do so.

In summary

  1. Fact. There is inherently no emissions advantage in Fuel Cell Vehicle technology when compared with equivalent gasoline HEVs or diesel ICEs and policies seeking 51% or 55% emissions reductions vs gasoline are misinformed.
  2. EVs are inherently a more efficient and economical per mile usage of natural gas than FCVs.
  3. There are far better and easier ways to make natural gas powered vehicles than FCVs.
  4. There are far more effective ways for $200M USD to deliver emissions reductions.
  5. There are deep concerns to be addressed in the area of false marketing surrounding FCVs, consumers are being systematically mislead by claims of large total GHG reductions that are not true.
  6. The economic course-correction from renewables to fossil fuels implicit in the public funding of hydrogen refueling infrastructure holds unparalleled dangers to efforts to tackle GHG emissions.
  7. Inviting fossil fuels to participate in the green energy economy without mandating full sequestration of emissions from the outset is a violation of the contract of public trust entered into by FCV marketing slogans heavily suggestive of well to wheel emissions free transportation with additional complications for ethical investing.
  8. Facilitating FCV entry to market evidently before commercial maturity appears to conflict excessively with the interests of the Californian taxpayer — Unwarranted and artificial competition to a significant employer in the Californian tax base (Tesla Motors Inc.), harassment of the same ahead of a significant ZEV launch, likely $100K per vehicle tax deductible losses in State (Hyundai & Toyota), ZEV Credits claimed with questionable merit, cannibalization of low-budget-impact ZEV market with high budget-impact ZEV infrastructure expenses, taxpayer accepting unnecessary burden of risk with no emissions reduction rewards and no visible guarantee of economic reward.

Accordingly there are two serious ethical issues beyond the pressing requirement to review whether it is in any way justifiable or appropriate to allocate public funds to fossil fuel interests in the green energy sector. Especially at the juncture of utility-scale Solar Photovoltaic Energy production rapidly approaching grid parity in California and on the eve of the anticipated 2015 unveiling of a Californian designed and built EV that is slated to achieve unsubsidized range, cost and performance parity with the average new vehicle purchased in the State. The latter reasonably likely to be the primary driver of the current auto industry fervor to rush FCVs to market long before they are commercially viable to produce. Behavior that is uncomfortably reminiscent of a similar moves to play the hydrogen card before officers of CARB in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

These concerns are as follows:

  1. Probable cause to investigate material conflict of interest between the advice given to the CEC directly from Dr Tim Brown while overtly representing UCI and also indirectly via the CAFCP prior to applying for, and subsequently securing the potential award of $27.6 million in public funds in the capacity of Co-President of FirstElement Fuel Inc. The advice given and publicised rests in particular on comparative models of well to wheel emissions data according to type and source that includes economically questionable cases of renewable sourced hydrogen, but the inexplicable exclusion of the 78-85% well to wheel efficient use of renewable power in the case of Electric Vehicles as well as likely initiating, perpetuating and allowing to be repeated when known to be false, evidently misleading generic claims of emissions benefits that are nonexistent more than to claim an ordinary feature of ICE vehicles such that any 42mpg gasoline vehicle has half of the emissions per mile produced by any 21mpg gasoline vehicle owing to its smaller engine size and more limited driving performance.
  2. Probable cause to contemplate an antitrust type scheme to starve out competition from renewable and EVs in the transport sector prior to raising the cost of hydrogen from $0.00 to market value as the most likely economic motivation and intended use to which parties including for example Hyundai Motor America, Toyota Motor North America and others expect to leverage from California’s proposed investment in hydrogen fueling infrastructure, as evidenced in the marketing materials from these entities, Hyundai in particular to be the first to declare pricing, including Hydrogen at $0.00. Materials explicitly target the displacement of Electric Vehicles, not gasoline or diesel vehicles accompanied by sales policies that appear designed to rush vehicles to the market considerably below the cost of manufacture (cited at$145,000 and at more than $100,000 respectively) serving as tax deductibles in the State at likely $100,000 per unit and including unlimited free hydrogen refueling in the case of Hyundai (Toyota pricing and consumer incentive policy as yet unknown). Policies that together with misdirection on the subject of emissions and environmental impact appear aimed at artificially distorting the market in California.

In closing.

Thank you for your time and attention. I would be gratified to learn that this work has been of service to the Commission, to the people of California and to the far broader constituency that looks to the California Energy Commission for leadership in what I am confident is a defining moment of truth regarding the challenges and responsibilities facing this generation.

Please choose wisely.

Yours truly,

Julian Cox

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book

Holiday Wish Book Cover

Click to download.

Our Latest EVObsession Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

148 thoughts on “Severe Issues with Fuel Cell Vehicle GHG Emissions Claims and Hydrogen Refueling Infrastructure Grants

  • What feeds my suspicions of fuel cells and the use of natural gas as feedstock can be found in todays Midwest Energy News concerning Ohio:

    Ohio is developing its portion of the Utica shale on the one hand and legislating out renewables and efficiency on the other. America for Prosperity(TM) has this to say about the recent ALEC driven submarining job:

    Ohio also sits next to the Marcellus, Albany and Antrim shale formations. All of which need additional market options..

    To save face it looks like Ohio is using fuel cells (with either hydrogen or methane and maybe other light hydrocarbons from shale) for greening up the place. Ohio universities and startups are doing a lions share of research and development on fuel cell technology. My guess is: why waste money converting methane to hydrogen in a plant, when methane as compressed or liquefied motor fuel can be feed through a fuel cell (different innards of course).

    So, yes, I’m questioning the intentions of the writer and the validity of the letter. Also, as a tip, keep your rebuttals like the letter copied in this post, short and sweet. Let goofs like me blather on with numbers and citation links. A big wall of words and numbers don’t make something sound less untrue.

    • “I’m questioning the intentions of the writer and the validity of the letter”

      Respectfully all of the points you made are supportive.

      I cannot see any need to take issue with the claims made for fuel cells in fixed applications. I am sure that Sierra Club arguing to keep regulations that force more expensive renewables into the mix will become a redundant argument over time as solar gets cheaper.

      The chief concern in Vehicle applications is as stated, an economic one-way street displacement of a nascent clean industry with a dirty industry that is promoted on entirely misleading claims of environmental merit.

      • Most people, including many environmental activists, are woefully uninformed about faux green energy sources such as biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells. Keep up the good work, Julian. We need knowledgeable people, like you, to speak out!

        • Thank you. Biofuels are less of a concern (to me) on the subject of emissions, they are also a waste of space and money and impinge on food crops, but they are theoretically close to carbon neutral – although I have to say the personal experience of flying for half an hour or more over Borneo in a commercial jet aircraft and nothing below but a monoculture of palm oil trees where a vibrant rainforest was supposed to be was beyond heart breaking. I do however think it is vital that we don’t have misinformed environmentalists backing hydrogen. That is sick – and I don’t mean in a cool way.

          • in my opinion, biofuels from waste are fine but we don’t have enough land to supply us with enough virgin feedstock to power the transportation sector. From what I understand, loss of habitat is the number one cause of the current mass extinction, which is another subject too few people are aware of.

          • We have a lot of roof space for solar right next to where power is normally required. I also like the look of large capacity modular vehicle batteries with very long cycle life that can switch roles prior to recycling from both an economic reality perspective and an environmental perspective. As for what ought to be the start of the long phase out of the ICE (with no silly mis-steps with FCVs) I think there is probably a value in efforts to try to serve old cars carbon-neutral, especially from waste streams that will only rot and give off CO2 and CH4 anyway.

    • Brian – thank you, I will look at that and tighten it up. I caught one of those. I do not believe it is either most of them or material to the point. A 20 or even a 25% reduction some extra EU model comparison will not bring FCVs anywhere near a 50% improvement in anything but nevertheless this work should not be permitted to vulnerable to such criticism. The most material is of course the Hyundai Tucson, the first of this kind actually on the roads whose direct Gasoline counterpart at 35mpg EPA dismisses the whole rationale for FCVs.

      • A lot of those numbers are still using imperial gallons, and there’s the drive cycle issue. In fact, in the original list, only the Prius and Accord were EPA drive cycle numbers. The Avensis was converted to US gallons, but still EU drive cycle.

        Still, your main point that it’s not even close to a 50% reduction in emissions is correct. A good hybrid should be pretty similar to a FCV, as the efficiency advantage of the fuel cell over an ultra-efficient ICE is pretty similar to the CO2 disadvantage of a kg of hydrogen over a gallon of gasoline. They roughly cancel. Between plug-in hybrids, superchargers, and just burning the natural gas directly, the outlook for fuel cells doesn’t look good.

        Some day far down the road, if we decide to eliminate, not just reduce, our fossil fuel usage, fuel cells may still get a chance. A fully renewable grid should have some imbalances that would allow for cheap hydrogen generation. For things like long distance trucking, it’s biofuels or hydrogen.

        • Respectfully, I am confident that the US/EU equivalence is now error free and as good a proximity to like for like equivalence that the source data will allow. As for gallon disparity that is eliminated entirely. We are looking for miles travelled per US Gallon equivalent of 10360g CO2 emissions well to wheel – that is what those figures now show whenever an EPA number was not available (because presumably that model is not sold in the USA or it is not yet tested by the EPA because it is too new). I took the time to look at the drive cycle between EU/USA and the effects are randomised not unidirectional or universally extreme and occasionally some disparity seems to be real owing to ECU mappings favouring efficiency over performance due heightened sensitivity to the price of gas in Europe (and an imperative to get numbers under various bars for tax bracketing). Bottom line if the manufactures have a choice of tweaking an ECU to produce better numbers than an FCV then they have the technology to produce a low emissions vehicles without petitioning for $200 million of hydrogen stations on an environmental ticket.

          The question being answered here is do FCVs intrinsically deliver better emissions performance than gasoline (by anything like a huge margin) and the answer is no. All of the gasoline and diesel equivalences are unfair (to gasoline and diesel). Every FCV is a fossil fuel / hybrid and without exception gasoline hybrids beat out FCVs on a like for like basis – even the Toyota FCV gains 3 miles only in return for 5 miles worth of lowered power (and there is talk of a 60 mpg gasoline Prius in the works).

          Also the point remains that any use of hydrogen to replace a pair wires to get electricity to where it need to go is inefficient. There are also immovable thermodynamic chemical and compression losses that are unnecessary compared with pumped hydro or battery-based grid storage for example. Materials handling for hydrogen is also a ridiculous pursuit faced with almost any other choice. That leads me to question whether the only actual point of it is as a wrecking ball for green energy and transportation owing to its power to deceive because for that purpose it is the optimum chemical substance.

          Fixed installations of methane fuel cells potentially make more sense than steam turbines under certain circumstances (and they scale better) – that I would accept from an efficiency standpoint.

  • It doesn’t make any sense to use FCVs. Either you use fossil fuel for the hydrogen or you waste a lot of electricity in the conversion process anyway. The infrastructure and the vehicles are a lot more expensive than BEV.
    With the Tesla Model S, which reaches comparable mile on one charge and with the supercharger that can refill the battery in 30 min to 80 percent, the only advantage right now is, that you save 25 min on refueling.
    Thats not worth sinking millions in this technology when all the other attributes of BEV are superior.

    • And they didn’t even start to subsidize battery tech development as they did for FC development..

