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A few years ago, when the subject came up during a discussion with reporters at the Automotive News World Congress, the billionaire and electric vehicle magnate described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely silly.”
“It’s just very difficult … to make hydrogen and store it and use it in a car,” Musk said. “The best-case hydrogen fuel cell doesn’t win against the current case batteries, so then, obviously … it doesn’t make sense,” he added later.
“That will become apparent in the next few years. There’s … no reason for us to have this debate, I’ve said … my piece on this, it will be super obvious as time goes by, I don’t know what more to say.”
In the time since those remarks, Musk’s views don’t seem to have changed much, if at all. In June 2020 he tweeted “fuel cells = fool sells,” adding in July of that year: “hydrogen fool sells make no sense.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — which are also known as fuel cell electric vehicles — as being “similar to electric vehicles … in that they use an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine to power the wheels.”
The key difference is that electric vehicles have batteries that need to be charged by plugging the vehicle into a charging point. Fuel cell vehicles, on the other hand, utilize hydrogen gas and, according to the EPA, “generate their electricity onboard.”
Put simply, with fuel cells, hydrogen gas from a tank mixes with oxygen, producing electricity.
A fuel cell electric vehicle emits “only water vapor and warm air”, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center says.
A range of views
Musk is not alone when it comes to being unconvinced about the use of hydrogen in cars.
In February of this year, Herbert Diess, the CEO of German automotive powerhouse Volkswagen Group, weighed in on the subject.
“It’s time for politicians to accept science,” he tweeted. “Green hydrogen is needed for steel, chemical, aero … and should not end up in cars. Far too expensive, inefficient, slow and difficult to rollout and transport. After all: no #hydrogen cars in sight.”
Musk and Diess are two high-profile figures at the helm of major companies with huge influence and reach. What they say carries weight. It would appear, however, that their views aren’t shared by everyone in the autos sector.
To date, firms including Toyota and Hyundai have produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, while smaller manufacturers such as Riversimple are also working on hydrogen-powered cars.
In June, the BMW Group said it had started to test vehicles that use a hydrogen fuel cell…
Read More: Elon Musk has strong views on hydrogen. Not everyone agrees