Tesla CEO Elon Musk: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Are “Mind-Boggingly Stupid”

2 years ago by Eric Loveday 66

FCEVS Are "Mind-Bogglingly Stupid" Says Elon Musk

FCEVS Are “Mind-Bogglingly Stupid” Says Elon Musk

Last week, Toyota’s senior vice president for automotive operations, Bob Carter, took some shots at several automotive CEOs.

Tesla Model S Refuels Almost Anywhere - Let's See an FCEV Do That

Tesla Model S Refuels Almost Anywhere – Let’s See an FCEV Do That

In regard to FCEVs versus EVs, Carter stated:

“Personally I don’t really care what Elon and Carlos and Jonathan have to say about fuel cells. It’s very reminiscent of 1998, 1999 when we first introduced the Prius.”

This week, it’s Elon Musk’s turn to take the mic.

As expected, Musk had some choice words against FCEVs:

“They’re mind-bogglingly stupid.  You can’t even have a sensible debate.”

“Consider the whole fuel cell system against a Model S. It’s far worse in volume and mass terms, and far, far, worse in cost. And I haven’t even talked about hydrogen being so hard to handle.”

“Success is simply not possible.”

That’s what Elon Musk told Autocar in the latest print edition of the magazine.

Musk added:

“Manufacturers do it [FCEVs] because they’re under pressure to show they’re doing something ‘constructive’ about sustainability. They feel it’s better to be working on a solution a generation away rather than something just around the corner.”

“Hydrogen is always labeled the fuel of the future – and always will be.”

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66 responses to "Tesla CEO Elon Musk: Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Are “Mind-Boggingly Stupid”"

  1. David Murray says:

    I agree – as a primary fuel source for a vehicle, it is mindbogglingly stupid. I even question its usefulness as a range extender, although that use is much more pallet-able to me. I really see absolutely NO advantage to this technology. Its like a solution looking for a problem.

    1. Rick Danger says:

      +1

      1. kdawg says:

        I see an advantage for the fuel companies, but not for the car-makers. What’s their motivation? Profit, how? Maybe once they figure out how to make a lot of profit on an EV, they will stop this hydrogen non-sense. Who knows.

        1. koz says:

          CARB is the car manufacturers motivation for expending the efforts they are, otherwise it would be a minor research only project at this point for them. If the Prius qualified them to meet CARB, they would be singing a different tune.

          1. kdawg says:

            But don’t EV’s and PHEV’s help meet the CARB requirements? Do they actually think they will sell (lease?) enough FCEV’s to do any good for them?

          2. Lad says:

            I would like to see California’s Governor Brown become more discerning about spending tax money. He should investigate the entire process of using hydrogen before building hydrogen fueling stations no one wants, while the proven need for EV charging stations goes lacking. California has yet to build out it’s part of the I-5 electric highway. The whole section from Oregon to Sacramento is missing all the charge stations…Why? Washington and Oregon finished last year.

            1. I used to wonder about the same thing, Lad. After driving the Seattle to San Diego route using the Supercharger network, I realized that it is not a very practical trip for a Leaf or any other typical BEV no matter how many QC stations are installed there. A 45 minute stop for every 60 minutes of travel (at best) is just not something anyone but the most ardent EV enthusiast will do. If you’re making shorter trips between closer cities, like San Francisco to San Jose or Sacramento, it’s manageable. But when given the choice of putting a $50k charges station out on a lonely outpost, or in a busy corridor between nearby major cities, I would definitely vote for the latter.

        2. Mint says:

          I’m sure they know how to make a profit on an EV.

          What they (and the dealers) don’t want to do is point out how much a gasoline car costs over its lifetime in fuel and maintenance, because it even if it slightly turns people off in their showrooms, it will hurt 99% of their business.

          So what we wind up with is Ford and Toyota charging a ludicrous premium for their plugin variants, just trying milk as much profit as they can rather than sell with the same profit as their hybrids.

    2. Big Solar says:

      Its no more mind bogglingly stupid than burning fossil fuels. I just wish we could see the exhaust fumes from cars better. Then they would be outlawed because we would not be able to drive at all.

      1. Tim says:

        You mentioned “I just wish we could see the exhaust fumes from cars better”. The last couple weeks in Minnesota have been miserably cold, most days with highs of under 10 F, and lows of -10 to one day at -27 F as I drove in to work in my Leaf.

        You can see the cloud between every single car (except mine and the relatively few other EV drivers here) – even the Toyota Prius’ all have their own cloud behind them. Get behind a large SUV and the cloud can be so big as they accelerate that you have to slow down because visibility approaches 0. It is absolutely sickening.

