Elon Musk, Tesla Motors Inc ‘s CEO is not a fan of Hydrogen fuel cells for cars. Musk is doing what he can to save the world from pollution caused by vehicles running on fossil fuels and he believes that electric vehicles are the way to go. With the Roadster, Model S, and Model X, Tesla has shown that EVs are a viable means of transport and Musk has boldly declared that all transport (except space transport) will become electric. Not everyone agrees.
Tesla’s progress in the EV market has also caused some traditional automakers such as BMW, Volkswagen, and General Motors to show interest in making electric cars. More so, other tech firms such as Apple and Google, as well as startups (Faraday Future) are getting into the EV race.
However, some other automakers agree that the menace of pollution caused by burning fossil fuels needs to be curbed but they don’t think that EVs are the solution. Instead of joining the electric vehicle bandwagon, these automakers believe that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the future of transportation. Leading the charge for the FCEVs are Toyota Motors, Hyundai, and Honda. This piece seeks to explore some basic differences between EVs and FCEVs with a view to accessing the level of threat that hydrogen fuel posses to electric cars from Tesla.
The electric vehicle versus fuel cell vehicle debate – Tesla wins
Tesla Motors is ahead of rivals on the development curve for EVs. The firm already has three cars on the road and its mass-market vehicle (Model 3) should hit the roads next year. The lead that Tesla has over hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is even more pronounced. To start with, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are yet to start generating the kind of buzz, hype, and media coverage that EVs are having. More so, hydrogen fuel vehicles haven’t made any headways outside of California and a couple other states while EVs are being sold globally.
More so, EVs have an established charging infrastructure in the grid – the grid may not be perfect but you get to charge your EV overnight at your home. Tesla Motors is also building a robust Supercharger network that makes it easy for its customers to charge up their cars on the go within cities and even on cross-country drives. Tesla tech has helped drivers overcome range anxiety, and a functional Gigafactory from Tesla will further widen the gap between EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Hydrogen fuel vehicles on the other hand will require the building of a multi-trillion dollar hydrogen infrastructure from scratch. Think about factories and refineries, specialized pipelines, storage facilities, trucks and hydrogen gas station among others. The cost barriers of a vibrant hydrogen economy are huge. In fact, it costs about $1.5M to build a hydrogen refueling station while $20,000 is more than enough to build a high-output DC home charger and $250,000 will build a Tesla Supercharger that could juice up 5 Model S at once.
Here’s what Elon Musk thinks about FCEVs
Elon Musk is not someone to mince words and while he has been accommodating of rivals in the EV market, he can’t seem to stand backers of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In 2014, he noted that the thought of fuel cell vehicles is “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.”
In a 2015 interview (sweet spot is at 10:08), Musk says “I don’t want to turn this into a debate on hydrogen fuel cells, because I just think that they’re extremely silly.” The automakers proposing the idea of hydrogen cells are merely trying to show that they are working towards an alternative to cars running on fossil fuels to meet regulatory needs so that they can continue to make and sell the gas-guzzlers.
In the words of musk, they advocates of FCEVs are “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.”