    • Mantra Energy MVTG has a patented process to scrub CO2 from ghg emmitting manufacturers like cement factories (in partnership with Alstrom) that produces formic acid or hydrozine which can be used in fuel cells in place of hydrogen. They also have a patent for a novel fuel cell that does not require expensive platinum or simulare metals as a catalyst. While public money for hydrogen fueling stations may be dubious, fuel cell vehicles may not be.

      • Using hydrogen really looks like “no way”. Liguid fuel for fuel cells seems to solve two problems – refuelling network (it is in place, just for another fuels) and storage.
        But there are some important questions – cost, size and weight and life cycle of the fuel cells, cost of the fuel

      • I think that after all the promises of green house gas panacea with fuel cells from CaFCP and especially the Auto Industry with undue focus on water vapour exhaust, the very minimum requirement to take hydrogen to market needs to match the fairest interpretation of the man in the street of those marketing materials: Scrub the lot from day one (regards CO2 from SMR) or scrub the project.

    • You would save 17 minutes in refueling, on a long trip with an FCEV, if there were HF stations, anywhere you wanted to go, on a long trip (the Tucson FCEV has the same range as a Model S 85).

      However, for commuting and daily driving the results differ greatly. The HFCEV driver would lose 12 minutes and 30 seconds (the actual fill is under 10 minutes, but time in station = about 13) for every HF fill up. Which is necessarily away from their garage, workplace or destination. Since plugging in and unplugging for daily BEV driving requires a total of 30 seconds. The BEV driver will have a full battery each morning. And stations can be additionally installed at any place the BEV driver normally visits.

      Gaining 17 minutes on a long trip with refills vs. driving out of the way to lose over 12 minutes on each of their every-day refills. With all refills in a public station, instead of while walking to the house from the garage. Having to drive to refill, instead of having a full tank each morning. Are these good trades, to save 17 minutes to refill on a long trip? Worth sinking billions in this technology, when no private entities are willing to build out the infrastructure?

      • I’m betting that in ten years wireless charging will be the norm. Zero time used to plug and unplug for daily driving.

        Power loss with wireless is small. Given that we can produce that power with renewables there’s no additional load on the environment.

        Wireless can be embedded below the pavement which means that it becomes invisible along our streets and is out of reach of vandals.

  • What is used in making gasoline? Hydrogen, of course. Did the author factor this into the calculations? This article is full of holes and bad assumptions.

    • Is it? (And naturally I would be aware of hydrogen’s role in gasoline production, you would find the energy and emissions count for that in the 86% factor between EPA tailpipe and Well to wheel numbers).

      • Yes, the article is very one-sided. BEV’s are portrayed as being clean and recharging from renewables. In reality, coal burning power plants transmit power hundreds of miles. Charging at night? What about during hot days BEV’s have to be plugged in for the cooling system to keep the batteries cool. The article lacks balance. The future of energy storage for renewables is hydrogen and we should definitely invest in a hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

        • I would have to disagree on grounds of economics and physics. As demonstrated The numbers I have presented are excessively fair to Fuel Cells. Objectively as a fuel, Hydrogen from Natural Gas is MORE carbon intensive than coal even using the best case figures. NREL’s average figures for on-site SMR are 50% more carbon intensive than the figures I have used – direct link to NREL research report is in the article.

          Carbon Dioxide Intensities Of Fuels g CO MJ-1


          Natural gas 56.1

          Gasoline 69.3

          Kerosene 71.5

          Diesel Oil 74.1

          Bituminous Coal 94.6

          Sub-bituminous coal 96.1

          Peat 106

          Hydrogen 110 / 165 (on-site SMR)

          Cross Check: 13200/120MJ = 110 * 1.5 = 165.

          There is only one scenario in which there could be any excuse to use hydrogen and call it clean. That is in a vehicle technology that is so incredibly efficient that the result is to negate that 110 g/MJ figure in relative CO2 output per mile. That is what the auto industry have suggested, and as demonstrated, that suggestion is false and misleading (a gross error in the kindest interpretation). Instead we are presented with a straw man 21mpg gasoline vehicle to be knocked down with emissions claims for a vehicle of less than half of the driving performance – readily achieved by gasoline HEVs just as well and usually better.

          There is no excuse to use Hydrogen in fixed fuel cell production either. Making hydrogen in industrial scale is 66% energy efficient (without taking the hydrogen to market). A Hydrogen fuel cell is about 60% efficient so 0.66 * 0.6 = 39.6% efficient electricity production is practical. The alternative is just to skip the Hydrogen step altogether and use purified methane (from natural gas) directly in a 60% efficient methane fuel cell! for an approaching 60% efficient process – that is about the same as existing Combined Cycle Gas Generators that burn natural gas to power a steam turbine – except that it is possible to make a small methane fuel cell installation and get similar efficiency results. Of course the methane fuel cell exhaust is then CO2 but vastly less than including the wasteful Hydrogen step and of course this is cheaper per KWh with less capital equipment required and none of the extreme handling issues presented by hydrogen.

          Considering then hydrogen from natural gas offers ZERO emissions benefits in transportation and is a polluting waste of energy in a fossil fuel energy architecture, what about a renewable architecture?

          As demonstrated in the article above, if the starting point in the chain is renewable electricity, crazily more powerful and cheaper to build EVs travel 2.57/1.24 = 2.07 times the distance per KWh. A like for like EV to FCV goes 2.44 times the distance. That is a >100% waste of milage (or $$ money) due to introducing the round-trip efficiency losses of using hydrogen to power an electric motor. A large population of EVs on charge at any time is practically its own grid intermittency buffer (that is a smart grid concept that will take this off topic).

          There is a very short window of opportunity to hope to fool people that existing long range commercially viable EVs are expensive and to leverage that perception by massively subsidising even more expensive FCVs in the consumer market. A long range, fast charging, high performance EV that is commercially viable at an accessible consumer price point defeats the entire relevance of FCVs.

          Storing renewable energy as hydrogen is equally ridiculous. 75% efficient production 60% efficient redemption as electricity. Round trip 55% loss (add another 10% for compression) 65% loss. Some will say – wait you could send that hydrogen to power FCVs. What FCVs!? If it were not for spending $100s of Millions or $Billions per State on hydrogen infrastructure to put natural gas based hydrogen FCVs on the road there would be no FCVs. In a clean renewable powered energy strategy there would definitely be no FCVs owing to the reduction in miles travelled or a doubling of the cost per mile of EVs that are directly compatible with renewables!

          • You don’t have me convinced. A BEV goes 2.44 times the distance of an FCEV? Batteries are much heavier than fuel cells, is that included in your number? I have many friends who own Teslas. In the summer they have to be plugged in all day while parked and use electricity to cool the batteries, is that included in your number? Batteries fade as they are drained, is that in your number? Batteries performance is variable in different temperatures, is that in your number? I don’t think your comparisons are fair.

          • “A BEV goes 2.44 times the distance of an FCEV? Batteries are much heavier than fuel cells, is that included in your number?”


            With the caveat that I am not certain you are correct about the existence of a weight advantage for Fuel Cells when it comes to power output. All FCVs proposed to be brought to market have truly feeble performance. The scam has been to claim that they have emissions reduction advantages compared with 21mpg cars.

            I did find a 21mpg vehicle to compare like for like – a 1994 Ford Taurus 3.0 liter. The trouble is that you can’t buy one of those new any more. These days we are stuck with 21mpg gasoline vehicle that make 0-60 10.5 seconds (Toyota FCV) look pretty horrible. The example I gave was a Porsche Panamera 4.

            On balance I feel certain that the burden of proof rests with FCV promoters to explain why they were flat out lying on the core numbers before nit picking relative semantics about personal choices for best practice. Fuel Cells will literally freeze and crack during a winter in Vermont etc without temperature maintenance.

        • The author is not alone. I pre-created the same analysis months ago. It’s very obvious that FCEVs are less efficient and extremely expensive. FCEVs are not the answer.

  • Thank you Julian Cox! Bravo!

    • Thank you, I hope it helps. CEC have kindly acknowledged receipt:


      Thank you for your email. I will forward this on to program management.

      Rachel L. Grant Kiley, Manager
      Contracts, Grants and Loans Office
      California Energy Commission

  • Hi Julian,

    Your well-presented letter left me with the paradox of pleasure with pain. Pleasure because you have written an excellent depiction of today’s primary source
    of hydrogen and the need to factor the consequences of its production into comparative statistics. Pain because you neglected to distinguish between sources of hydrogen gas. Notably in your dissertation:

    “…The first thing that
    becomes obvious is that Hydrogen generates more CO2 emissions than
    gasoline for the same amount of energy. 13.2/10.36 = 1.274 (27.4% more)….”

    We are a
    young corporation trying to dispel the predominant and adamant fixation on perceiving the oil and gas industries as the world’s only source of hydrogen gas. I created a web site to offer referenced arguments for a much different source.
    However, as an amateur web designer it has not harvested many hits from search engines.

    I designed the site to convince people to leave hydrocarbons for much needed other uses and to embrace a hydrogen economy by accepting “zero-carbon”
    hydrogen gas as the only sustainable and infinite energy carrier. Our company is BIO-H2-GEN Inc. and our website is:

    Our dissolved target to produce hydrogen gas does not involve carbon and is ubiquitous throughout the world in municipal wastewater infrastructures. Our patent is pending on our proprietary process.
    William C.Knapp, President, C.E.O.

    • William. I am ready to believe that your intentions are whole heartedly good.

      The sad reality is that the examples you lay out (and similar from others) are seized upon by cynical think tanks and paid promoters of the fossil fuel and auto industries to perpetuate the myth that what they are actually investing in is clean and green (or has a clean and green future intent).

      It doesn’t work that way. Unless your technology can beat out Natural Gas on price and abundance (i.e. aggressively put the natural gas industry out of business in the hydrogen market).

      Then comes a cruel paradox. Had the fossil fuel industry felt that there was any real risk of your technology putting them out of business there would be no investment in hydrogen fuel cells for you to supply.

      The hydrogen highway to hell is paved with good intentions such as those you have expressed. If your efforts help to reassure the public and politicians to install hydrogen infrastructure, the fossil fuel industry will simply thank you at economic gun-point with Hydrogen at a base cost per Kg of $0.91 Cents per Kg, possibly less and unimaginably huge economies of scale. You will never get close to the decimal point in terms of market share.

      “We are young corporation trying to dispel the predominant and adamant fixation on perceiving the oil and gas industries as the world’s only source of hydrogen gas”

      This is music to the ears of those that would sell humanity down river, including future generations of their own families unless by some strange dint of fate 401ppm CO2 and escalating exponentially turns out to have been a good thing after all.

      The Jewish culture has assumed the opposite approach to denial and mythification of really bad stuff that can result from turning a blind eye: Never Ever Let It Be Forgotten.

      If tackling climate change = good. Hydrogen = the sworn enemy of good.

      This is not something to be pacified or given the benefit of the doubt. Fact, fossil-fuel hydrogen infiltration of the green energy and transportation economy and mindset is the most dangerous and most malicious environmental fraud facing humanity – precisely because of the deception risk. I wish you well in your endeavours to contribute to a better world, but fuelling deception is really the most unhelpful thing you could possibly do.

      • Julian
        dare I offer a few additional words to your closing comment:
        “…Fact,hydrogen invasion of the green energy and transportation mindset is the mostdangerous and most malicious environmental fraud in the history of time.”

