The insanity of Massive Auto’s push for hydrogen-powered automobiles

The insanity of Massive Auto’s push for hydrogen-powered automobiles

Final week on the Las Vegas Shopper Electronics Present, Volkswagen CEO Thomas Schafer stated the world’s second largest automaker wouldn’t develop hydrogen-powered automobiles, and would focus as an alternative its efforts on electrical automobiles.

Though Volkswagen now seems to have put hydrogen within the bin, different massive automakers such Toyota, Hyundai, Honda and BMW proceed to take a position closely into the expertise.

Examine the date. It’s February 2023. Hydrogen-powered automobiles are nonetheless being mentioned and even “developed” by among the world’s largest automakers in 2023, who sofa their multi-billion greenback plans as “hedging their bets” or partaking a “multi-pronged technique”.

They even get politicians, like former prime minister Scott Morrison, to drive and pose with hydrogen automobiles. He wouldn’t, and didn’t, try this with an electrical automobile, which is why the continued push into what many insist is a basically flawed expertise must be correctly investigated.

Earlier than taking a look at why legacy automotive firms, useful resource tycoons and the politicians that symbolize them, have been such large advocates for hydrogen-powered automobiles over the past 20 years, it’s essential to firstly define why hydrogen-powered automobiles are so basically flawed and can by no means come near competing with battery electrical automobiles.

Tim Wilson, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Toyota Australia president Matthew Callachor and Minister for Energy Angus Taylor pose for a photo with a hydrogen-fuelled car in Melbourne. (AAP Image/Pool, William West)
Tim Wilson, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Toyota Australia president Matthew Callachor and Minister for Vitality Angus Taylor pose for a photograph with a hydrogen-fuelled automobile in Melbourne. (AAP Picture/Pool, William West)

At the moment, there are hardly any on the streets wherever on the earth, bar a handful pushed by politicians for photo-ops and some purchased by expertise optimists. And there are a lot of the explanation why we gained’t see mass adoption of hydrogen-powered automobiles any time quickly.

These embrace complexity of design, thermodynamic obstacles, logistical inefficiencies, monumental prices and issues of safety. Of all of the issues which can be rated possible as a use for inexperienced hydrogen, passenger automobiles and small automobiles price down the underside. There is likely to be utilized in massive automobiles like haulage vans, however even that continues to be to be seen.

Massive Auto, and Massive Oil and Fuel, like hydrogen expertise for automobiles it as a result of it seems to be and feels quite a bit like their present enterprise fashions – advanced engines that require heavy upkeep, and a centralised distribution system.

Many proponents will point out hydrogen’s vitality density to justify the expertise. They often fail to say they’re speaking about liquified hydrogen – and the method of liquifying hydrogen is advanced and vitality intensive.

Hydrogen-powered automobiles, the “Rube Goldberg machine” of transport

Founder and chief scientist at Rewiring America, and the brains behind the “electrify the whole lot” marketing campaign, Saul Griffith describes hydrogen-powered automobiles as Rube Goldberg machines.

Named after an American cartoonist, a Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption which is designed to carry out a easy process utilizing a sequence of absurd and pointless steps which comically over complicate attaining the specified purpose.

The unique comedian is of a self-operating serviette which is triggered when the diner lifts his spoon.

Rube Goldberg's self-operating napkin
Rube Goldberg’s self-operating serviette (1931). Supply: Wikimedia Commons

Evaluating a hydrogen fuel-cell automobile with an EV, we will see what Griffith is speaking about. Not solely does the hydrogen automobile want electrical motors and a battery like an electrical car, it additionally wants hydrogen tanks to retailer the hydrogen and the fuel-cell to transform the hydrogen into electrical energy.

Hydrogen fuel cell vs battery electric car
Hydrogen gas cell vs battery electrical automobile

Evaluating the 2 automobile designs we will see the hydrogen-powered automobile is way extra sophisticated.