        Make it all the worse – just about everyone here uses remote starters for their cars, leaving them idling in the parking lots for 10 to 20 minutes before leaving. Walking from a building door to your car becomes quite a chore of holding your breath to avoid breathing in all the toxic fumes.

        I cannot wait for the day when more people open their eyes and start abandoning ICE in mass.

        1. Tom A. says:

          Agreed.

        2. phil says:

          hi Tim, you did not see the steam coming out of your car because you were out of site of the power plant. where does your electric power come from? how is it produced? that is the fuel your car is using. yes, hot air coming out of the exhaust into cold air is steam, just like your breath. by far, the biggest green house gas is water vapor, impossible to tax. what comes out of the exhaust on hydrogen powered Fuel cell cars? water vapor. how much fuel does it take to produce hydrogen? alot. typical liberal, all emotion and no facts.

          1. João Prates says:

            The difference is simple: We can produce electricity by means of renewable power sources. I alone produce a lot more PV power than I consume on my Prius PHV and my Vectrix combined.
            How do you produce oil using renewables?
            Got it now?

  2. Chris O says:

    So basically Elon Musk says it’s a smokescreen, something that keeps policy makers and the uneducated part of the general public happy while the carmakers can keep following their own agenda: ICE until the oil runs out. That’s exactly how the extremely problematic hydrogen technology has always struck me.

    No doubt Elon Musk realizes that the old guard is none too pleased with him speeding up changes that were not supposed to happen for decades though. The fact that hydrogen is maximally hyped again alone indicates that the traditional carmakers are trying to get the wind out of his sails but it’s only one of countless tactics at their disposal.

    1. Spec9 says:

      I think the smokescreen theory is not far-fetched. It was 2005 when George W. Bush had the photo-op of him filling up a hydrogen car with oil company logos on display. That was 9 years ago. How many hydrogen cars are on the road today? Just about none.

      It has been a smokescreen put up by the oil companies to make it look like they are doing something.

    2. Hydrogen in compressed form is no better than Natural Gas as a fuel today. In fact a large portion of Hydrogen is generated from a process of mixing NG with steam (supper heated water). To use the Hydrogen, it needs to be filtered (remove CO2), dried and compressed.

      At best, hydrogen is no cleaner than natural gas, but having much higher costs for storage and transportation … due to required high quality tanks and handling methods. The only advantage hydrogen has over using natural gas as a fuel is it separates the location where CO2 s generated vs. where the fuel is used. This makes using hydrogen in a metro area CO2 free, but ignore emissions elsewhere.

      For those hung up on producing hydrogen from solar and wind; the hydrogen process is much more energy intensive than other methods and likely makes use of a consumable catalyst. Regardless of source, hydrogen still has the added costs of wasted energy (heat reeased) from compressing large volumes of gas; and same added costs of handling and transportation.

  3. Anon says:

    Elon’s right.

    And hydrogen has to be separated from other materisls like water, methane or (if the fossil fuel industry gets its way) even crude oil. And that takes electricity– which you can just directly use in a BEV.

    There are a lot of fundamental problems working with this material as a mass market fuel. Hydrogen embrittles metals it comes in contact with, so it literally eats its own infrastructure. It likes to slip between the atoms in storage tank liners and leak, it pools in underhangs creating fire hazards, and is very difficult / costly to store and transport, .ect, .etc…

    It is a fuel that makes more sense to use in space, than on earth, for terrestrial applications.

    1. Chris O says:

      On the upside: Toyota managed to develop a tank for it that can take a direct hit from a 50 cal bullet. Oh wait, that kinda illustrates the extend of the problems….

      1. sven says:

        Maybe Tesla could license Toyota’s tank technology to replace the ineffective “armor plate” protecting the Model S battery pack. 😉

        1. Chris O says:

          That thought occurred to me too. However I don’t know how much what appears to be less than 1 inch thick material that can stop .50 ammo costs but it probably better fits the heavily subsidized PR exercise Toyota is planning than a serious commercial proposition like Model S.

        2. Steve T says:

          How much armor plating do you have under your car, Sven?

    2. Priusmaniac says:

      Hydrogen that embrittles metal is not really a problem because austenic inox and many others materials like Nickel coated aluminum or amorphous Yttrium steel can handle that very well. The problem is really straight forward in the energy conversion yields that aren’t good. Additionally there is the fossil fuel aspect since, here on earth, hydrogen is a direct derivative from it instead of a renewable.

  4. Dan Frederiksen says:

    What can I say, automakers are apparently mostly idiots 🙂
    You don’t believe it when I say it but when Elon says it, it’s suddenly gospel 🙂
    Mehehehe

    1. Chris O says:

      It’s to do with credibility. Successful and charismatic technology leaders have more of it than sometimes confused sounding armchair warriors.