        Iwould wholeheartedly agree with that statement if it was worded thus:
        “…Fact,the methane derived hydrogen invasion of the green energy and transportation mindset is the most dangerous and most malicious environmental fraud in the history of time.”

        At this critical time it is essential that science, devoid of rhetoric, be disseminated to the general public by any means that can be readily understood. Unfortunately there are many disparaging remarks that belittle the warnings from thousands of well qualified scientists throughout the world. There exists sufficient, well researched, well documented evidence of impending disaster vis-à-vis the catastrophic consequences of unabated carbon addition to our atmosphere. Biased and unfounded criticism will hasten the fruition of those consequences by encouraging
        continued use of hydrocarbons as our primary energy carrier and thereby impede the adoption of “carbon-free” hydrogen as the ultimate and infinite energy carrier.


        • You may be as daring as you please.

          Hydrogen has no part to play in an energy economy of any description, other than as a tool of deception.

          Energetically it is a cost item.

          There is one argument that you cold present to convince me otherwise and you are not doing so: Show me a clean process of hydrogen production that is inevitably cheaper and more abundant than steam reforming, without being a waste of renewable energy relative to not involving hydrogen in the loop.

          • The dissociation energy for some pertinent simple compounds at 298K or 24.85ºC expressed in kilo-Joules per mol:

            CH3 –> CH2 + H…………….356

            H2O –> OH + H………………486

            H2S –> HS + H………….…384

            It is quite obvious to me that it takes less energy to remove the hydrogen from the sulphur atom than to remove the hydrogen from oxygen (water).
            Consequently, send the hydrogen from H2S through a fuel cell (making water) and there is an energy gain in the form of electricity (electric vehicles ?) and heat….lets not forget absolutely pure water (~9 litres with each kilogram of hydrogen). The bonus??……NO CARBON


          • This looks like a potentially useful thing to do to partially reward efforts to clean up fracking emissions (acid rain precursors). What would you plan to do with the resulting sulfur dioxide? Whatever you could do with SO2 why would an attempt to make hydrogen alongside it be a better idea than just capturing the H2S and making industrial acids with it.

            BTW – developing viable methods of cleaning up fracking is a HUGE contribution – just think that hydrogen of energy is a red herring in that context (not being facetious but actually I hope offering some valuable assistance to your firm).

          • It is useful…in many ways. The oil industry also extracts sulphur (Claus process) that the entire world needs (it is a comodity item) My process wil ultimately also produce the needed sulphur. Right now it is stockpiled ( 000’s of tons) by the oil and gas industries. It is not uncomon for “natural gas” to contain up to 90% H2S. They deal with it as a gas I prefer the dissoved state. The irony is that many wastewater facilities treat with air or oxygen from hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and in so doing add comperable quantities of SO2 into the air; which in a three step “contact” process produces H2SO4 (sulphuric acid AKA “acid rain).

          • Sir, it is somewhat off topic, but I absolutely honour any contribution you can make to reducing H2S emissions. Screw hydrogen as a fuel source – it would be better to let it float into space. Have you seen the destruction of temperate forests from H2S pollution. That is the simultaneous destruction of the carbon sink!

          • Julian….The more you get to know H2S the greater respect you will have for it. There would not be life on this planet without its contribution to the sulphur cycle.
            Firstly, H2S does not remain long as H2S in the atmosphere. As soon as oxygen comes in contact (aprox.
            20% of the air we breath) the following reaction occurs:

            2H2S + 3O2 —-> 2H2O (as steam) + 2SO2
            (sulphur dioxide gas) —— ≫ then H2SO4 (acid rain in three steps)

            Annual volcanic activity releases tons of H2S then SO2 into the air. The natural eutrophication of swamps and
            marshes do likewise. H2S is a result of anaerobic bacterial respiration utilizing “mineral sulphates” to obtain their oxygen then releasing hydrogen sulphide as their “waste”.
            The sulphates are formed when the “acid rain” (H2SO4) dissolves minerals in our soil to form mineral sulphates.
            Now you can se the cycle that has been going on for a few billion years. Our corporation is simply tapping
            into an existing “cycle” underway in existing infrastructures throughout the entire world. How much hydrogen is possible? From a community of 300,000
            it is estimated to be somewhere between 1 and 4 million kilograms of hydrogen annually (zero carbon remember). You should check out our web site:

          • OK enough already.

            2H2S + 3O2 —-> 2H2O (as steam) + 2SO2
            (sulphur dioxide gas) —— ≫ then H2SO4 (acid rain in three steps)

            Correct. If you can deal with that without simultaneously promoting this:

            CH4 + H2O ⇌ CO + 3 H2

            CO + H2O ⇌ CO2 + H2

            Then go for it. Otherwise my wholehearted abhorrence of your work stands, as should be the case of anyone in search of honest answers to atmospheric CO2 emissions at 401ppm and going off the charts.

            As Carl Sagan so aptly put it:

            “We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

            Taking a Phd and using it to sell people dreams and ship them shit is profoundly wrong. Stop it already.

          • You
            haven’t really read anything I have written. I will not take the bait and reveal my process other than to state

            There is NO methane involved.

            There is NO carbon dioxide involved.

            There is NO carbon monoxide involved.

            I simply target DISSOLVED H2S ….PERIOD

          • Great! Use it to serve. But I trust by now that will appreciate that your Jedi mind tricks will not work on me.

            Allow me to refresh your memory:

            “We are young corporation trying to dispel the predominant and adamant fixation on perceiving the oil and gas industries as the world’s only source of hydrogen gas”

            And your H2S is supposed to come from where exactly?

            BTW – I honestly believe you could adjust the moral compass of your business and sell your process for $$$$ as a pure fracking emissions reduction technology with a saleable product to defray the costs. I expect the only limitation on the success on your business is the attempt to link hydrogen with the energy market. Stop that, do what I said. Good luck.

          • The
            answer to your last question is on my web site.
            Thank you Julian…..I enjoyed our little dE-bate (coined ??) Check each of my pages and I apologize for
            the overcrowding of charts and images…(”picture worth a thousand words”) I don’tknow who first said that. Enjoy the rest of your day.

          • How about no shouting? (Kill the capslock.)

          • My age and avoidance of “texting” shows my naïveté. It took a while to understand your admonishment. You are correct, thank you.

    • I would very much hope that anybody who cares for the future of energy, transport and the environment will use this work as core-research and as a foundation to force an honest debate by their own best powers of persuasion.

      • I’ve read a similar article about EV emissions from the grid varying in “mpg equivalent pollution.” I find this a contrived and uninformative way for the average person to compare emissions. Grams per mile is more accurate and informative, (the one the EPA uses for vehicle emissions). Why are you using metric units for an American (Californian) audience? KG, Kilometers is confusing for us and subverts the point you are trying to make.

        • This is the article. “mpg equivalent pollution” works in this article to show what mpg you would need to get to have the same emissions as a Nissan Leaf. Better it tells you nothing about the actual co2 emissions.

          I back sourced the emissions from the “MPGp” and used epa co2 emissions “WTW” for grams per mile (gpm). As you can see, the way the information is displayed is more useful for the native American.

          MPG….Model…Tail pipe co2…..Wells to wheels co2 emmisions

          28mpg..Camry 317 grams a mile….(395 gpm wells to wheels)

          46mpg..Prius 193 grams a mile……(241 gpm wells to wheels)

          50mpg..Prius 178 grams a mile……(222 gpm wells to wheels)

          70mpg..Insight ~144 grams a mile (178 gpm wells to wheels) SULEV CVT

          99mpge Nissan Leaf 0 grams a mile(119 grams a mile) [New England mixed grid]

          99mpge Nissan Leaf 0 grams a mile(201 grams a mile) [Austin Texas mixed grid]

          99mpge Nissan Leaf 0 grams a mile(293 grams a mile) [Kansas grid 72.8% coal] (Worst)

          99mpge Nissan Leaf 0 grams a mile(1.9 grams a mile) Charged exclusively from Hydropower! (Best)

          • MakeSteelBattalion2

            In one way you are right of course. I deliberately did not put a figure for g/mile wtw because the object was to come up with a figure directly comparable with any familiar EPA mpg and related to total green house gas emissions (for CO2 anyway). EPA do publish a g/mile number but this is a tailpipe figure not a wtw figure. I felt it was valuable to point out that a Hyundai Tucson FCV pulls the identical green house gas emissions as a 36.89mpg gasoline car while claiming to offer 50% less than a gasoline car, meanwhile its identical twin gasoline version is a 35mpg vehicle!

          • will tell you the tailpipe and wells to wheels co2 emissions of any car, gas or electric. I found it very useful. Adding 24.8% to any gasoline tailpipe will give you the wtw co2 emissions. Any EV emissions will be in wtw. Plugin cars are very deceptive though!

          • Do you have a reference for that 24.8% that you can share.
            It is very close to the 25.26% that I was able to achieve and it would be good to lock it down.

    • Agree “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” -Thomas Jefferson

      • I will treat this as a kind of peer review and follow up with some more user-friendly contributions. I think that is better than the other way round. There have been two valuable critiques that have made it possible to tighten this up. So far items that have remained solid as a rock are 13.2Kg CO2 / Kg Hydrogen WTW, the comparisons with EVs, and the Trojan Horse / one-way street economics of giving tax dollars to let Hydrogen into the green economy.

        Oh that and the fact that the marketing for Fuel Cell Vehicles a green is a complete crock and conflict of interest embodied in misleading academic advice to CEC from members of FirstElement resulting in nearly obtaining $27.6 million USD from the CEC.

  • Joining in here because I write about fuel cells for CleanTechnica from a number of different angles — mobile and stationary, hydrogen and alternatives, high tech (accessible to industrialized nations) and low tech (accessible to developing nations), fleet vehicles and the individual consumer market, specialty vehicles (think forklifts) and street vehicles — as far as hydrogen fuel cells go, agreed! My pet peeve is the use of fossil energy to manufacture hydrogen, and it’s pretty clear that DOE’s fuel cell initiatives are linked with the US shale gas market. Once you get over that hurdle (or commercialize alternative fuel cell systems), the main thing to keep in mind is that the availability of multiple alternatives is the key to a sustainable future. Right now mobility is tied to one option, fossil fuels. In the future we’re probably looking at the domination of electricity/battery systems for zero emission vehicles, but fuel cells and carbon-neutral liquid biofuels could continue to play a significant, beneficial role.

    • @TinaCasey

      I could not disagree with you more strongly.

      Your pet peeve is the entire point of fuel cells, without which there would be zero interest or funding for them.

      Fraternising with enemy number 1 to sustainable transport will categorically not play a beneficial role of any description. They (as they are doing unless it is stopped) will usurp fabulous amounts of government funds earmarked for environmental initiatives and divert those resources to pollution and the combatting of renewable energy and sustainable transportation – and to the maximum extent possible either buy or sucker in green-leaning consumers in what can only be described as the most profoundly fraudulent act ever to afflict an environmentally concerned public.

    • Tina, would you have an issue with FCEV’s fueled with water based H2?

  • Excellent letter, if a bit longer than necessary to make the point.

    Chemistry/Physics limits FCEVs to a fraction of the efficiency of any other form of modern transportation.

    For instance, why convert natural gas to hydrogen and then to energy for a FCEV when 50% as much natural gas can be pumped into far less expensive natural gas powered automobile directly to achieve greater horsepower and range?

    Or alternatively, why use renewable energy to create electricity to create hydrogen when 33% as much electricity could be used to directly charge a BEV?

