Originally posted on CleanTechnica
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has come out against hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on more than one occasion, even going so far as to call them “bullshit” and “fool cells” because of all the energy required to collect fuel-grade hydrogen, and the fact that most hydrogen is currently sourced from natural gas and fracking.
But Toyota won’t let those pesky facts get in the way of a good greenwashing campaign, co opting Musk’s comments to try and prove the Mirai FCV is green in one of the worst ways possible. The video above, entitled “Fueled by Bullsh*t”, attempts to showcase how the hydrogen gas used to power the Mirai can be found, well, everywhere. And it’s true, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, found in just about every piece of organic matter we’ve ever discovered…and yes, that includes cow manure. The cow crap is collected, left to dissolve at a special fermentation pit, and then brought to a steam reformation center where the raw biogas has the hydrogen stripped away, which can then be used to fuel the Mirai. Sounds pretty green, right?
There’s just one problem with Toyota’s storyline; it is, itself, fabricated bullshit. First and foremost, the electricity for those energy-intensive steam reformation machines must come from somewhere, and about 95% of it comes from natural gas, which in the US and many other places comes from fracking. Last I checked, natural gas from fracking hardly qualifies as a renewable energy source, and hydrogen itself is merely an energy carrier…much of which is lost during the capture, transportation, and reformation stages. So while the Mirai itself may only emit water vapor, if we’re going to take into account all of the the well-to-wheel emissions of electric vehicles, it’s important to factor in hydrogen’s sources as well.
But wait, it gets even worse, as numerous studies have pointed out that cow flatulence is one of the major contributors to the global CO2 emissions epidemic. While I don’t expect the beef industry to just up and disappear, numerous studies have said that if we want to save the planet, we should simply eat less red meat. It has been estimated that more than 18% of the world’s methane emissions come from some 1.5 billion cows and other cattle spread out across the planet, which is more than any other industry, including transportation and fracking.
While I can imagine that capturing cow-sourced methane and turning it into hydrogen en masse would have a positive overall impact on the environment, it downplays the fact that a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure system would be required to transport the high-pressure, highly reactive hydrogen gas from the reformation centers to fueling stations. Vancouver was shipping fuel-grade hydrogen from thousands of miles across Canada to the other in container trucks to power their hydrogen buses before the city finally gave up on its expensive experiment. Some studies estimate that by the time hydrogen reaches the fuel tank of a car like the Toyota Mirai, between 60% and 75% of its total energy potential has been lost. Meanwhile, a car like the Tesla Model S can turn up to 90% of its source electricity into forward motivation.
There’s just no comparison.
Toyota’s attempt to make a clever play on words only highlights the cognitive dissonance it has constantly demonstrated in its efforts to make hydrogen fuel cell vehicles seem greener than they are, while disparaging plug-in cars. The Japanese automaker would be better served by highlighting its efforts to bring solar electrolysis sourcing of hydrogen to the masses, a truly green way of sourcing hydrogen, rather than trying to ride the coattails of the ever-quotable Elon Musk.
Or just take that solar power and pump it directly into EVs, which takes out all the inefficiencies and infrastructure woes of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.