Nonetheless, it’s not till we zoom out and take a look at all the vitality provide chain, that we begin to see how unlikely the hydrogen-powered automobile actually is.

The hydrogen provide chain intently resembles that of our present fossil-fuel-powered system.

For the final 100 years the overwhelming majority of the world’s transport system has run on petrol and diesel.

The gas wanted to energy petrol and diesel automobiles and vans begins an extended and sophisticated journey as extracted oil on large and sophisticated oil rigs costing a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of {dollars}. The oil is then both piped by costly pipelines or shipped utilizing costly oil tankers to advanced and costly oil refineries.

On the advanced and costly refineries, the oil is changed into petrol or diesel and is then saved in large costly tanks earlier than being trucked to an costly gas station the place it’s once more saved earlier than you go and pump it out of an underground tank into your automobile.

electric versus hydrogen powered car
Battery electrical versus hydrogen powered automobile.

In our fossil gas dominated world this whole system is required to get you from A to B. Tons of of 1000’s of engineers, boilermakers, diesel mechanics, truck drivers and fuel station attendants wanted to ship this vitality into your car.

The identical holistic evaluation should be utilized to different transport applied sciences comparable to hydrogen and battery electrical automobiles. The supply of vitality for each electrical and hydrogen-powered automobiles is (should be) photo voltaic and wind powered electrical energy because the world transitions away from fossil fuels.

With battery electrical automobiles, electrical energy will be generated from photo voltaic panels (rooftop or grid-scale) or wind energy from wind generators. This electrical energy is then saved within the car’s on-board battery pack earlier than its used to energy electrical motors to maneuver the automobile.

With hydrogen-powered automobiles the system is way extra advanced and extra intently resembles our present petrol and diesel “Rube Goldberg on steroids” system.

Curtin College’s Peter Newman and the College of Queensland’s Jake Whitehead make the identical conclusions of their newly launched analysis paper, printed in Sustainable Earth Critiques.

“Vitality is misplaced at each step of the vitality chain, as dictated by the legal guidelines of thermodynamics, which in flip results in increased vitality enter necessities, and in the end increased vitality prices,” they are saying.

And so they illustrate this with the graph above evaluating the vitality chain required to energy a hydrogen gas cell car (HFCV) in comparison with a battery electrical car (BEV).

In his e-book “The Massive Change” Saul Griffith lists the levels wanted to energy a hydrogen-powered automobile. Be aware that even earlier than step one, electrical energy must be generated by renewables comparable to photo voltaic and wind, to ensure that the hydrogen to be categorised as “inexperienced”.

  1. Seperate the hydrogen from water or another molecule (utilizing electrical energy from renewables).
  2. Compress the hydrogen or cryogenically cool it, to make transportation possible.
  3. Retailer the hydrogen in some sage strain vessel.
  4. Transport the hydrogen to the place it’s wanted.
  5. Decompress the hydrogen to be able to utilise it.
  6. Both burn the hydrogen by mixing it with oxygen like a standard engine (and perhaps use that to show a generator to make electrical energy) or…
  7. Put the hydrogen by a “gas cell” to show it immediately into electrical energy.

All the issues on this extremely advanced system require supplies, machines and vitality to make and run.

As compared the battery electrical system is very simple and subsequently environment friendly.

Hydrogen’s “Rube Goldberg” complexity of changing renewable vitality into bodily motion of a automobile equates to monumental vitality losses which implies that, not solely are hydrogen-powered automobiles advanced, they’re additionally woefully inefficient.

Hydrogen’s inefficiency drawback

The subsequent main drawback dealing with the hydrogen-powered automobile is the legal guidelines of thermodynamics.

Each engine or system has an higher theoretical effectivity restrict. Inside combustion engine automobiles are what’s referred to as “Carnot cycle” engines. For automobiles, Carnot cycle engines have an higher theoretical restrict of round 37% nevertheless most automobile engines solely attain about 20% effectivity in actuality.