    What this letter explains is the details behind this argument. We can debate or dispute if 25, 30, 33, 40, 45, 50 or 55% is more accurate to insert in the figures above – but entropy prohibits FCEVs from ever getting to parity. Never, ever…not going the happen.

  • If you are making hydrogen and electricity from Natural Gas,why not just burn the NG directly in the vehicle?What are your well to wheels on that?What about a CNG range extended plug-in hybrid?

  • My career has been focused primarily in the auto and renewable energy industries and have followed fuel cell and BEV developments closely. I dislike the ideas of fuel cells for many reasons and currently own a Chevy Volt which I’m thrilled with. The idea of producing Hydrogen even through electrolysis and renewables makes me quite wary. Emissions of any sort in my mind, can have serious unintended consequences. Can you imagine millions of fuel cell vehicles in dense city centers emitting tons of water vapor? What will that do the the microclimate of the city? Vehicle ACs and building ACs will potentially need to run longer and consume more energy to dehumidify the air. I haven’t gone through any calculations but my gut feeling is that the added humidity won’t be insignificant for either people or the natural environment.

    • FCV promotors (including government policy) could be straight up with people and simply state – hey we ran out of affordable oil but with this we can use US abundant natural gas from the fracking of shales and you can have water vapour in the cities instead of fumes and the GHG emissions either at the gas station or back at the refinery. Decide if you want one. Then hey fair enough. H2USA launch document is clear enough on it but they are the only ones and that is against a wall of noise pretending it is great for the environment and the future of sustainable transportation – they just omitted the word Environmentally.

      • This, I think, is one of the reasons why we need to bring back accountability in reporting AND apply accountability in advertising. In Europe, companies who engage in false advertising are severely fined and required to remove the advert. I think they are even required to publish a statement of false advertising with a correction.

    • Also, as Doug wrote:

      Chemistry/Physics limits FCEVs to a fraction of the efficiency of any other form of modern transportation.

      For instance, why convert natural gas to hydrogen and then to energy for a FCEV when 50% as much natural gas can be pumped into far less expensive natural gas powered automobile directly to achieve greater horsepower and range?

      Or alternatively, why use renewable energy to create electricity to create hydrogen when 33% as much electricity could be used to directly charge a BEV?

  • This is a passionately-argued letter; and we would be a lot closer to the world we want, if we followed Mr. Cox’s example.

    Unfortunately, the calculations are flawed. And unless Mr. Cox tried to reach out to Tim Brown to get his side of the story first, the impugning of Dr. Brown’s reputation is offside. An apology may even be in order.

    Mr. Cox correctly states that NREL found that the lifecycle well-to-wheels emissions of a mid-sized vehicle are 484 g CO2/mile. I found a graph to this effect on the University of California Irvine’s website:

    In the first graph, we see that 484 g CO2/mile is for a gasoline ICE vehicle with 40 mpg fuel efficiency. A gasoline vehicle which gets 25 mpg emits perhaps 620 g CO2/mile. A BEV powered by the US grid emits perhaps 330 g CO2/mile. And a FCV powered by hydrogen from natural gas emits perhaps 240 g CO2/mile. The chart suggests that when a zero-carbon grid emerges, FCV’s and BEV’s will be roughly equivalent: the extra energy to make the battery will be about the same as the energy required to electrolyze and compress the hydrogen.

    Mr. Cox makes an error when he assumes that the 484 g CO2/mile represents “tank-to-wheels” emissions when it is a lifecycle “well-to-wheel” emissions calculation. That’s how he assumes the comparison car gets 21.4 mpg, when in reality the data assumes a 40 mpg vehicle.

    There is another error in the comparison of 1 kg hydrogen with 1 gallon of gasoline. Though the energy content is roughly the same, the fuel cell’s efficiency is much higher than the gasoline engine’s. (Roughly 60% vs 30%)
    While the pollution involved in producing 1 kg hydrogen is roughly the same as the pollution from 1 gallon of gas… the driver will get about twice as far. So it would be more appropriate to compare the pollution from 1 kg hydrogen, with the pollution from 2 gallons of gas.

    And this correction makes the Mercedes B-Class fuel cell vehicle somewhat cleaner than the gasoline and diesel vehicles. It’s not perfect, but neither is the electric grid. (At least not yet.)

    The errors in his calculations have caused Mr. Cox to impugn the credibility and integrity of Dr. Tim Brown and the California Fuel Cell Partnership, and suggest that they have massaged their published data — a very serious allegation. But it is in fact the errors he made, that accidentally massaged his own data, leading to his conclusions.

    If Mr. Cox had politely reached out Dr Brown or the CaFCP’s technical experts to express his concerns, they likely would have spotted the error and saved him the embarrassment and discomfort of publishing a correction and/or partial retraction (which would be appropriate, given how strongly he worded some of his statements).

    There is a case to be made that money spent on fuel cells and infrastructure is money poorly spent. And it may be a strong case. But that case is not helped when FCV’s opponents’ published arguments have errors which distort their results.

    – – – – – – –
    About me:

    I’ve worked for almost my entire career on fuel cells (mainly non-automotive applications) so I may be biased in favour of fuel cells.

    I’m also a Toyota Prius Plug-in owner, member of the Vancouver EV Association, and serve as GreenCarReports’ Canadian correspondent, where I was the first person to report Tesla Model S monthly sales figures in any country, so I may be biased in favour of electric vehicles. (My public-access database of EV sales can be viewed at

    But I seem to spend a lot of time trying to stop my EV friends from bashing FCV’s, and vice versa, while Big Oil and Big Coal laugh in the background.

    To be perfectly honest, I expect EV’s to dominate the vehicle market going forward, but I see a strong eventual support role for FCV’s because some people will value instant refueling. While fuel cells are much less efficient with renewable-energy electrons than EV’s, most people don’t buy cars strictly for fuel efficiency. Otherwise we’d all drive a Prius. Or better yet, we’d ride bicycles.

    • @eclecticlip:disqus “A BEV powered by the US grid emits perhaps 330 g CO2/mile.”

      On their fueleconomy dot gov website, EPA says a Nissan Leaf charged on the average US grid has well-to-wheels emissions of 200 g CO2/mile. How do you get 330 g CO2/mile?

      • I used the graph in the link in my initial post. It’s from dr browns group so maybe it’s biased. Or maybe not – EPA data is reproduced here.

        EPA says gasoline car WTW life cycle emissions are 340, BEV 230 and FCV 200.

        So both Dr Brown and the EPA put FCVs as roughly as clean as BEVs though there’s a 30 percent difference in the estimated absolute values for all vehicles. A quick call to UC Irvine would probably clarify the reasons for the difference, if anyone wants to find out.

        • The EPA’s fueleconomy dot gov website catalogs WTW CO2 emissions for nearly all cars sold in the US, including ICE, HEVs, PHEVs, and BEVs, but not FCVs. Easy to look up almost any car there by year, make, and model through “Find a Car”, select the “Energy & Environment” tab, then select “Tailpipe & Upstream GHG”. For BEVs and PHEVs, one is directed to page where one’s zip code needs to be entered so it can look up regional grid emissions. FCVs are not listed.

          For FCVs, we can use results of the NREL’s demonstration test fleet. NREL’s FCV fleet averaged 356 and 380 g CO2/mile WTW for H2 produced by on-site SMR of natural gas and water electrolysis, respectively. These FCVs had significantly higher GHG emissions than any BEV running off the average US grid, and are comparable to a gasoline car averaging 31 and 29 mpg, respectively.

          • Interesting post. I checked the NREL learnings (found here: and your numbers are close to what they published for FCEV WTW GHG emissions: an average of 362 g CO2-eq/mi for onsite SMR (lowest being 237 g CO2-eq/mi) and an average of 378 g CO2-eq/mi for onsite electrolysis (lowest being 222 g CO2-eq/mi). To compare apples to apples, they used 484 g CO2-­eq/mi for conventional gasoline mid-sized cars and 612 g CO2-eq/mi for SUVs. I believe the average mpg assumed for conventional gasoline vehicles under the GREET model is 23 mpg, and that 8,887 g CO2 is emitted from burning one gallon of gas (

            However, the FCEV findings from the NREL learnings don’t appear to be consistent with other DOE studies/papers that posit much lower FCEV GHG emissions (see e.g. slide 10)

            I am curious about the apparent disconnect.

          • Agreed, there seems to be a disconnect. It appears to be the difference between actual field test data (NREL) and estimates (DOE).

          • I think you are right. I’ll try and find out where the DOE’s sunnier FCEV WTW GHG estimates came from.

          • “I believe the average mpg assumed for conventional gasoline vehicles under the GREET model is 23 mpg, and that 8,887 g CO2 is emitted from burning one gallon of gas”

            I have been through that long hand and would concur with the 23mpg figure corresponding to 484 g / mile well to wheel. That would put the standard Well To Wheel Gasoline Gallon figure up at 11132g which is 7.45% higher than the fair estimate of 10360g that I derived from grossing up emissions from EPA’s 8,887g by a 1:1 with a standard WTW energy differential between well and tank.

            That does reduce the extreme dishonesty of emissions reductions claimed by CaFCP and others for FCVs by a similar amount (i.e. immaterial – they are really dishonest instead of really really dishonest) but alters none of the items stated in the article about EV:FCV emissions or efficiency or economic equivalencies to one another.

          • @Rik1381:disqus this sounded convincing until I found the NREL data. (And again, my goal is not to defend FCV’s, which have a history of overpromising. My goal is to make sure the criticisms are contextually fair.)

            NREL’s report on WTW for their demonstration fleet — page 300 in the link below — says the FCV’s emitted about 350-380 g CO2/mile.
            In the same graph, they show their numbers for an average passenger vehicle were 500 g CO2/mile. So, FCV emissions are indeed lower than a mid-size gasoline car.

            You prefer using the 230 g CO2/mile data for BEV’s, which assumes 340 g CO2/mile for a regular vehicle. (As opposed to 500 g CO2/mile)
            By this standard, the comparable numbers for the NREL FCV test fleet would become 380 x 340/500 = 250 g CO2/mile. Which is within about 10 percent of the BEV numbers.

            To reiterate, there are valid reasons to oppose the funding of fuel cell vehicle infrastructure. But arguing that FCV’s are a lot dirtier than BEV’s, and no cleaner than a regular gasoline vehicle, is not one of them.

          • @EclectipLip, I use the EPA’s WTW GHG numbers for all cars (except FCVs, which EPA doesn’t list). For BEVs and PHEVs, EPA incorporates regional variations in grid emissions.

            Since the main focus for FCVs has been California, it’s an apples vs apples comparison to compare to BEV emissions using the California grid. No FCV tested by NREL is nearly as low as the 110-150 g CO2 / mile that EPA says a BEV charged on the California grid achieves.

            Since some 40% of California BEV owners have rooftop solar, their GHG emissions are lower still, on a net basis. I have enough rooftop solar to fully offset my home’s electric usage as well as about 12k miles/yr driving my BEV. As a result, I estimate my BEV at around 70 g CO2 / mile, net. A hypothetical FCV using SMR H2 that has the capacity and performance of my Tesla Model S 85 would probably have emissions would be around 5 times worse than I already achieve.

          • “my goal is not to defend FCV’s, which have a history of overpromising. My goal is to make sure the criticisms are contextually fair”

            We share that goal indeed you have been helpful, thank you. I would prefer that to happen in a more cordial context but I can do combative too if that is what is required. I would also go one further, to get it as right as possible and go nail the thieving SOBs in the court of public awareness.

