In case you haven’t noticed lately, humans appear to have a difficult time learning lessons, even about simple things — like whether or not votes were counted accurately. We’ve known this for a long time here on CleanTechnica, because those of us who have been paying attention have noticed the unfortunate reality that misinformation doesn’t just linger — it lasts for years, is recycled and revived, is more persistent than Thomas the Tank Engine, and can fool vast swaths of the market into rolling down a dead end looking for a shortcut to Narnia.
The persistent myth that hydrogen is going to be useful in the transportation sector (or the electricity sector, for that matter) outside of niche applications is one of those persistent myths. Many people still believe the dream, even people who toss around tons of money, and even people who have been presented with clear explanations of why hydrogen is not “the fuel of the future.” The following chart is one of the clearest explanations of why hydrogen cars fueled by “green hydrogen” makes no sense whatsoever. That chart comes from Transport & Environment. Take a look and share it with all your friends:
As you can see, if you start with a certain amount of electricity from renewable energy sources, getting that into a battery in an electric vehicles results in a 6% loss of the original total. However, creating hydrogen with it results in a 32% loss.
Further, that’s not where the smackdown ends. Inside the car, another 17% of the original electricity total is lost in a battery electric vehicle to make it do what you want (drive to the beach, for example). In a hydrogen electric vehicle, on the other hand, another 35% of the original total is lost.
At the end of the day, that means 77% of the electricity supply was used in making the battery-powered car move from place to place (the rest, 23% was lost/wasted), whereas only 33% of the electricity was used to move the hydrogen-powered car from place to place (the rest, 67%, was lost/wasted).
Generally speaking, it’s a big downside to lose 67% of your original electricity supply rather than 23% of it.
But wait! What about the future! What about innovation! What about all the press releases and articles I see about our hydrogen future?!?!
While it is quite hard to know with certainty what the future holds, Transport & Environment does its best to forecast the future of these technologies, and the results are subtly included in the chart above. The organization forecasts that battery electric vehicles will improve to 81% overall efficiency by 2050, whereas hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles will improve to 42%. The latter is still the loser.
Note that this research and the resulting chart are focused on light-duty passenger vehicles. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor at Stanford University and co-founder of The Solutions Project, recently talked with CleanTechnica about hydrogen in an in-depth podcast on the topic. While he fully agrees with the points above for light-duty vehicles, he also notes that hydrogen can play a role in the transport sector. It could be the more efficient, logical option when it comes to long-distance, heavy transport — whether that be long-haul semi trucks, large airplanes, or ships.
“According to Mark, it is much easier, more energy efficient, and more cost efficient to use conventional batteries in personal electric vehicles. However, there is a crossover point at which carrying around too many batteries means a loss of efficiency due to how heavy they are, indicating the point at which green hydrogen fuel cells become a more sustainable option,” Winter Wilson writes in summarizing the podcast interview.
So, we’re not saying hydrogen can’t be useful in some ways. However, the idea that hydrogen electric cars will ever compete with battery electric cars is complete bunk. It’s not going to happen.
By the way, neither is power-to-liquid. I haven’t seen that concept pitched, and the chart above shows why. Losing 80–84% of the generated electricity in a wasteful, inefficient process is beyond the foolishness of hydrogen fuel cells; it’s practically as foolish as rolling around in a bathtub full of oil, or trying to overthrow a democratic government because you believed the lies of a career con man.
Hat tip to Auke Hoekstra for spotting it and tweeting the chart.
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