What this implies is that for each litre of petrol you purchase from the petrol/fuel station, solely 20% of the vitality in that litre really goes into transferring your automobile. The opposite 80% is wasted producing warmth and sound.

So after the enormously advanced and costly journey from the oil rig to your automobile, 80% of the gas you purchase is simply wiped out for nothing, solely contributing to air air pollution and local weather change.

Hydrogen-powered automobiles, which will be both combustion or fuel-cell, even have horrible theoretical higher effectivity limits. In “The Massive Change” Saul Griffith makes use of Sankey diagrams to check these effectivity limits between electrical automobiles and hydrogen-powered automobiles. The diagrams present the collected vitality losses at every stage within the system.

Hydrogen versus battery electric transport Sankey diagram
Hydrogen versus battery electrical transport Sankey diagram. Supply: “The Massive Change” by Saul Griffith

Once more these diagrams present the theoretical higher limits. In actuality for hydrogen the effectivity is nearer to simply 20%. The electrical car effectivity numbers proven within the diagram above are literally conservative with some battery electrical methods now attaining efficiencies of over 95%

What this all means in follow is that to get the identical usable vitality output to maneuver a hydrogen-powered automobile, you want 3-5 occasions extra vitality enter in comparison with a battery electrical car.

This implies the vitality price to gas hydrogen-powered automobiles is a minimum of 3-5 occasions increased than EVs.

Nevertheless it’s really a lot worse than that.

It means you want 3-5 occasions extra photo voltaic panels and wind generators to produce hydrogen-powered automobiles.

That’s 3-5 occasions extra capital prices to construct these further panels and generators, and that is earlier than we’ve even bought to the following levels of the method, together with Electrolysers, storage tanks, pipe networks, vans, pumping stations plus all the employees’ wages wanted to function and preserve the provision chain.

By comparability electrical energy for electrical automobiles is delivered straight into your storage like magic. Maybe travelling just some metres out of your rooftop photo voltaic!

The hydrogen drawback isn’t one thing engineers can merely “design out” of the system. There’s no expertise breakthrough on the horizon that may allow hydrogen automobiles to get effectivity charges above 35%. Not except engineers determine a strategy to violate the legal guidelines of physics.

So if hydrogen is so woefully inefficient, advanced and costly, why are legacy automakers, politicians and useful resource tycoons at all times spruiking it?

Centralised versus decentralised vitality. Hydrogen, a useful resource tycoon’s pipe dream

The battle between electrical automobiles and hydrogen-powered automobiles could possibly be higher described because the battle between centralised and decentralised vitality.

Hydrogen represents a continuation of the extremely centralised and monopolised fossil gas powered system, the place a handful of oil firms management all the world’s provide chain of transport vitality.

This management over transport vitality permits the worldwide oil business to wield immense energy over governments world wide, enabling them to safe a whole lot of billions of {dollars} in subsidies and suppress insurance policies that profit their rivals, like electrical automobiles.

Alternatively, battery electrical automobiles symbolize a decentralised system as a result of the car’s vitality will be fully sourced from photo voltaic panels in your roof (or your neighbour’s roof).

Because of this the worldwide oil business and the governments they’ve co-opted are so threatened by the electrical car revolution. As soon as individuals make the change to EVs, they’re now not depending on large multinationals for his or her vitality or mobility.

The susceptibility for a future hydrogen provide chain to be monopolised has additionally attracted useful resource tycoons like Australia’s Andrew Forrest. In his 2021 Boyer lecture, Forrest claimed that inexperienced hydrogen is the answer to local weather change.

Andrew Forrest Boyer Lector January 2021
Andrew Forrest Boyer Lecture January 2021. Supply: ABC

Our expertise main neighbours, Japan, South Korea and China have collectively pledged to put nearly 8 million, hydrogen gas automobiles on the highway in the subsequent few years.” he stated throughout the January 2021 lecture.