      1. sven says:

        Are you implying that Dan F is not a successful and charismatic technology leader? 🙂

        1. Brian says:

          Dan is certainly charismatic! I have no idea what kind of technology leader he is though…

          1. Nix says:

            I believe Dan is Grey alien technology….

    2. MDEV says:

      Elon is not saying, he is showing you how is done!

    3. Spec9 says:

      They are not idiots, they are just conservative and covering their bets. If some massive break-through were to occur in fuel-cells, all the majors would need to be able to start producing them quickly.

      As a start-up, Tesla had to focus on its core technology and doesn’t have the resources to cover other bets. However, he has certainly researched fuel cell heavily.

    4. Steve T says:

      Dan, you are a desperately negative guy. Apparently, everyone but Dan is an idiot. You use that word to pretty much describe everyone. Cheer up, bucko.

  5. Bloggin says:

    Musk is right. The whole fuel cell concept makes no sense. Except for the oil companies would be the suppliers of hydrogen to the gas/hydrogen stations.

    Even from a fuel price perspective, it will cost over $70 to for 300 miles in a fuel cell vehicle, compared with about $10-$15 for an EV. With by MY2016 a compact version of a fuel cell car costing $75k-$100k, while at the same time the 300 mile EV would be at $50k.

    Abundant natural gas is a much better transition fuel from gasoline for large vehicles.

    With the mass EV adopters being those commuting daily, with 300 EV miles, charging happens at home and while they sleep, no searching for gas/charging station, no lines, no waiting and charging at the lowest rates.

    But for Toyota, like Musk stated, they must show they are doing something, and have a vehicle to offer CA that meets the zero emissions standards to be able to sell their other cars in the state.

    For the oil companies, it’s their way to keep transportation attached to their supply chain. Unlike with EVs where more and more power is coming from the sun, wind and water turbine power, and now the transition has already begun toward unplugging with unlimited solar power.

  6. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

    H2 as a transportation fuel doesn’t make sense, and never will. Hydrocarbons are just too good of a source/carrier of hydrogen, you’re never going to see mechanical storage of H2 at STP that you get with chemical bonds. Ammonia could also work, but it’s not nearly as dense.

    Solid-oxide fuel cells that can use hydrocarbons directly make a lot more sense…. IF:
    * they’re priced at 10 cents per Watt or less.
    * they can get 16kWh out of a gallon of gas (or equivalent natgas/diesel/etc).
    * their mass and density are comparable to an ICE, say 0.5-1kW/kg.
    * they can operate within typical engine materials’ heat range (which could actually be rather high for spots, like a turbodiesel’s exhaust manifold, EGTs can easily get to 700C or more)

    1. Mint says:

      Solid oxide fuel cells will take over the electricity generation market at $0.50/W, and maybe even as high as $2/W (Bloom Energy is finding business even at $10/W). Neighborhoods will be able to go completely off grid.

      Even hydrogen fuel cells that cheap will make Elon a fortune via Solar City. I doubt homes will get much for excess solar energy dumped into the grid, but using it for electrolysis and then feeding it into a fuel cell – even at 50% efficiency – will beat grid prices in maybe half the western world.

      So how long would it take to replace the world’s power? 30 years? Fuel cells aren’t dropping below $0.50/W until that happens.

  7. Assaf says:

    Haha, Elon Musk is the Richard Sherman of the automaker world 🙂

    1. James says:

      You mean: He jumped up in the air, and plucked away the excuses automakers
      come up with to dismiss EVs/PHEVs whilst forwarding future hydrogen fantasy,
      then, full of confidence and braggadocio, stated the obvious, that he’s the
      best shutdown cornerback ( I mean, billionaire entrepreneur, spaceship CEO
      and electric car pioneer )?

      You may just have a point! Sherman shoved San Francisco’s stated falsehoods
      down their proverbial throats, and Elon is set to do just the same to autodom’s
      established dictators.

      1. Assaf says:

        Oh, I mostly mean, he plays the part.

        Last I checked, Toyota was a Tesla investor and its high-volume-production coach; the Tesla plant was purchased from Toyota; and RAV4EV uses Tesla batteries.

        So at the very worst, the two are ‘frenemies’.

        Both sides just like to hype the rhetoric because it increases the ratings 🙂

  8. MikeM says:

    “Mind-bogglingly stupid ” says Mr Musk.

    Hah! When did that ever slow us down in our race towards the absurd?
    Witness the ease with which we slid into diverting precious arable land into ethanol production at no (even negative) significant societal benefit to aid a big, ever hungry, (Ag.) industry.

