Mercedes, BMW, Toyota To Go On $10 Billion Hydrogen Fuel Binge


Hydrogen as a clean fuel has long been the darling of futurists. A power source that has no waste products other than water vapor and heat? What’s not to like? Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. It’s practically free. Why not use it to power a civilization that creates no carbon, methane, or nitrogen emissions whatsoever?

Mercedes hydrogen fuel GLC

Please don’t start posting nastygrams to me in the comments section yet. I am not a hydrogenophile. I can reel off a dozen reasons why hydrogen is not the magic bullet many people assume it is. But there are a lot of people who see hydrogen as the way out of our fossil fuel pollution mess and more are getting on the hydrogen fuel bandwagon every day.

Mercedes, BMW, and Toyota have just entered into an agreement to spend $10 billion over the next 5 years to spur growth in the hydrogen fueling infrastructure and to pursue hydrogen fuel cell research. The three car makers, together with Honda, Hyundai, Shell, AirLiquide, Linde, and Total, want to lay the groundwork that will make it possible for hydrogen fuel cell cars to go mainstream. They announced their plans this week in Davos, Switzerland.

The companies have named their effort the Hydrogen Council. They believe hydrogen “can play an important role in the transition to a clean, low-carbon, energy system.” The Hydrogen Council also vows to push global governments to accelerate public investment in hydrogen related infrastructure as part of the overall effort to curb greenhouse gases mandated by the Paris climate accords.

People fret about electric car sales but the number of fuel cell cars on the road is minuscule. Toyota leased 1,034 Mirai fuel cell sedans last year. Mercedes is about to start marketing itsĀ GLC plug-in hydrogen fuel-cell crossover later this year.

Hydrogen infrastructure is almost nonexistent in the US. Of the 33 publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations in the country, 30 are in California. In addition, there is one each in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, according to the US Department of Energy. By comparison, there are more than 15,000 electric-vehicle charging stations with almost 40,000 outlets in the US.

You may now begin your anti-hydrogen rants. I’ll start. Why on earth would these companies sink precious resources into selling hydrogen fueled cars? The same companies who are pushing for fuel cell infrastructure have been dragging their feet for years when it comes to EV charging infrastructure. Most of them have embraced the idea of electric cars the way one would hug a porcupine — very slowly and with great reluctance.

There is something wrong with this picture but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Can you help me out?

Source: AutoBlog

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • Rick Danger

    Tesla is looking more and more like a potential trillion dollar company, and at the awards ceremony I’m sure Elon will thank the late Mercedes, BMW and Toyota for making it possible.

    • James Rowland

      Don’t forget to credit the Japanese government for mandating that the 2020 Olympic Games be a showcase for this waste of effort, and pulling the world’s largest car company (among others) into the effort.

      • Steve Hanley

        That’s so, James. But why are Mercedes and BMW going over the cliff with Toyota?

        • James Rowland

          Bad ideas are infectious?

          The same old shibboleths about BEV viability persist, and there are still many in the car industry that believe hydrogen will be the long-term winner and BEVs just a fad.

          I guess those people are heartened enough by recent progress in HFC costs that they haven’t noticed they’re already obsolete.

        • Jim Seko

          Because fossil fuel companies are paying for the R&D

    • Ed

      Somewhere their is an interview where a sober-sounding Musk mentions other car companies reluctance to go electric, the suddenly goes giddy and something to the effect, “I can’t believe they are giving us this much of a head start!”

  • WebUserAtLarge

    Another reason to support Tesla. I really really wish there were other true competitors to Tesla, meaning EV-only producing and developing companies, so that we could support more of them. This article proves that most major manufacturers are not really interested in EVs. Say they succeed in this direction. Where all this hydrogen will come from? Option 1 – reforming/refining some fossil fuel like Nat. Gas. Not really an environmental winner. Option 2 – Electrolysis. But, there is no way for the Electrolysis to be price-competitive with the pure EVs. Did you notice the last name on the proponents’ list? ‘Total’ So I think this is a play for Option 1. This is the driving force of this hydrogen/fuel cell push: get the fossil fuel industry to keep producing and polluting – and hail the profits.

    • Epicurus

      Bingo. Another huge market for fracked natural gas.

  • John J. McAvoy

    two theories about fool cell advocation: Oil companies are on all the boards of directors for these car cos. Hydrogen sales can be made from modified gas stations and of course hydrogen can be made from fossil fuels.

  • IndyX

    I have to wonder how much of thay 10 billion is by auto manufactures and how much is from the oil and gas co who are obviously pro hydrogen as cracked oil and gas is hydrogens number one source…
    The auto companies shelling out billions simply does not make sense as hydrogen looks like nothing more than an expensive an inefficient battery…
    The hydrogen scientist could have the last laugh but that looks to come from battery manufactures…

  • Kieran Delaney

    As much as I’m (reasonably) happy that Hydrogen is at least being considered as an alternative to gasoline; it is clear to me, at least, that this technology is being pushed forward by the fossil-fuel industry, as a last-gasp attempt at securing their financial future.