Forrest went on to say “Elon Musk not too long ago referred to as hydrogen gas cell automobiles, regardless of the 8 million that may quickly be on the roads, thoughts bogglingly silly. He has each motive to concern them. His description is probably higher suited to somebody who pedals a battery expertise as inexperienced, when it runs on fossil gas.”

Within the two years since Forrest’s lecture, his firm has introduced large stretch objectives for inexperienced hydrogen, however that is principally for industrial use, not for automobiles. Tesla has offered over two million battery electrical automobiles. and is on observe to supply nearly two million extra EVs in 2023. There have been just a few thousand hydrogen gas cell automobiles offered.

Forrest himself is now additionally pursuing battery electrical, and he has simply introduced plans to created a multi billion battery enterprise from the not too long ago acquired Williams engineering workforce.

His firm has additionally taken supply of the primary massive 15-tonne batteries for his large haul vans and creating the so-called infinity practice, utilizing batteries and regenerative applied sciences, for the massive trains carrying ore to ports.

In the meantime in a press launch final week, Honda has stated it hopes to promote simply 60,000 hydrogen fuel-cell automobiles by 2030. A date when many analysts imagine electrical car market share will probably be effectively over 90% of all new automobiles offered globally. BMW additionally introduced its plans to take a position extra in hydrogen gas cells, saying it has a “robust perception” within the expertise.

Financial system wrecking selections

It’s arduous to think about the highest engineers at firms like Toyota and Honda not understanding the basic issues with hydrogen. The speak is that they’ve been pressured from excessive stage executives to “simply make it work” and have chosen to remain quiet somewhat than rock the boat.

Regardless of the causes, the selections firms have taken to deal with hydrogen over the past decade are about to have large penalties, not just for the businesses themselves however for total nation’s economies.

None extra so than in Japan the place Toyota and Honda have fully didn’t develop high-volume electrical car manufacturing. This has basically handed Japan’s dominant market place to China (and Tesla) who’re ramping up electrical car manufacturing to fill surging international demand.

Japanese vitality assume tank Renewable Vitality Institute, launched a report in September final yr titled Re-examining Japan’s Hydrogen Technique: Shifting Past the “Hydrogen Society” Fantasy. The report slams Japan’s 2017 nationwide hydrogen technique, which envisages a carbon-neutral “hydrogen society”, as catastrophically misguided.

Japan’s technique aggressively pushes for hydrogen-powered automobiles whereas Japanese shoppers overwhelmingly choose EVs.

Japan’s automotive producers and the industries that help them are estimated to make use of over 5 million employees. Round 8% of Japan’s workforce. With the world now quickly shifting to electrical automobiles, which make up simply 0.2% of Toyota’s manufacturing, it’s trying like Japan’s resolution to deal with hydrogen over EVs is about to return again to chunk them arduous.

And it’s not simply economies which can be at stake right here. The hydrogen “fantasy” has sown seeds of confusion into the general public discourse for a few years about which course the vitality transition is heading. This has undoubtedly slowed the world’s efforts to get off fossil fuels.

Hydrogen, the by no means ending story…

If it seems like hydrogen for automobiles has been talked about for many years, that’s as a result of it has.

A Guardian article from 2011 titled “Why don’t governments push for extra hydrogen automobiles?” begins with the sentence “We appear to have been speaking in regards to the ‘hydrogen financial system’ for effectively over a decade now, however, like so many different saviour applied sciences, its arrival by no means appears to get any nearer.”

The by no means ending narrative of “we’re creating hydrogen-powered automobiles” that stretches out into the long run, fits legacy auto firms who’re unable or unwilling to develop electrical automobiles.

They inform their clients this imprecise expertise will probably be prepared in just a few years. Within the meantime please take into account our petrol and diesel automobiles.

Hydrogen pushers ought to minimize their losses and settle for that EVs have gained the expertise warfare.

Customers perceive this. It’s time politicians and executives stopped pretending they don’t.