    Well, the fossil fuel industry knows full well that, long term, its days are numbered as a supplier of liquid, fossil carbon based, transportation fuels. So what to do? How to profit? How to stay in the fuel supply loop?

    With its production and distribution expertise, armies of lobbyists and the usual congressional nitwit cheerleaders on hand, I can picture a future where the likes of Chevron Hydrogen and British Hydroleum save the day for us.
    “Just go to your ‘gas’ station to fill up as usual”. No fretting about battery life. No costly home installation needed, so no fiddling with those oh so inconvenient cables and plugs!

    I’m pretty sure the auto industry can see that future too. In cahoots with big oil? Don’t know. But they seem to be preparing.

    Heaven help us all! I sure hope that bad dream I just recounted stays just a dream.

    1. Mark H says:

      Good points. The best way to win is, well, to win. Every month now EVs add a few thousand more to their fleet. Very soon it will be ten thousand per month. And for those EREVs, they don’t like ethanol….

      1. hljmesa says:

        And folks in AZ, Maricopa county, are installing rooftop solar at the rate of 1,000 homes per month, yes per month, in APS and SRP territory. The chances of those people purchasing an EV increases dramatically ! ! !

  9. MDEV says:

    Why don’t use hydrogen as a fuel for Electric plants for cheaper energy for EVs..

    1. Anon says:

      There is some ongoing research into using artificial leaves (roof mounted panels) that use solar energy to separate hydrogen from water. The collected hydrogen could run small turbines, and be used at night– replacing the need for batteries to store energy. Still highly experimental.

  10. vdiv says:

    Hydrogen and fuel cells are not stupid. What Toyota is trying to demonstrate is that hydrogen FCEVs are technically feasible and they have made slow progress. If the gov’t and the oil industry invest billions of dollars in infrastructure and subsidies then FCEVs will also be financially feasible from a user perspective. That can happen. It does not have to make sense to us.

    Combined with the ignorant and easily influenced public this makes FCEVs dangerous and puts pressure on us, the EV proponents, makers, and adopters to prove the case beyond a doubt that battery EVs are indeed a better choice.

    1. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

      H2 fuel cells are indeed stupid, and only exist because of CARB credits. Efficient SOFCs make a lot more sense, though there are still cost and engineering issues to get them to production competitive with ICEs. Getting 16-20kWh out of a gallon of gas in a SOFC that’s a drop-in replacement for an ICE (say, combine a 100kW SOFC with 200kW worth of motor(s), and 4-5kWh @500v battery) would be a huge game-changing win for efficiency. Such a powerplant would net on the order of 40mpg for a full-size SUV and 60-80mpg for a compact, with exceptional performance and smoothness.

  11. MDEV says:

    I wonder why Toyota got 5% of Tesla stocks if they don’t believe in EV technology??

    1. They had to have an “in-between car” to meet CARB-ZEV mandates for 2012-2014, when their high credit hydrogen car would suck up 9 credits per car, starting 2015.

      With very little effort from Toyota (compared to doing it all themselves), they got 2600 engineered and delivered drivetrains from Tesla for the Rav4 EV that earns 3 credits each.

      http://www.toyota.com/esq/vehicles/regulatory/carb-mandate-for-zero-emission-vehicles.html

  12. offib says:

    The moral of the story, don’t bet against Elon Musk.

  13. Al says:

    There’s a huge fueling/parts infrastructure linked to ICE and it would be much easier for them to transition to hydrogen. This economic energy-infrastructure entrenchment is the main reason this pollution heavy industry hasn’t changed for so long(that’s the main lesson). I think Nissan made a bold move with EVs(learning from hybrid race) and Toyota’s trying to hedge its investments with hydrogen…but will most likely jump-the-shark.

  14. Rick says:

    Don’t fret. Whichever is the better technology will win.

    1. Anon says:

      No, it’s whomever’s Lobbyists, are best. :p

      It is naive to believe there are no powerful biasing forces driving the world’s energy marketplace.

  15. HVACman says:

    “Personally I don’t really care what Elon and Carlos and Jonathan have to say about fuel cells. It’s very reminiscent of 1998, 1999 when we first introduced the Prius.”

    “They’re mind-bogglingly stupid. You can’t even have a sensible debate.”

    Hydrogen is starting to sound more like a religious belief than an energy technology subject to scientifically rigorous discussion. I agree with Elon. We should stop even attempting to debate. Let the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the 1st law of economics deliver the necessary message to the hydrogen believers.