    Why these companies don’t start divesting into renewable energy is beyond me. As Elon said, and as the math suggests also, the future is going to require a lot more power generation than we have today – get on board now! Why are they so desperately clinging onto the status quo, haven’t they heard of Charles Darwin?!

    • MrKevinSD

      They don’t divest because green energy is now cheap energy. Cheap energy means they lose control of the masses. The military industrial complex loses because they have no oil wars to support. Your solar plants wou;d free the masses from the petro-military-pharma industrial complexes grip of control and war

      • trackdaze

        To invest in renewables at any great degree would make the financiers long on oil debt very nervous.

        Total and another large oil and gas that escapes my memory have invested significantly in renewables noting they have seperated the businesses.

        • I believe RDS is the other one, though many of the companies also dabble in renewables here in America for the tax credits.

      • kevin mccune

        Bully !

  • Jim Seko

    How much money does it take to fight the laws of physics?

    • Steve Hanley

      At least $10 billion!!!

      • bioburner

        Way more than $10 Billion.

  • trackdaze

    Hydrogen works with the dead investments these companies have made in internal combustion engines or in hydrogen fuel cells themselves.

    The fuel has merit for heavy haulage, and renewable energy storage. But if i can get a fast vehicle i can recharge at home at zero marginal cost to myself why would i want a complicated explosion waiting to happen that im paying for fuel at whatever the execs think i can bear to pay on that particular day?

  • zn

    Hydrogen vehicles may one day be superior to EVs and we’ll all praise the wonderful innovations these pioneering companies made etc etc etc. However, BEVs already have ~ 10 year headstart and are already basically at the point of full massmarket viability, with costs only coming down. It will have to be one mighty leap forward for hydrogen to catch up at this point…

  • t_

    The fact is, that the major car companies are playing with hydrogen as fuel for decades. The fact is also, that they did nothing with an impact. As I see it, the major breakthroughs in fuel cell technology are not done by car companies.
    Good luck to those companies. My suggestion to Musk: Do not forget to credit them at the awards ceremony, really!

  • Disqusor

    All car companies are soooo comfortable with current business model…..H2 is status quo…

    H2 a 10 km drive in Norway = Nkr 10,-
    Electric 10 km drive…….Nkr 0,50

    • Epicurus

      How does the price of hydrogen compare to the price of gasoline to go the same distance in comparable cars?

  • Epicurus

    How damn stupid can these companies be?

    I don’t see gasoline station owners, who already operate on thin margins, spending a lot of money to gamble on hydrogen refueling. On the other hand, it costs little comparatively to add an EV charger.

    Who wants to spend a lot of money for hydrogen at a refueling center when they can recharge an EV at home for very little money?

  • Steve Hanley

    The level of knowledge about hydrogen and the automobile market among Gas2 readers is really quite heartening. The fossil fuel industry — of which ExxonMobil is merely the leading exponent — is spending billions to convince people that they are looking out for our best interests as a species, but their 100% grass fed baloney falls on deaf ears here.

    Yet the majority of the US Congress are rabid climate deniers. Might that not be a valuable insight into who is really running the country and for whose benefit?

    Once The Donald figures out how to turn on the lights in the Oval Office, the protesters in North Dakota will be dislodged in the most brutal way imaginable, all so more oil can flow to feed the voracious appetites of the world’s energy consumers.

    We don’t need to boycott Mercedes, BMW, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, et al. All we need to do is decline to purchase their products. The power to affect change is in our hands — and wallets.

    • Epicurus

      As I said on CleanTechnica before I was banned, it is immoral not to buy a plug-in car at purchase time. Each plug-in car represents thousands of gallons of gasoline that will never be purchased.

      “Yet the majority of the US Congress are rabid climate deniers.”

      And this despite the fact that 70% of the American people want clean energy.

      Only about 30% or so of Americans are Republicans but Republicans control the Congress and most state legislatures. How is this possible? Gerrymandering.

      Gerrymandering is only possible because of our antiquated system of winner-take-all single member districts. The solution is multi-member districts with ranked choice voting. See fairvote dot org. Wish I could post a link.

    • GregS

      I don’t think it really matters whether members of Congress believe in climate change or not. Just as it doesn’t really matter what the public believes as far as climate change goes. EVs, FCEVs or PHEVs will dominate when there is a compelling case to own one over an ICE vehicle.
      Range is increasing, chargers are becoming more plentiful and more importantly long range EV’s are coming down in price.
      It’s a waste to put a lot of time, effort and money into convincing folks about climate change. We should focus on delivering compelling EVs that will make the public buy them because they are simply better. This is Elon Musk’s plan , deliver great cars that just happen to be electric.