            “To reiterate, there are valid reasons to oppose the funding of fuel cell vehicle infrastructure. But arguing that FCV’s are a lot dirtier than BEV’s, and no cleaner than a regular gasoline vehicle, is not one of them.”

            I am going to ask the Editor to update this piece with the improvements that have resulted from our discussion. specifically the 11132g/CO2 per gasoline gallon well t wheel.

            That will change the extremity of the case but none of the merits of it. Those merits include the fact that Diesels are cleaners than FCVs and that like for like performance gasoline ICE is too close to merit an overhaul of energy in transportation at the public expense. Also the fact that reliance on Dr Brown’s groups (personally, UCI, CaFCP, FirstElement Fuels Inc. and probably Dr Shane Romero’s groups – UCI and FirstElement) is to be misled on a false premise – that FCVs somehow offer massive improvements in WTW emissions in the order of 50% to 65% or 40% in the case of hybrids – which is a complete falsehood.

        • That’s using projections, not actual measurements.

    • @eclecticlip:disqus “Mr. Cox makes an error when he assumes that the 484 g CO2/mile represents “tank-to-wheels” emissions when it is a lifecycle
      “well-to-wheel” emissions calculation. That’s how he assumes the
      comparison car gets 21.4 mpg, when in reality the data assumes a 40 mpg

      NREL’s 484 g CO2/mile WTW number for a conventional mid-size gasoline car is nearly identical to EPA’s 480 g CO2/mile WTW number for the average new gasoline car. That’s not a 40 mpg car. The 2014 Camry Hybrid XLE/SE is a 40 mpg EPA car, and according to EPA it emits 277 g CO2/mile WTW. These are from fueleconomy dot gov.

      • See earlier comment.

          • I hope we do not pour billions of dollars building a new fueling infrastructure that in 2035 cannot even beat a 2010 Prius for GHG emissions, and has GHG emissions far worse than current generation BEVs charged using California’s 2014 grid.

          • I commented on your post regarding the NREL findings, but with regard to this post, if you are looking at the 2013 DOE summary regarding WTW GHG emissions, an FCEV would be better than a Prius, worse than a California Tesla when the hydrogen is sourced from SMR.

          • The EPA’s fueleconomy dot gov website has WTW GHG emissions for a 2014 Prius at 222 g CO2 / mile. This is substantially better than the average FCV in the NREL test fleet, and ties the very best FCV in NREL FCV testing.

            In California a Tesla Model S85 has WTW 150 g CO2 / mile according to EPA, while a Leaf is 120 g CO2 / mile. With California’s RPS mandate for the electric grid, BEV emissions will continue to decrease.

            We can already achieve the GHG emission reductions that FCVs allege to bring with affordable, existing, proven hybrids. BEVs can reduce GHG emissions much further.

          • Interesting. It is hard to confirm whether the EPA and NREL use the exact same methodology in determining WTW GHG emissions because neither compared FCVs directly with the Prius (the EPA does not include any information on available/soon to be available FCEVs like the Clarity or the Tuscon). However, both appear to use Argonne’s GREET model, at least as a starting point (NREL’s notes indicate they used default GREET values except for FCV fuel economy, hydrogen production conversion efficiency and electricity gid mix, and the EPA just says they use GREET). The point is worth investigating, and I will post answers when/if I find them.

          • I suspect EPA’s numbers are more reliable. They’ve been researching automotive emissions long before NREL even existed (EPA itself was founded only 5 years before NREL, but EPA was formed out of various other existing entities).

          • I wasn’t thinking so much a question of reliability, but of comparing apples to apples. EPA has not yet tested fuel cells, so I am trying to confirm that the methodology used by EPA is the same as that used by NREL. Different assumptions, even when using the same model (e.g. Argonne Nat’l Lab’s GREET model) could yield different results.

          • Poor choice of words on my part. What I meant to say was that, given EPA’s experience with emission calculations, they’re assumptions are probably more pragmatic or realistic than NREL’s, who does not have as much experience with such calculations. It’s just too bad that EPA hasn’t tested fuel cells yet nor have they (from what I can tell) published their assumptions or methodology.

          • I have asked some experts in this field about this disconnect and am awaiting a response.

      • Need to reiterate that we have identified an appropriate adjustment to tighten the accuracy but that as stated the accusation was never true: “Mr. Cox makes an error when he assumes that the 484 g CO2/mile represents “tank-to-wheels” emissions when it is a lifecycle “well-to-wheel” emissions calculation.”

      • Rik, connect with me inteqt@yahoo.

    • Welcome EclecticLip.

      OK, I’ll play.

      Firstly my calculations around that 484g / mile is certainly not a rookie error of confusing Well To Wheel with Tank To Wheel.

      I have taken the EPA figure of 8887g / Gallon (tailpipe) and multiplied it up by a typical figure for energy efficiency to arrive at 10360g CO2 total well to wheel emissions per gallon.

      I freely admit that this is a simple ‘fair assumption’ model that assumes Well to Tank losses have the same CO2 emissions per MJ as gasoline.

      Let’s see how fair assumption was (compared with Dr Brown’s 40mpg).
      As someone has already pointed out, the UCI graph you posted is from Dr Brown’s group at UCI.

      DOE. Kindly posted something with both g/mile and mpg stated side by side. A rare find, but here it is:

      From Page 5.

      Today’s Conventional Vehicle: Gasoline

      25 mpg gasoline vehicle = 450 g/mile Well To Wheel

      450/484 * 25 = 23.24 mpg

      So yes, my 21.4 mpg interpretation seems to be off by 1.84 mpg. (My bad).

      Dr Brown’s figure is off by 16.76 mpg (His bad).

      On that basis I suspect that if the CEC was awarding environmental grants to the tune of $27.6 million as a prize for scientific accuracy, I would win that one hands down (and save the taxpayer one shed load of emissions by stealth).

      Let’s see what else the DOE study has to offer:

      They think a 67 mpgge (68 mi / Kg H2) should produce 200g CO2 / mile H2. Well To Wheel. (That sure sounds like the 2015 Toyota to me).

      I think that the 2015 Toyota FCV should produce 13200g CO2 / 68.3 miles = 193.27 g/ mile. Which is a bit generous of me.

      23.24 * 193.27 / 200 = 22.46. That reduces my error of equivalence down to 1.06 mpg. Hyundai have been known to get it wrong by more than that but hey, nobody’s perfect:

      Now here is the crux of the matter that I am sorry to say just is not going to go your way (or Dr Brown’s for that matter).

      We already know that the Toyota FCV is a 90KW (122ps) vehicle (i.e. the performance sucks, 0-60 in 10.5 seconds). That is a bit of a problem with fuel cells after all. You could practically set your car off to work with a brick on the accelerator, catch up with it at a casual jog and hop in after you finished your coffee and took the time to hug the kids. Kidding but it’s awful.

      So if you can’t quite have a 21 mpg Porsche Panamera 4, what can you have for 23.24 mpg. Checking. How about a 345hp Porsche 911 Carrera 4

      Something a little bigger and a touch more practical for you sir? How about an 211 hp Audi A5 quattro

      It is for readers to decide, but my opinion is that you owe them and apology and the fact remains that Dr Brown owes California an apology.

      As for the CaFCP’s “experts” – Bunch of crooks would be a very polite description indeed.

      This is a dangerous pack of lies, hence writing to the CEC to alert them of the fact:

      “The well-to-wheels reports show that hydrogen made from natural gas and used in a fuel cell vehicle reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 55%-65% compared to gasoline used in a conventional vehicle, and by about 40% compared to gasoline in a hybrid engine.”

      • Thank you for the kind welcome, @julian_cox:disqus. I’m content with the way this conversation has turned out.

        You wrote your letter arguing that hydrogen fueling stations should not be built because FCV’s are as bad, or dirtier, than gasoline cars. e.g. the Mercedes Benz B-class FCV is 17% dirtier than the diesel version.

        You are now arguing that while the DOE claims Toyota FCV does have less than half the emissions of a gasoline vehicle, hydrogen fueling stations should not be built because FCV’s are underpowered vehicles no one would want to purchase.

        This accomplishes my goal, which was to stop the erroneous claim that FCV’s are as bad as, or dirtier, than gasoline cars.

        The rest is mere “nibbling around the edges”. For the sake of completeness, I’ll continue…
        – – – – – – –

        …with a brief apology. So let me start by correcting my own error: you did, after all, attempt a well-to-wheels calculation of vehicle emissions. Sorry about that.
        Unfortunately, your correction factor is low. I’m not sure if you provided the well-to-refinery or a refinery-to-tank correction factor, but it appears you’re missing one of the two.
        This EPA report suggests that upstream CO2 emissions from gasoline are 24-28% of end-use emissions ones. Your ratio (10360/8887) suggests about 17%.

        Your well-to-wheels calculation also appears to attribute the emissions associated with vehicle production, to zero. This gives a small edge to the FCV over the ICE, and a bigger edge to the BEV.
        – – – – – –
        As for acceleration, FCV’s, like EV’s, use electric motors. As such, they have excellent torque and are very responsive. Using the Tesla website, a high-performance sports car with a peak 300 ft-lbs of torque, gets perhaps 200 ft-lbs at low engine speeds. (e.g. when accelerating from standstill)

        Thanks to its electric motor, the Nissan Leaf offered 207 ft-lbs of torque from a standstill. (That seems to have been throttled back to 187 ft-lbs).

        FCV’s also have electric motors, and so are likely to offer the acceleration-from-standstill of a Nissan Leaf, or a “high-performance sports car”.
        – – – – – – –
        As for the absence of a renewable-energy-based BEV in Dr. Thomas’ slide, that is unfortunate. Since the slide breaks down emissions by component, we can see that while the best-case scenario for FCV’s is about 100 g CO2/mile, the best-case scenario for BEV’s is maybe 80 g CO2/mile. (All of those emissions coming from vehicle manufacture.) Again, FCV’s aren’t all that much worse than BEV’s; and they emit far fewer GHG’s than ICE’s.
        – – – – – – –
        Again, there’s a valid argument that if automakers are so keen on fuel cells, maybe they should spend their own money on stations (instead of angling for taxpayer funds). That’s a fair criticism. But arguing that FCV’s are as dirty than ICE’s or worse, is not factually accurate.

        In spite of our differences, I do wish more people in my city were as keen to write letters against coal exports, as you have shown yourself to be, in inveighing against fuel cell vehicles.

        • Oh, shoot. A small note that I conflated well-to-wheel emissions with “lifecycle emissions” above. While a lifecycle analysis includes emissions associated with vehicle manufacture, a WTW analysis doesn’t.

          • I would also have preferred you did not attempt to mischaracterise the point of stating that a low power FCV has no claims to special merit. So does a low power everything else. A double power FCV will no doubt approximate to 1.5 times the energy use at 13.2Kg CO2 per Kg.

            Not to forget the fact that all of the CO2 figures we have discussed for FCVs are 1/1.5 what NREL refers to as the average for on-site SMR.

        • I think you might have been a bit quick to honour yourself.

          Remember with a 7.5% increase in CO2 budget per equivalent mile, diesels get to go further too.

          This is a debate that will be won by honesty and I am afraid you are on the losing team.

