Elon Musk has strong views on hydrogen. Not everyone agrees

A car is fueled with hydrogen at the Frankfurt Auto Show IAA in Frankfurt am Principal, Germany, on September 13, 2017.

TOBIAS SCHWARZ | AFP | Getty Visuals

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has a background of expressing sturdy thoughts about hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells.

A few several years ago, when the issue came up through a dialogue with reporters at the Automotive News Entire world Congress, the billionaire and electric motor vehicle magnate explained hydrogen gas cells as “really foolish.”

“It really is just pretty complicated … to make hydrogen and shop it and use it in a motor vehicle,” Musk mentioned. “The finest-situation hydrogen gas cell does not win towards the latest situation batteries, so then, obviously … it will not make perception,” he included later on.

“That will become obvious in the subsequent number of many years. There’s … no cause for us to have this debate, I’ve claimed … my piece on this, it will be super obvious as time goes by, I never know what additional to say.”

In the time given that these remarks, Musk’s views will not feel to have altered much, if at all. In June 2020 he tweeted “gasoline cells = fool sells,”  adding in July of that yr: “hydrogen idiot sells make no perception.”

The tech

Very first things initially: What underpins the tech Musk would seem so skeptical of?

The U.S. Environmental Safety Agency describes hydrogen gasoline mobile cars — which are also identified as gas mobile electric powered cars — as remaining “related to electric powered motor vehicles … in that they use an electrical motor as an alternative of an inner combustion motor to energy the wheels.”

The crucial difference is that electric powered autos have batteries that need to be billed by plugging the auto into a charging level. Gas cell cars, on the other hand, benefit from hydrogen gas and, according to the EPA, “create their electricity onboard.”

Browse a lot more about electric powered automobiles from CNBC Pro

Set simply, with gas cells, hydrogen gas from a tank mixes with oxygen, creating electrical energy.

A fuel cell electric powered automobile emits “only h2o vapor and heat air”, the U.S. Section of Energy’s Choice Fuels Knowledge Centre says.

A vary of views

Musk is not alone when it will come to getting unconvinced about the use of hydrogen in autos.

In February of this yr, Herbert Diess, the CEO of German automotive powerhouse Volkswagen Group, weighed in on the subject matter.

“It truly is time for politicians to acknowledge science,” he tweeted. “Environmentally friendly hydrogen is desired for metal, chemical, aero … and should really not conclude up in cars. Significantly much too high-priced, inefficient, slow and tough to rollout and transportation. Following all: no #hydrogen automobiles in sight.”

Musk and Diess are two large-profile figures at the helm of significant providers with enormous influence and reach. What they say carries fat. It would surface, nonetheless, that their views are not shared by all people in the autos sector.

To date, companies together with Toyota and Hyundai have made hydrogen gasoline cell cars, although more compact manufacturers these as Riversimple are also operating on hydrogen-run vehicles.

In June, the BMW Team said it experienced commenced to check motor vehicles that use a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain, with the organization describing hydrogen gas cell tech as possessing the “very long expression opportunity to health supplement interior combustion engines, plug-in hybrid techniques and battery-electric powered motor vehicles.”

Whilst these products and solutions of course really don’t account for the bulk of car or truck product sales at this second in time — Riversimple will not truly sell its automobiles, supplying them on a subscription company in its place — that these kinds of a selection of providers are doing work on gasoline-cell choices at all demonstrates some see potential in the technological innovation.

“Gasoline mobile vehicles will unquestionably perform a component in decarbonizing transportation,” a spokesperson for Toyota instructed CNBC.

“As and when refueling infrastructure expands, they will give a hassle-free alternative variety of electrified transportation in excess of a completely electric BEV [battery-powered electric vehicles],” they explained.

Toyota viewed hydrogen “as an different to fossil fuels in all way of configurations, which include heating, lighting, haulage, mass transit and significant market,” the spokesperson reported.

“The vary of hydrogen programs will boost, enabling much less expensive, far more successful electrical power provide and we’ll increasingly see hydrogen powering cars, buses, trains and trucks,” they included.

In a assertion sent to CNBC, the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Power Affiliation expressed a very similar viewpoint.

Fuel mobile electric powered vehicles and hydrogen vitality, the FCHEA claimed, supplied prospects “a zero-emission option with efficiency they count on and no alter to each day routines — long assortment, speedy refueling, and the capacity to scale to larger sized platforms with no introducing restrictive weight and dimensions.”