  • Eco Logical

    Exxon bought out the Li-ion patent in the mid 1970’s and then suppressed it’s use until the patent expired in the early 1990’s and Sony was then able to produce Li-ion batteries for electronics (at that time nobody thought they’d work in a BEV). Chevron bought the NiMH patent in the early 2000’s and only allowed NiMH batteries for hybrid vehicles (no BEVs or PHEVs – nothing with a plug). Toyota started building a large format NiMH factory in the late 1990’s for the RAV4EV but was then forced to shut it down by Chevron. Are you starting to see a pattern here? Toyota relies on NiMH batteries for it’s highly successful hybrids. 99% of hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels i.e. oil companies including Exxon & Chevron. Is it possible that Toyota, Mercedes & BMW are being intimidated (bullied) into supporting hydrogen?

    • bioburner

      I don’t know who owns the controlling shares of stock for these companies but if its an oil company or a country that sells a lot of oil then yes that will “impact” product development.

  • kevin mccune

    Steve this is not related , how come I cannot read replies on “Solar Love “.

    • Steve Hanley

      Sorry, Kevin, I don’t know the answer to that. I just write ’em. What happens after that is above my pay grade. You can address technical questions to “”

  • luca riffer

    Steve, not sure why the divisiveness . . hydrogen vehicles are still EV’s, just not pure BEV’s, instead the range extender is pressurized H2 that charges buffer lithium battery that runs the EV. Both technologies are proven and reliable, both taking down the fossil fuel industry. In Europe and Canada, all that hydrogen gets produced from over-capacity in wind and hydro via electrolysis, which can’t be said for the kWh charging BEV’s.

    • Epicurus

      I suspect the natural gas industry will have some influence in where the hydrogen comes from.

    • Steve Hanley

      I think the best answer to your question is to read the comments left by others. One response to your question is whether using excess electricity is the most efficient use of it when we need every electron we can find to reduce the use of fossil fuels used to generate electricity.

      I am no physicist, but from my experience I am under the impression that using electricity to hydrolize water into hydrogen and oxygen is quite inefficient, especially when compared to how far the same amount of electrticity can propel an EV.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • At last year’s New York Auto Show, Toyota said hydrogen is about $3.50 a gallon, and Mirai owners get a free supply for three years. I drove a Mirai in October in Monticello, N.Y., and found it as quiet as my Tesla Model S.

    • Epicurus

      How far does a gallon of hydrogen take you?

      I calculated a gallon equivalent of electricity (i.e. to go the same distance in comparable cars) costs about $1 where I live.

  • robert Jones

    This strikes me as shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The question is; why even try – the oil interests are self evident, but why should there be so much interest from the car companies? I think there may be some benefit in considering the advantage that car companies have enjoyed from the high cost of entry into the market.
    Electric cars in many ways represent and considerable simplification of the automobile as we know it now. As long as you are not actively trying make construction difficult (Tesla Model X) you can buy many of the systems you need; seats, air-con, motors etc. right off the shelf. Additionally you don’t need to deal with as many regulatory hurdles designed to curb emissions.
    Hydrogen fuel cell cars keep the cost of joining the club higher and therefore further out of reach of other creative individuals or business that might come in and disrupt the established order.
    Car companies really don’t want you to be able to buy a Google, Apple or even Microsoft car at a discount to what they have to offer.
    Tesla is already eating Porche’s and other high end manufactures lunch and they don’t need to develop whole new technologies such water injection to keep their cars improving. You don’t even need to go to the dealer to get upgrade!
    The costs of developing and building highly complex internal combustion engines will eventually look like an intolerable burden. So too will the need to seek out find hydrogen which you then lug around along with the expensive cell needed to convert it into electricity.
    Electricity is already distributed to every corner of the globe, the next step is obvious.

    • Steve Hanley

      Excellent comment, sir. Thanks.

    • bioburner

      Agree 100% with what you say but…The masses, at least here in the USA are programmed to go to a filling station and swipe their credit card. fill up in a few minutes and drive away. Plugging your car in at night before bed time is not in the program. Many people can not accept that change. There would be better mass acceptance because people see hydrogen as a “Drop In Replacement” for gasoline. As we know its just as damaging to the environment as gasoline. People pushing that kind of product tout it as GREEN and it just not true.

  • bioburner

    Toyota did not learn its lesson with the Mira ?. Producing hydrogen is not efficient at all and it goes down hill from there. $10 Billion poured into solar or wind power would provide enough incentives to power every car in the USA. That would seriously cut CO2 production and make a miserable impact on Climate Change. These auto companies should invest that money in green electricity. They would make more money.

    • kevin mccune

      Its greed and the “tragedy of the knuckleheads ” they don’t give a hoot in heck about us , they only see us as potential ” cashcows”.

    • Epicurus

      Right, spending that $10 billion in solar and wind power would be better for all life on earth and all humanity, but these corporations aren’t concerned about what’s good for the public. It’s about what they perceive is good for them, although I fail to see how this hydrogen thing is going to be profitable.

  • GregS

    How robust are fuel cells? Meaning that in the case of a fairly serious accident, will they hold up? Or will they be trashed?