          Forget about embedded energy of batteries. You ought to know that large scale plans for EVs involve batteries constructed with co-located renewables, but that is not actually the point.

          Checking the numbers for diesel.

    • Need to tidy up some more stuff.

      “There is another error in the comparison of 1 kg hydrogen with 1 gallon of gasoline. Though the energy content is roughly the same, the fuel cell’s efficiency is much higher than the gasoline engine’s. (Roughly 60% vs 30%)
      While the pollution involved in producing 1 kg hydrogen is roughly the same as the pollution from 1 gallon of gas… the driver will get about twice as far. So it would be more appropriate to compare the pollution from 1 kg hydrogen, with the pollution from 2 gallons of gas.”

      That seems really sensible until you look at it more closely.

      I can agree to revise the standard gasoline gallon CO2 WTW figure to

      11.132g CO2 / Gallon. based on a 23mpg @ 484g/mile Well To Wheel.

      H2 at 13,200g CO2 / Kg H2 is 18.6% more than a gasoline gallon’s worth of emissions. That is non-trivial.

      Energetically and therefore economically there is a huge disparity between the well to wheel efficiency of

      NG>H2>FC/HEV>Wheel and

      The NG to H2 step is coming out at 62% compared with 86% for Crude to Gasoline and that goes a long way to wiping out the supposed efficiency benefits of fuel cells. Hydrogen is not a particularly abundant molecule on Earth. That much is elementary.

      • Happy to clear up a misunderstanding.
        When I said FC efficiency is about 60%, I was referring to H2 –> electricity efficiency, almost all of which goes towards forward motion. Though I suspect this is an underestimate, let’s say the H2 –> Wheel efficiency is 50%.

        Meanwhile, let’s say that ICE efficiency is 30%. (This is on the high side, especially at low speeds. And while diesels are better, and engine technology is improving… so is fuel cell technology.) Drop a couple percentage points for losses in the transmission and you get 28%.

        While 843 g H2 will apparently produce the same pollution as 1 gallon of gas, the distance travelled will be the equivalent of (1 gallon) x (50/28) = 1.8 gallons of gas. On a WTW basis, per-mile-travelled, our combined estimates suggest FCV’s pollute (50-22)/50 = 44% less than ICE’s.

        Considering how much we simplified things, that’s pretty close to the numbers CaFCP, Dr. Brown and the DOE calculate.

        Best regards,


        • False equivalence. FCVs only pollute less owing to half of the power, just like a low powered gasoline car pollutes less than a high powered one. Nothing special. The only benefits FCVs have is because they are HEVs. A fully optimised HEV is a BEV. It is that simple.

    • “it may be a strong case. But that case is not helped when FCV’s opponents’ published arguments have errors which distort their results.”

      I am grateful for an opportunity to hone a model to get it as unimpeachable as can be.

      Your challenge has presented a useful opportunity to locate 7.5% stronger data on gasoline equivalence. The exercise has also proven your critique to have been the height of arrogance and substantially more flawed than the object of your criticism.

      More to the point, I cannot accept the dual standard that CaFCP can openly deceive both officials and the public with pseudo-scientific analysis that is so flawed that it claims black is white, but to call it out in your view requires irrefutable pin point accuracy (which by the way I am all too happy to aim for).

      Bear in mind I am interested in telling the truth because I happen to care. These guys are asking for money (ours and lots of it) in return for supposed environmental benefits that we will not get in return for the money. Where do you imagine the burden of proof should best be laden?

  • Isn’t it interesting how there is a Fuel Cell Partnership but there is no Battery Partnership? Isn’t it interesting how you often hear about UCI’s Fuel Cell center but you almost never hear about UC Davis’ work on plug-ins (and their PHEV center)? Isn’t it also interesting that California joined with Oregon and Washington to build a CHAdeMO supercharger highway and after Oregon and Washington completed theirs, California backed out?

    You’d think that after the false promise of Fuel Cell Vehicles 10 years ago (anyone remember the hydrogen highway that was supposed to happen by 2010?) that California would learn its lesson.

    Just out of curiosity and a bit off topic, what is your opinion on stationary fuel cells?

    • I am not so much troubled by stationary fuel cells. Personally I am not aware of near-ubiquitous false advertising for them. Obviously hydrogen in stationary applications is ridiculous (why not just use methane and nearly double the cost efficiency). I have not seen a stationary methane fuel cell that is more than 60% efficient and so is a combined cycle gas generator, so let them duke it out in the market is what I say. Solar will eat the both of them eventually anyway. I am mostly concerned about taking the wrong fork in the road in transport where the emissions justification is wholly misleading attempt to displace green energy with fossil fuels.

      • It is interesting because both technologies can improve their efficiency by improving their heat recovery. My money is on CCGTs for improved efficiency since they operate at higher temperatures. However, Solid Oxide and Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells have better emission profiles and require less exhaust after treatment. I’m also in favor of PEM fuel cells in rural and remote power applications that use natural gas (with a pipeline), propane (without a pipeline), or even biogas to supplement solar power (or if solar is not practical).

        Solar will eventually see really high portfolio status. I’d wager that by mid-century we will be seeing the national renewable profile at about 30% solar and 20% wind with some places in the neighborhood of 75% solar and wind. However, even with grid storage and load management, you’ll never reach 100% (I’d say at most 90% solar and wind). You’re still going to need baseload generation. The question is, what will that be? CCGTs? Fuel Cells? Or something else?

        • I don’t really know. What I do know is that source flexibility in transport offered by EVs is the ultimate. As a matter of fact on-board storage technology flexibility us the ultimate too. Take the Model S and future vehicles from that company – the storage technology lives in hot-swappable tray. The same car could run on anything – super caps, any form of battery (could put a version of the Mars Curiosity Rover’s nuclear batteries in there and it would drive for decades without external charging), Metal Air / Lithium Air (patents filed by Tesla suggest some form of rechargable Metal Air range extender is relatively imminent).

          It would be so ridiculous to hamper transport with a public energy policy involving Fuel Cells at this point that the waste of money and opportunity for advancement is beyond insanity.

          • Yes, one of the things I love about Tesla is the flexibility their cars have for future upgrades. They use a “glass cockpit” for most of their controls that gets upgraded by the car’s cellular connection. The battery pack can be swapped out relatively easy (even if battery swapping is a no go, they’ve made upgrading batteries in the future easy with this strategy). AND the car is built on a skateboard chassis! The skateboard chassis will lay the ground work for making the entire car body swappable. Need an SUV body for the weekend? No problem, roll up to a Tesla station and pick one up. Then when you’re done, put the sedan body back on. It’s probably still a decade or so down the road, but like I said, they are laying the groundwork for it. Tesla, I think, will be THE 21st century car company (while the others, with very few exceptions, are still stuck in the 20th century).

            Note to others: I am fully aware that they would not be the first to come up with the body swap idea (should they go that route), but I’d bet money that they would be the first to bring it to market in a simple and easy to use way.

      • Thanks for the link. Looks like they got started around 2010 which may explain their lack of visibility when compared to the FCP. It also explains why I wasn’t familiar with them. That was just before I left the ARB.

  • hello, i am doing my essay, and i have some questions. firstly i wanna know how much money do companies or government spent on invention hydrogen cars. in addition compare with normal car, do hybrid cars more expensive. i mean just in short-term . considered the prices and petrol fee…. please help me as soon as possible. thank you for your consideration

  • “The future of energy storage for renewables is hydrogen and we should definitely invest in a hydrogen fueling infrastructure.”

    No it isn’t. Balanced enough?

    • Here is what I’ll say in closing. I concede that natural gas is not a great solution and I agree that its use is driven by the cheap price. However, I will not concede that batteries and gasoline are better for the environment than fuel cells. In addition, the industry is still in its infancy and fuel cells are getting better. Momentum is building for hydrogen to be used globally as energy storage for renewables.

      As to the question of using public funds to build the infrastructure, there are arguments for and against. And some of those arguments are probably the same as they were for the rail road and interstate highways. In the end, other countries are investing heavily and we can chose to lead the energy revolution, or buy the technology from them later.

      • Well we are already selling them EVs aren’t we. Why risk something good for something that is better to be debunked sooner rather than later. No need to buy into the hydrogen revolution nonsense. It is a waste of energy time and money.

  • This is surprising only in the exposure of misinformation regarding NG based H2. Rightly so, they should be addressed. Is their an argument for electrolysis generated H2 to build Hydrogen Fueling Stations?

    • “Is there an argument for electrolysis generated H2 to build Hydrogen Fueling Stations?” No, it is uneconomical. Saudi Aramco did a study on it and concluded $20 per Kg H2.

      • I cannot speak to the type of fundings or financial structures that have been proposed to date. If you would care to share the study Saudi Aramco did or the basis of the financial assumptions it would help. As there is no argument against electrolysis generated H2 for fueling stations then if said funding to support the infrastructure was from private sources and structured in such a way to be ‘economical’…which I will define as structured so that the H2 could be given away or that the lack of FCEV’s did not affect the solvency of the entity or expose lenders to risk and said lenders would earn an Absolute Return with Principal Protection and offered to pensions and other conservative Fixed Income investors as a solution to the zero interest rate policy in effect that is hurting them….would you agree, such a source of funding should be done as long as the focus is on-site, water based H2. This other issue, the risk of frack-mobiles gaining traction on the back H2 is serious and should be addressed. However I think it would be difficult to do if water is the source of H2. As you have noted, NG based H2 Fueling Stations never should have been allowed in the issuance of grants in the first place. The misinformation you have consolidated is astounding to say the least. Regarding EV…my personal thoughts are, given a choice of retaining the existing gas station experience, i.e drive into the H2 station, 8-18 cars simultaneously fill-up and pay a price cheaper than gas….I think FCEV wins….the distance issues at least for me are unattractive. I’m not sure how substantially different EV public fueling stations are ‘economical’…from a cost perspective to build an infrastructure for highways and multiple fueling capacity within the inner city. As EV sales increase they would also need access. Let’s say that access is available, the time to fill-up just doesn’t work for me. as someone who prefers road trips to flying….as such I would I prefer FCEV.

        • EVs are recharged at home.

          • Yes, of course…but once you leave your home your driving range is limited and then you have to find a place to fill-up again…let’s say their are EV stations in every shopping center parking lot and every parking garage and every place to park…you still have the time it takes to fill-up. That’s all fine..most peoples cars are parked work etc. But personally, given an opportunity to do what I do now, pull into a gas station and see 8-18 cars simultaneously filling-up in a few minutes and drive hundreds of miles before refueling…if I can retain those features in a water based H2 car…I’d do it over the EV because it only takes a few minutes to refill and by the range is better. Again, this is my personal preference.

          • Not that limited. Nobody buys an EV before figuring out the round trip to the places they normally go fits within the range or without a charging point at work for a longer regular commute. The EVs with 265 mile range have more range more of the time than most gasoline vehicles – full every morning – and you can be certain that range options will exceed FCVs long before FCVs reach commercial maturity
            (i.e. can be sold at a profit).

            There is no market for electrolysis without that market being created by natural gas.

          • I disagree. There are plenty of people, particularly city dwellers where charging is not feasible. Further, there are plenty of people like myself that need to drive significant distances often enough that pure BEV is not yet practical (hence my Volt and now ELR). I would love to drive an EREV configuration where the range extender is likewise ZEV, hence my attraction to hydrogen. Where I do agree with you conceptually is that I have no desire to trade in my ICE range extender unless the substitute is cleaner than and at least cost competitive with ICE. I am therefore trying to investigate the disconnect between the DOE’s WTW GHG projections for FCEVs and the NREL actual findings.

