Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Hydrogen-fuel-station

Published on June 19th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


DOE Spending $20 Million For $4 A Gallon Hydrogen, But Why?

Hydrogen-fuel-stationThe Department of Energy has announced a round of grants totaling $20 million with the goal of bringing hydrogen fuel costs down below $4 a gallon equivalent. That’s frankly a stupid idea, because consumers will end up paying the same (or more!) for hydrogen as they do for gasoline. So like, what is the incentive to “go green” if you can’t even pretend like it’s saving you money?

The first round of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are just starting to roll out, with the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell leading the way. And if you thought EVs were expensive, wait until you get a load of fuel cell vehicles.  The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell leases for $599 a month, and the Toyota FCV will be somewhere in the $75,000 range when it goes on sale next year. While the Hyundai will come with free fuel (at least at first), Toyota hasn’t mentioned a similar scheme for its hydrogen vehicles.

While it’ll all depend on specific fuel economy, if hydrogen fuel goes mainstream, consumers will end up with the same monthly fueling costs as before. Meanwhile, drivers of pure electric vehicles can save, literally, hundreds of dollars every month by filling up on cheap electricity. The Nissan Leaf is rated at 73 miles, and costs between $2 and $4 to fully charge. Split the difference at $3, and you’re still cheaper than a gallon of gasoline.

You can also plug in at home with EVs, or even better, get your power from roof-mounted solar panels, essentially refilling your car for free. The difference is even more pronounced on a long range EV like the Tesla Model S, which if charge during off-peak hours, can be fully recharged for between $4 and $10. A comparable car would need between $60 and $80 of gasoline.

I know Obama is suddenly hot for hydrogen, but it’s a dead-end technology that doesn’t benefit the customers except for one way, and that’s faster refilling, and that gap is closing thanks to the Tesla Superchargers. Oh, the government is throwing cash at that experiment too. At best, hydrogen fuel cells maintain a cost status quo for consumers, and where it comes down to dollars and cents, EVs have a major advantage. Too bad the DOE can’t figure that out.


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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • anonymous

    does this author sound shortsighted? how much money did Einstein plann to save when he worked on his theory of relativity?

    • AaronD12

      Straw man argument. Einstein was defining the laws of the physical world. The money from the DoE is to find a cheaper way to produce hydrogen.

  • Jaime Kennedy

    Most Electric vehicles are powered by coal-that’s the most common fuel for electric power plants.

    Hydrogen can be produced locally. No more coal, no more Arab oil. Fuel Cells are superior to batteries in range, fueling (recharging) time and weight. The best way to power an EV.

    • Jim Smith

      Electricity can be produced local via solar much more efficiently. No more coal, no more Arab oil. Fuel cells require fuel, just like gas engines do today. Today and for the foreseeable future, they are not superior in range as there are no hydrogen fueling stations. By then battery technology will have progressed so we will have to see how things compare.

      Hydrogen is not the best way to power an EV, it pollutes the nearly the same as oil. see: http://cleantechnica.com/2014/05/20/fuel-cell-vehicle-ghg-emissions/

    • AaronD12

      Fuel cell vehicles are superior in range (yes), fueling (yes), and weight (not really since FCVs also need batteries since the fuel cell cannot produce all the power needed for instant acceleration).

      EVs are cheaper than FCVs and will be in the near future. They are not powered by hydrogen created by steam and natural gas, which is currently the only way to make commercial quantities of hydrogen. That is not clean.

      The amount of electricity used to create, compress, store, and transport the hydrogen is about 3 times as much as what is needed to drive an EV an equivalent distance.

    • QKodiak

      No you’re wrong. Most electric vehicles (in the US) are powered by other sources since coal accounts for 39% of energy production. The majority of EVs are in California and other states with a very low coal energy production percentage. A large percentage of EV owners and/or electric technology enthusiasts have solar panels on their roof. Also, the majority of EVs are charged at night using baseload power that’s normally wasted anyway. Since they’re not adding to energy load, they’re zero emissions.

      Hydrogen can be produced locally, but it’s usually not. The same locally produced energy used to generate hydrogen, compress it, cool it, transport it, and pump it would be better utilized charging EVs, which can travel much farther on the same amount of energy.

    • SteveEV

      Almost half of electric vehicle owners have installed solar collectors to charge their cars and power their homes. The vast majority of electric vehicles are garaged, and charged, in areas which use very little coal generated power. I would be surprised if you have found even one electric vehicle that is predominantly coal powered.

  • gendotte

    What he is missing here is that you can make your own hydrogen. All it takes is a solar panel or wind generator, and some water. Yes the initial expense is high, but it will pretty much last a lifetime.

    • AaronD12

      The amount of electricity needed to generate that hydrogen from water is around 50kWh per liter of hydrogen. Take that same 50kWh and put that into a Tesla Model S and you can travel over 150 miles. That same amount of hydrogen will drive you far less than that once you also add in the fuel cell inefficiencies.