  16. EV says:

    Elon knows what he’s talking about. It’s not like he hasn’t researched it or looked into it himself!

    1. pjwood says:

      diggin’ the smack talk.

  17. Foo says:

    I love the “perplexed Elon” photo they always use.

    1. Anon says:

      It does have that, “How do I respond politely to such an obviously stupid question?”, look about it… 😀

    2. Bill Howland says:

      He’s got Norway on his mind at the moment. Too many emergency meetings over a threatened Class Action.

  18. Suprise Cat says:

    Musk is wrong on the market in Germany and he will be wrong on fuel cell vehicles.

    1. Anon says:

      Please state why you believe your statements to be true…

    2. In California there are:
      124,713 Electric Vehicles registered as of 1/1//2013 (an increase of over 25,000+ in 2013)
      ~20-30 Fuelcell Vehicles are registered, 9-12 Honda Clarity for ~2006 that are limitied to 3-year closed leases, plus a couple other FCV demo fleets.
      http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/newsrel/media_center/

      In 2013 BEVs were ~3% of passenger vehicles sold in CA, OR, and WA. By 2018 there will be over 1 million BEVs on American roads, up from ~175,000 (added since 2010). For CA, OR, & WA the number of BEVs will exceed 10% of new registrations in 2018.

      Germany is a leader in generating electricity from solar and wind. In 2013 it was common for 40-60% of electricity to be from renewal sources. BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen will all be manufacturing and selling BEV models in 2014 onwards in significant numbers. In addition, BEV models will be available for purchase from Renault-Nissan, and Tesla.

      In 2014 100% of Germany and populations in surrounding European countries will be able to reach any destination in the country from a Supercharger station. In the past couple weeks, a Model S owner starting in Berlin drove north into Finland and St. Petersburg, Russia … a trip of ~4000 miles over a 10-day period. Fuel costs for the trip … virtually nothing. This was not because the driver ran on electrical energy vs. fuel, but that the electrical energy came from Tesla’s Superchargers, or from a overnight lodging establishment. (Energy use for travel was already included in the lodging bill, or a minimal surcharge similar in costs to a beverage, or wifi access)

      I’m missing details on number of FCVs sold in Germany in 2013. Please fill in the market details?

  19. Nix says:

    When I look at the car market in general (regardless of the drivetrain), more than half the cars that get sold today also don’t make any sense at all to me.

    What makes sense seems to have little correlation to what actually gets sold in our car market. There is plenty of room for cars that don’t make sense in the market.

    Even if Elon is 100% correct (highly likely), there could still end up being a lucrative fuel cell car market despite whatever stupidity comes into play.

  20. CanH says:

    Simplisticly, if the FCEVs were a viable solution, big-oil companies wouldn’t have supported it.
    http://www.chevron.com/deliveringenergy/fuelcells/
    So they wanna let this FCEV non-sense be a distractor to BEVs’ success as long as possible…
    I just can’t figure out why Toyota/Honda are in it though? Just because they are VERY late in the BEV game (compared to Nissan/Tesla) or some other reason?

    1. Ludus says:

      All the traditional car makers have a problem with Tesla style BEV’s because they would directly cannibalize sales of their existing profitable lines if they invested in trying to produce Tesla killers. They can only produce marginalized electric “city cars” or other niche products that don’t compete with their ICE profits. At the same time they need a PR answer to “what are you doing about sustainability?” which is the purpose fuel cells serve…a shiny distraction to explain why they aren’t trying to compete with Tesla.

  21. danwat1234 says:

    I agree with Elon. Hydrogen is stupid. It doesn’t have any infrastructure, it would need to be delivered by truck unless a huge pipeline system was developed like natural gas, the oil companies would most likely be involved and lastly, Hydrogen cars are LESS efficient than straight electric cars! Not to mention that hydrogen cars have electric drivetrains anyway.
    Wall plugs are everywhere, J1772 charging stations are becoming quite popular and fast charging is being developed. I can’t see how hydrogen will catch up, it has a huge infrastructure problem and takes an efficiency hit. Wasted R&D in my opinion.

  22. James says:

    I want no car that relies on a company like Shell or Exxon to produce and distribute the fuel, even a “clean” fuel like hydrogen. That’s so 20th century.

  23. Just Me says:

    Ellon Musk, the new “Steve Jobs”.

    1. CSS says:

      “Tony Stark”

  24. Ludus says:

    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-hydrogen-hoax

    This is a good summary of what Musk means.
    “You can’t even have a sensible debate”
    “Success is simply not possible”
    Are key phrases. Elon is completely serious. This only seems like a debate. There is no real pro fuel cell side. It’s a smokescreen for PR purposes.