          • Probably the disconnect is the weight of the Fuel Cell and associated systems. The challenge for batteries is energy density, the challenge for FCs is power density. A 100KW FC is a big object. Naturally these are combined with small very high power density batteries for initial acceleration, but even then the total sustained system performance is poor. Also it seems that bland figures like 60% energy efficiency do not tell the whole picture. The NREL work makes references to this changing quite a bit depending on percentage of max output. There are also unresolved issues with durability and of course safety IMO especially end of life safety for hydrogen containment. These systems are on the wrong side of Murphy’s law for my taste i.e. everything has to go well all the time for it not to leak massively and then it is a matter of luck for it not to be in an enclosed domestic space next to an ignition source. Battery failure mode is generally speaking, failure to hold enough, or any charge.

            An example of a perfect ZEV range extender is of course a Metal Air secondary (rechargeable) battery. That is basically a non fossil-fuel fuel cell that is fully recyclable for resources at end of life. We will see this before long from Tesla judging by the patent filings and apparently Toyota is working on it also all be it some years behind the curve.

            Inner city charging is its own challenge and yes fast charging infrastructure seems to be a short term solution. I still think personally that trying to replicate the gas station is antiquated. I would like to see on-street charging be it inductive or simple charging points.

          • Just out of curiosity, why the ELR and not a Model S? You’re the second person I’ve seen who got an ELR.

          • I’ve always preferred the styling of a coupe over a sedan, and when I saw the Converj concept, it was as if GM had reached into by brain to design my dream car. The Model S is a fantastic car, and its form factor is eminently practical. But I was not looking for a practical car (we already have a family car)- I wanted a personal car. Inside and out, the ELR is an amazing luxury coupe, and it fits my lifestyle because I sometimes need to drive significant distances (case in point, tomorrow I will need to drive about 200 miles over the course of the day) . I’ve had a Volt for 3 years, and I can categorically say it has completely different driving dynamics. My kids just have to suck it up in the back seats 🙂

          • Interesting. I tend to favor the sedan profile (despite my Leaf/Prius ownership, I do not care for hatchbacks). I am looking forward to Tesla’s 3rd gen when it comes out.

            How many kids do you have and how was the Volt as a family car? Was the car being a 4 seater a problem?

          • I have 2 kids, and one is already pushing 6′. Although the Volt was my car (my wife’s was generally used as the family car), we used it plenty of times as a family car. It was very ergonomic, and the kids fit fine. One of the reasons my wife did not want me to get the ELR (she wanted me to get another Volt) was that she thought we would just pound the miles on her car because the car was not suitable for rear passengers. Although the rear seating is extremely tight, I promised her that would not happen 🙂 Interestingly, my kids don’t mind (yet).

          • I’m not clear why you feel electrolysis must involve natural gas. Their are as you know water based H2 stations in operation. I think this should have been a prerequisite for grants(not that grants should be used for H2 stations at all), but if the decision is made to do it…certainly as you note…funding NG stations is counter productive.

          • The problem is that electrolyzing water is only 60% efficient. You literally get only 6 units of energy out of every 10 units of energy you put in. That’s why Hydrogen is an energy “carrier.” Charging EVs is, being conservative, at least 85% (usually higher). This is why most BEV owners feel that it is better to use the electricity to charge a battery rather than using electricity to produce hydrogen that you then convert back into…wait for it…ELECTRICITY! *Face Palm*

          • Think of the energy inefficiency you cite as the premium for (potentially) convenient and quick refills. Although -most- of my driving would be within the range of all EVs and EREVS, there are enough times when I need to drive significantly more, and I do not want to work my schedule around charging. Also, what happens when there are millions of EVs on the road, and there is a line for the bank of chargers. I like the idea of quick refills when you need it on the road, and charging when at home. FCEVs can be designed that way, even if the first gen models are not.

          • I should also have to point out that your example is the most extreme corner case that I (and probably anyone) has come across. You are aware that GM has channel stuffed 725 ELRs (2 years worth of sales). This is one week’s worth of Tesla Model S sales and less than a week’s worth of Tesla Model S demand – a car you could have just as easily bought for the same money with free for life long distance travel.

            It is a pretty hard sell for the rest of us to imagine that it pays to buy an ELR or an FCV also have to purchase gasoline or hydrogen. Nobody should imagine that Hydrogen will be free for life, bait and switch maybe but it is a product of the fossil fuel industry no different from gasoline. Fossil fuel companies don’t make a penny on selling cars, they sell fuel.

          • Except, there was no supercharger anywhere near my route to my destination today (Poughkeepsie, NY). Th supercharger network covers major arteries, but not necessarily where I need to go. The Albany supercharger is great, except not next to where I would need to be. This means I would have to factor in the extra travel time to recharge. The same goes for the Long Island supercharger. My schedule is tough enough as it is without having to factor in extra travel and charging times.

            Julian, I know exactly what I bought, what I could have bought, and why I bought it. But to make it simple, I bought what I most wanted.

          • The problem is that their is a cost associated with that. Whether it’s electricity rates or the increased footprint of solar panels for the electrolysis, you could argue that you are throwing away money using more electricity than you would if you just charged a battery. Batteries would get more “bang for the buck” as it were.

            I’m also not convinced that the convenience you mention is that big of an improvement. With a Tesla, you already wait roughly 30 to 40 minutes to get more than 80% range (this is off the top of my head, so bear with me). Plus, most people charge their EVs and PHEVs at night while they’re sleeping or during the day when they’re at work (myself included). Moreover, my understanding of hydrogen refueling is that it is not quite as simple as gasoline refueling as has been suggested by the companies pushing this and the media.

            I haven’t found that charger planning is particularly necessary nor have I been inconvenienced at anytime by my Leaf. I just wish I had the Model S for our trips to SoCal, but then, that’s why we kept the Prius.

            Most of my unders

          • Everyone has different needs. Although most days, I don’t use gasoline (even though I cannot charge at my office), I still need a car that can handle those days where I need to drive extended distances.

            Regarding those extended driving days (like today and tomorrow), there is no conveniently located Tesla supercharger anywhere near the route. There is a Lev 2 ChargePoint location that is not too far out of the way, but I don’t have even half an hour to sit idle to wait unless I specifically budgeted that time (realistically, it would take several hours to recharge with Lev 2). It is far more convenient for me to fill up with gas when I need to.

            Regarding hydrogen, I am more interested in the consumer cost rather than the efficiencies. If a station could provide H2 conveniently and at a cost comparable to gasoline (which is what I am buying now on the road), I would be very interested.

            Regarding convenience, the filling experience is similar to gasoline, although it will likely be slightly simplified as the car communicates with the pump once the nozzle is inserted into the car (SAE has developed a communications standard for this process). I have personal experience with refueling a FCEV. The newer dispensers can fill in 3-5 minutes.

            Also, there are many people, particularly apartment dwellers, that don’t have access to charging.

          • The association is indirect. Promotors of dirty hydrogen currently use clean electrolysis as a poster child. This is like presenting false ID to gate-crash the green economy as though somehow fracking the countryside and billowing out CO2 from SMR becomes green when the end product is hydrogen because there is some other possible process to make the same stuff. The danger of misdirection is far greater contribution to harm than any measure of good to come from such examples. Manufacturers of FCVs clearly would not invest in product development absent the security of supply and financial backing of the fossil fuel industry. It is therefore impossible to separate FCVs from fossil fuels. Fossil fuel dominance is absolutely guaranteed and the role of misleading examples of bit-part players in a hydrogen economy can only have the net effect of encouraging ongoing fossil fuel use and the displacement of clean technology. If you have access to clean electricity it is obviously a better use of it to sell it to the grid and in terms of customer miles travelled, to provide energy for the charging of EVs. The fact that this should be different does not make it so.

          • Per your comment below, this is an interesting assertion. Can you expound on the premise of your argument: “…Manufacturers of FCVs clearly would not invest in product development
            absent the security of supply and financial backing of the fossil fuel
            industry…”. To be clear, by manufacturers you mean the car makers:…Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes etc? These companies are only interested in FCEV’s because they have the “…financial backing of the fossil fuel industry..”? Also per above, who are the “bit-part players in a hydrogen economy…’? The H2 fueling station manufacturers? California strangely provides grants to both NG stations and Electrolysis stations( perplexing as that is ). My issues with the state in addition to paying for NG stations, why provide grants to the private sector at all? If done, why not award all the money to the company that can build most cost effectively? Why award $2M here…$3M there…$2.5M elsewhere..doesn’t make sense. Since you note no objection to water based H2 and refer to it’s association as indirect. Is my understanding correct in an analysis of water based H2 and EV, you differ to EV because H2 production is not efficient and the cost to build an clean H2 infrastructure is cheaper than to build an EV infrastructure and also mileage/range is no longer a factor per the Tesla S?

          • I am not sure that your objective is to achieve clarity.

            You have used the term water based H2 stations. While of course water is the most likely substance to be electrolysed its primarily function is to introduce an immovable conversion loss as dictated by the laws of thermodynamics.

            There are no circumstances in which society as a whole can benefit from a transport system based upon wasting large percentages of its available energy, especially clean energy.

            Once you have made electricity unless making hydrogen is the end goal rather than the means to an end, like miles travelled, making hydrogen from electricity is a waste of energy, so is compressing it transporting it and converting it back into electricity. A huge and ridiculous waste.

            That is why it can only ever be a bit-part player in an energy economy, even a hydrogen economy.

            The existence of a market for what is basically a PR stunt is brought about by dirty production, essentially a re-creation of the bit-part opportunity for solar power generation in the legacy, predominantly fossil fuel power electricity generation system, except that unlike solar the cost break even that will allow Solar to dominate power production is pushed back behind the aforementioned immovable conversion loss barrier making electrolysis only viable in transport in extreme outlying cases – where electricity is going to waste for example and can never be economically recovered, or as a PR stunt funded directly or indirectly by a larger concern.

            There is no massive scale hydrogen production by electrolysis. There is instead 11 Million tones produced annually in the US from fossil fuels, 95% from Natural Gas. Without that security of supply there is no security of supply for FCVs sufficient to encourage their development.

            Abundance of Natural Gas from shales is central to the policies that provide grant funding for infrastructure and finding for Fuel Cell research. It would seem reasonable to speculate that vehicles costing $145,000 each but sold to customers on leases typical for a $30,000 vehicle is not entirely paid for by auto manufactures. As for free hydrogen that would indeed seem an odd expense item for a car company to take on considering it will never recoup that loss in future sales of hydrogen once consumers are trapped with no choice and the price jacked up.