      • QKodiak

        Don’t forget, you also have to compress the hydrogen which takes an enormous amount of energy, refrigerate it which takes more energy, transport it (with large, inefficient diesel-powered trucks), and pump it into the station’s tanks and again into FCV’s tanks. After the pumping is complete, that station cannot be used for a while because it has to recompress the hydrogen while cooling it. That’s why a hydrogen station can only fill up about 15 cars a day…Hardly viable.

  • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan
  • QKodiak

    Most pro-hydrogen people ignore this.

    It takes a whole lot of energy to produce hydrogen from water, fossil fuels, ammonia, etc. It takes more energy to compress it and cool it at the same time. It takes even more energy to transport it while keeping it cool. Again, it takes more energy to refrigerate it during storage, more to pump it into cars, and even more energy to recompress the hydrogen in the station tanks. Once that hydrogen is in the FCV, it’s combined with atmospheric oxygen to (re)produce electricity to be stored in a large battery to power an electric motor.

    It’s simpler, cheaper, more convenient, and more energy efficient to just charge up an EV and go.

    The cost to build out a hydrogen infrastructure is astronomical ($1,000,000+ per station) compared to EV chargers. Anyone can install a 240V charger in their garage or have their apartment put one in the parking lot for around $1,000.

    Hydrogen fuel cell technology is a cool science experiment that is just not cost effective in the real world, and there are better alternatives, PHEVs, EREVs, and long range, fast charging EVs. I really hope the waste of resources on hydrogen tech ceases soon.

  • philb

    Only reason why car companies are pushing hydrogen because they spent billions on research. The other part of the equation is oil companies and Government taxes. All groups benefit from a hydrogen based economy. Electric will face constant hurdles from getting widely advanced an adopted do to these issues. I know one local highly regarded school was developing a low cost replacement for lithium Ion batteries.

    The benefit was of course lower costs and higher energy densities than Lithium. All of a sudden the school stopped talking about the technology and for that last five years this has been going on. Do I think foul play cannot say could be technical issues could be science needs more time it just seems odd? Lithium is evolving and new types of batteries promise to increase storage capacities.

    But right now people still think of charging a car is a pain the reality many who got cars love them. But not to worry many of these hydrogen issues will be exposed and people will wake up over them.

    • QKodiak

      Charging a car at home takes 10 sec. a day. Drive up, plug in, walk inside. In the morning, preheat or precool the car from bed using your phone, get ready for work, unplug, and go. It’s simple, convenient, and there’s no range anxiety since you start every day with a full charge.

      • philb

        I agree completely I was not making a case against electric cars I was representing the well oiled machine. Oil companies and their lobbies are heavily behind the scenes kicking down electrics. They fight a good game little if anything gets traced back to them. Many posts on forums and blogs. People may call me a CTer but I been around these things long enough to know the money being used. In the next two or three years electrics will have 500 mile plus range.

  • Christopher Holmquist

    Ev’s are expensive? Some are but not all. I got my 2013 Leaf on lease for $2,700 down at $100 a month. Do your research author

  • Albertico

    Why waste time and energy trying to create hydrogen, just to then turn it back into electricity inside the car to power the electric motor? Why not use the electricity directly and save yourself all the hassle and extra steps of having to transport hydrogen around and to have to worry about the “pump” prices…

    And for anyone that claims that hydrogen is better because you can fill it up in less than 5 minutes as opposed to charging a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV); I’d much rather spend 5 seconds a day plugging in an electric car at my house than have to go to another gas/hydrogen station again.

    Tesla’s full electric Model S has 265 miles of range; Toyota’s Fuel Cell Hydrogen vehicle only has 310 miles of range. Toyota announced today 6-25-14, their Fuel Cell Hydrogen vehicle will start at a base price of $70,000 dollars; the same as a base Tesla Model S… So you definitely won’t be saving any money up front, will still have to go stations to fill up weekly and hydrogen is 4x more expensive than electricity per mile.

    What are the advantages of hydrogen again?

    Hydrogen stations are extremely hard to come by; while electricity is found anywhere there is civilization. A hydrogen station costs around 1 million dollars to build, a Supercharger station costs less than 200k dollars to build and you don’t have to worry about transporting the fuel around. Again I ask: what are the advantages of hydrogen then?

    As for electric vehicle charging times, it takes less than 1 hour empty to full charging with a Tesla Supercharger for long distance travel. This is in the present, imagine how much more range the cars will have and shorter the charging times will be 10 years from now.

    There, in one post I completely destroyed any argument as to why Hydrogen is better than Full Electric. Answer, it is not, and never will be. The hydrogen extraction process alone is a waste of energy when that energy could be used directly to power a car via a battery.

    If the goal is to create renewable and energy efficient public transportation, hydrogen is a laugh of a choice compared to pure electric.

    The only place I see hydrogen working is as rocket fuel; maybe. Assuming we do not find a better alternative in the future

    • Matt Murphy

      Somebody sounds worried about his recent Tesla purchase…

      • Albertico

        Not at all, since I have not bought my Tesla yet. Waiting for the cheaper model which I am willing to fork over up to 50k for.

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