The FCHEA went on to say there was a “great option for fuel mobile electric cars and trucks and fuel mobile-driven content handling automobiles.”  

“Also, specified the constraints of battery pounds and recharging for extended haul trucking, a substantial opportunity also exists for medium- and large-responsibility shipping and delivery vans, vehicles, buses, trains, and planes,” it said.

In fact, as governments about the earth try to produce small and zero emission transportation units, the idea of making use of hydrogen gas cells in larger motor vehicles is beginning to be explored by a broad selection of organizations.

Read extra about thoroughly clean electrical power from CNBC Professional

In a the latest job interview with CNBC, the CEO of Daimler Truck was questioned about the debate between battery-electric powered and hydrogen gasoline cells. Stability, Martin Daum argued, was essential.

“We go for both, simply because each … make feeling,” he explained, heading on to describe how distinctive technologies would be proper in distinctive scenarios.

“In standard, you can say: If you go to metropolis delivery exactly where you have to have reduce quantities of electricity in there, you can charge overnight in a depot, then it is definitely battery electrical,” Daum stated.

“But the instant you are on the highway, the minute you go from Stockholm to Barcelona … in my viewpoint, you have to have some thing which you can transport much better and the place you can refuel much better and that is in the end H2.”

“The ruling is not out, but I think it really is far too dangerous for a business our dimension to go with just a single technological innovation.”


Daum’s responses on gas cells touch upon the idea that they could, at some point, come across a household in heavier forms of transportation covering lengthy distances, hauling cargo and, in some scenarios, ferrying people today from one particular destination to yet another.

He’s not by yourself in having this perspective. The European transportation big Alstom, for occasion, has designed the Coradia iLint, which it describes as “the world’s to start with passenger educate powered by a hydrogen gasoline mobile.”

In aviation, strategies to work commercial hydrogen-electric flights in between London and Rotterdam were being announced in Oct, with these behind the challenge hoping it will choose to the skies in 2024.

In development, JCB, a major player in the sector, stated very last 12 months that it had made an excavator “run by a hydrogen gas mobile.”

Weighing 20 metric tons, the enterprise claimed the automobile experienced been tested for around 12 months, including that the “only emission from the exhaust is drinking water.”


Even though there is a feeling of exhilaration about the use of hydrogen fuel mobile technological innovation in a range of applications, the route to any mass rollout might not necessarily be a easy one particular.

Earlier this 12 months, Honda ceased creation of its Clarity plug-in hybrid and gas mobile versions, despite the fact that the firm did make a stage of declaring that gasoline cell electrical motor vehicles would “engage in a essential role in our zero-emissions tactic.”

Somewhere else, the U.S. federal government has cited a range of troubles. These vary from the sturdiness and trustworthiness of gas cells to car or truck price.

“The present infrastructure for producing and receiving hydrogen to buyers cannot still aid the common adoption of FCVs,” it adds.

In February 2020, Brussels-based campaign group Transport and Atmosphere hammered dwelling just how a lot competitiveness hydrogen would experience in the transportation sector.

T&E manufactured the position that eco-friendly hydrogen — which is generated employing renewables — would not only have to “contend with grey and blue hydrogen,” which are created using fossil fuels. “It will compete with petrol, diesel, maritime gas oil, kerosene and, of program, electrical power,” T&E said.

“Wherever batteries are a realistic remedy — automobiles vans city, regional and possibly very long-haul trucks ferries — hydrogen will face an uphill battle simply because of its lower efficiency and, as a final result, a lot bigger fuel costs.”

Bridging the hole concerning battery electric powered and gasoline mobile motor vehicles will be a large undertaking, as the Global Electricity Agency’s World wide EV Outlook 2021 notes.

In accordance to that report, registrations of gasoline cell electric powered automobiles “continue being a few orders of magnitude decreased than EVs as hydrogen refuelling stations … are not commonly out there and compared with EVs simply cannot be charged at household.”

The race to dominate the lower and zero emission long term of 21st-century transportation is underway.

When it will come to cars and trucks, battery electric automobiles are in a strong situation with firms such as Tesla leading the demand, but the highway to accomplishment is by no means a straight just one. Check out this area.