          • My objective is clarification. You made in my mind accurate arguments against NG. Agreed. In fact its stunning given Californias exclusive history with EV’s (EV1) and local expertise on the matter that NG based H grants were ever issued. If the reason they were issued are for the reasons you have stated, they should be as you have done, publically protested against. However as noted my objective is remind the readers of this discussion that NG is not the only source of H. Again why the state would provide grants to NG Hydrogen stations AND water based stations has always been puzzling. That being said, my statements refer to H production. This is what the CEC is paying for. Access to H Fueling Stations. Since some stations will use water based electrolysis to produce the H used for fueling stations….then for clarification purposes I seek any objection to the state funding those kind of stations(not agreeing with the notion that the stat should be paying for this at all) to support the expansion of FCEV’s. In this respect some of your characterizations are not clear. But you did make a distinction between producing electricity which H fueling stations do not d and the production of H, which is what they do. So to add specificity I offer the following; you mentioned regarding H stations”…compressing it transporting it and converting it back into electricity…”. This is not done, their is no conversion back into electricity, H is produced on-site. This also addresses another statement; “.. There is no massive scale hydrogen production by electrolysis…”. You are correct…because no such massive scale is required; again it is produced on-site. Given Hydrogen is the most common chemical in the universe and it can be combined with water salt, fresh, etc. that covers 70% of the planet the reliance on NG to produce H is non-existent. This it would seem would be a part of your argument against NG..Seems your argument to the CEC would reference, as you have recently, the term ‘dirty’ Hydrogen so as to distinguish it from ‘clean’ sources of Hydrogen. That being said, in a discussion about clean H for FCEVs and EV’s….well the world seems is torn. I have worked with both long enough to recognize political grandstanding..i.e. Japan(FCEV) vs. China(EV) in this issue but from a user friendly, efficiency standpoint, the auto industry will see if clean fueled FCEV’s are preferred over EV’s. On this topic I can only speak for myself and the groups I poll…if given a clean choice(clean being the operative word) would one want limited driving range with extended fueling time and a invariably higher electric bill at home(which all the power companies are salivating for-the perceived “exceedingly high” demands from widespread EV sales(they think it will be summer all year round from a rate perspective) as a justification for rate increases-which they will get by the way)…or the same experience you have now; extended range, simultaneous fueling of 8-18 cars, minutes to fill-up….which would you choose? Personally, I would chose the latter.

          • “I seek any objection to the state funding those kind of stations(not agreeing with the notion that the stat should be paying for this at all) to support the expansion of FCEV’s”

            Yes. It is a trojan horse for the fossil fuel industry with no viable economic future beyond that function.

            Your concerns for EVs are specious and temporary at best. They are cost dependent. In that regard EVs are further towards maturity than FCVs. There is no excuse to shill for them, none at all.

          • Hydrogen must be turned into electricity before it can be used.

            That’s what fuel cells do.

            Hydrogen produced via electrolysis of water can never be as cheap as the electricity itself.

            So why not just put the electricity into EVs directly?

            You have a very distorted view of how EVs and FCEVs work.

            1. EVs are charged at home overnight.

            If the driver exceeds the 200+ mile range that will be standard then
            they will just pull into a fast-charger for a 20 minute refill.

            3. After 3 hours of driving they will want to stop for meals and use the toilet.

            4. It’s much easier to built a network of fast-chargers then it is to built a network of hydrogen fueling stations.

          • My view is not distorted. You misunderstand my comments. I am referring a distinction between water based Hydrogen Fueling Stations and those that run off NG which has not been done in the statement to the CEC. The CEC is providing grants to build them. Julian has issued a statement to them that accurately (you would think they know this…I’m sure they do and therefore it exposes some ulterior motive) funding NG based H Fueling Stations makes no sense. I therefore inquired as to whether he would make a distinction going forward between dirty and clean Hydrogen(which water based H is) In that context, his arguments against Hydrogen in general have referred to the negative impact of NG based sources of H. These simply do not apply to water based H fueling stations. Your comment errs the same way…you are referring to electricity….the CEC is not providing grants for electricity they are providing grants for Hydrogen Fueling Stations. As it pertains to FCEV’s vs EV’s….clearly the public will determine which they prefer…I am all for providing a choice that is not funded by tax dollars. States and the government have no business paying for privately own enterprises. Those funds are better allocated to areas that directly benefit all taxpayers…lower taxes, lower anything..To your futher comments: 1. This is understood. 2. You reference ‘.200+ mile range that will be standard…”. It already is with FCEV’s. 3. This is a statement that would only apply to those who drive in that manner. There are many, including myself who prefer to make better distance for road trips, as I have driven for 20+hrs straight. 4. I cannot speak to your experience with how a ‘network’ of Hydrogen Fueling stations would be ‘built’….but this is another presently available point for FCEV’s..from a very basic view….no new network is required. It( fueling network) already exist in the form of every open and closed gas station. Hydrogen stations can simply be put on the existing footprint and Hydrogen “FUEL” can be sold. Since no US car makers had or have jumped into the FCEV market, despite taking millions of dollars under Bush Jr. to do so. no impetus existed for their use. Tesla is building his own(whether his model should be allowed is a topic for another discussion),.as should anyone who wants to enter the Hydrogen Fueling Station business. But since Hyundai, Honda, Toyota etc have decided to enter the market…now a tangible need exist, thus the basis Julian’s letter to the CEC regarding the error of funding NG based Hydrogen Stations. My intent was to bring light to the fact that all Hydrogen Stations are not ‘fueled’ by NG and thus the issues surrounding Hydrogen ‘as a source of fueling stations’ in general, should include a reference to that fact. Water based H, doesn’t have any of the issues that NG does. Again, whether people want to charge at home and wait for 20 minutes to refuel at a public location instead of retaining the existing ‘gas’ station experience of 2-3 minute fill-ups…..we are all about to see.

          • 1. Distributing gas and distributing Hydrogen are very different things. Hydrogen is a extraordinarily volatile and destructive gas for example.

            2. Why make Hydrogen via electrolysis of water when you can just put the electricity into EVs directly?

            3. Any time savings at the refueling station would be annihilated by the fact that FCEVs need to refuel at a station, while EVs only need to refuel at a station when on a long trip.

          • No one said they were not. The CEC is providing grants for Hydrogen Fueling Stations. With respect to volatility and dangers…if you drive gasoline vehicle, your level of danger is well known to he worse compared to Hydrogen. Clearly areas exist on this matter you are not informed about. Perhaps a reference to some well known information will help: The rest the public will decide.

          • 1. Gasoline is a liquid, Hydrogen is a gas.

            2. Hydrogen makes metal brittle.

            3. Hydrogen needs compression or liquefaction.

            4. Hydrogen has the lowest atomic weight of any element and thus can Houdini its way out of almost anything.

          • Not sure about you, but I don’y drive a few hundred miles to and from the sopping center during my normal outings.

        • The Saudi Aramco study is linked above.

          Electrolysis can only ever be a corner-case, not a society wide solution. Electricity is too valuable and natural gas too cheap. The link is simple enough and already in evidence. The NG promotors point to the possibilities of nice clean electrolysis in PR messages as an environmental bait and switch.

          The point is moot anyway. In the absence of NG there would be no FCVs.

          Regards EVs (I mean mature affordable long range EVs) there is very little need for a dense public charging infrastructure because most charging takes place at home where charging infrastructure already exists (actually both ends is available of any normal journey). The Tesla SuperCharger model looks pretty good honestly.

          I think the idea of going to a gas station when you don’t have to is moronic. Not an experience or a purchase that is actually desirable if it was not a necessity.

  • Are you searching for a very quick
    Loan? At an
    affordable interest rate? Have you
    been turned down
    Constantly by your Banks and other
    -The good news is here! We Offer
    LOANS ranging
    from $ 1,000.00 to $ 5,000,000.00 Min
    Max at 3%
    interest rate per annul. contact us
    today at (

  • So… where has it been factored in with all of your calculations that the world uses about 150,000 TWhs of energy every year. That’s about 410,958,904,109 KWh’s per day.

    Let me see some of your fancy calculations to help us understand how many batteries this will take, how much that will cost, etc…

    I think when one takes into full account the true cost of what a battery economy looks like, it’s a scary topic of unsustainable battery costs.

    At $300 / kwh for battery storage, a days use would be worth somewhere around $123,287,671,232,700 in raw battery pack (before you put any investment dollars into actually juicing these things up)

    Yes, that’s $123 trillion

    Suddenly, I can see why Elon Musk wants to be in the battery business!!!

    • Battery prices are more likely to be in the $100/kWh range.

      There is likely to be no need to store 100% of a day’s use.

      The battery industry will be big. Or will some other storage technology. You might want to look up the amount we spend per year on fossil fuels and see how that compares to the upcoming storage industry.

    • What portion of that is for transportation? What are the costs? These calculations may show you why Rex Tillerson wants to be in the hydrocarbon business! Are these costs scary unsustainable in your estimation?

  • Severe issue with the writer of this article;

    He owns a lithium / lipo battery company that specializes in custom EVs.

    He also continuously rips people off. There is forum after forum of people trying to figure out how to get recourse over wire transfers that don’t fruit into products.

    On top of that, Flight Power (his company) has had batteries cause bad fires (one of which couldn’t even get extinguished with 3 fire trucks)

  • Hi Julian,
    I just want to clarify a few things.

    What is the source for the numbers for the SMR step-by-step process emissions? I found a few studies showing between 8.9 and 11.888 kg CO2/kg H2 on LCA bases, but as we know LCAs can draw the system boundaries at different levels.

    Also, do you think mobile fuel cells have a role in the heavy duty sector (i.e. trucking, etc…)? They seem well suited for that application especially from a criteria pollutant emissions standpoint, removing emissions from densely impacted port areas but having enough on-board energy density for heavy applications and so on.

    Just one more thing for tidying up – the emissions factor of the grid changes when additional load is put onto it, depending on what incremental generation source meets that new load. For example, if the energy of the load increases by 20000 GWh, if that extra energy is met by natural gas, the carbon intensity of the grid increases because NG forms a larger share of the total mix. This highlights the importance of renewable deployment for supporting any technology that imposes a grid load – BEV (directly) or FCV (by electrolysis, etc…). Was this included in the calcs?


  • Great letter, Julian. I was trying to solve the EV vs. FCEV question another way: By calculating electrical efficiency. By my calculations, FCEVs were just slightly more efficient than gas powered cars, and significantly behind EVs. Glad to see our two sets of calculations (from two different angles) seem to agree.

  • I don’t know if Julian still comes around and reads these comments, but a few things seem to have changed since the article was posted. He might want to make some notations of them where relevant

    1. Dr. Tim Brown is no longer at UCI APEP. He left UCI in October 2013 according to this article: . He has a leftover profile on the UCI website, but on the APEP website he is not listed under any position.

    2. A newer version of the UCI study was released: It’s apparently updated every year. I had to clear my browser cache to see it, since the web page showing the old study was still stored in my browser.

    The current (2014) version of the study seems to agree with Julian’s assertion. Compared to high-mpg gasoline vehicles, H2 from natural gas reformation has only very small reductions in GHG with gas truck delivery and no reductions at all with liquid truck delivery. Only with renewable H2 does any significant reductions occur. It also looks like they included some renewable BEV cases as well. They also added another chart which shows the electric energy needed to fuel a mile of travel for some of the cases. The renewable FCEV cases seem to require 2-3x as much electricity as the BEV cases.

  • I did not read the whole document, but there was good comparison of EV carbon foot print in Norwegian grid that is already 100 % renewable. As also the rest of the world is heading into renewable future, Norway is the good example of the future of electric vehicles.

    It may take quite a time to have 100 % renewable grid, but the point is that with smart charging and full utilization of solar power, we can achieve c. 98 % renewable electric vehicle charging as early as early 2020’s.

    Also I have said several times before, if car factories would say honestly, how much it will cost to fill the tank of hydrogen car on unsubsidized markets (assuming reasonable economy of scale), no-one would really honestly pursuing hydrogen vehicles.

Comments are closed.