Energy use for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles: higher than electrics, even hybrids (analysis) Page 2

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2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, 2016 Toyota Mirai at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, 2016 Toyota Mirai at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CA

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That would demand an increase in wind and solar-power generation by a whopping 1,500 percent, and the nation’s electricity distribution grid would require commensurate upgrades.

Considering three-quarters of the electrical energy stored as hydrogen is lost, proposals to use hydrogen to store intermittently produced wind or solar energy will likely prove unrealistic as well.  

Whatever share renewable generation attains in the future electricity mix, wasting most of it by making hydrogen to power fuel-cell vehicles makes no sense whatsoever.

WHAT WE THOUGHT: 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell: first drive of hydrogen-powered sedan

Fuel-cell vehicles produce more greenhouse-gas emissions

Because of their higher energy consumption, fuel-cell cars generate more greenhouse-gas emissions than other powertrain technologies.

The emissions come from the hydrogen-producing facilities that use natural gas, or from power-generating plants—but their effect on the environment is the same.

Greenhouse-gas generation estimates from hydrogen refueling stations in California show that a Clarity Fuel Cell, powered by hydrogen produced from natural gas or from the relatively low-carbon (or ‘clean’) California grid, produces 80 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than a Toyota Prius or a Honda Accord Hybrid, a hybrid mid-size sedan of a similar size.

Most importantly, the Clarity generates more than three times the greenhouse-gas emissions of an electric car, such as the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, when running solely on battery power.

Wells-to-wheels greenhouse-gas emissions from various vehicles [chart: Victor Ettel]

Wells-to-wheels greenhouse-gas emissions from various vehicles [chart: Victor Ettel]

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The comparison chart above is based on official estimates of wells-to-wheels greenhouse-gas generation associated with using fossil fuels or with the generation of electrical power.

These numbers are again consistent with other credible studies, even though the obvious conclusions are left out.

To conclude that fuel-cell vehicles have lower total greenhouse-gas emissions than conventional cars, an otherwise excellent 2012 report estimates their emissions against an imaginary "conventional mid-size passenger car" with a fuel economy of 20 MPG (e.g., a Lincoln Continental).

ANOTHER EXAMPLE: Hyundai On Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles: Critiquing Its Claims (Feb 2014)

Publications aimed at the general public often propagate such disinformation.

As one official fuel-economy guide states, “[FCVs] generate much less GHGs than conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles.”

Very high fuel costs

Bob Carter, a senior Toyota vice president, has admitted that driving the company's Toyota Mirai sedan will not be cheap. 

His estimate of $50 per 300 miles works out to twice that of driving a Prius, or four times the cost of driving an electric car. Carter based his comment on the U.S. Department of Energy’s projection of $10 per kilogram of hydrogen.

2016 Toyota Mirai - Quick Drive - Portland, July 2015 [photo: Doug Berger]

2016 Toyota Mirai - Quick Drive - Portland, July 2015 [photo: Doug Berger]

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But that number can be considered somewhat optimistic, as the energy requirement to produce compressed electrolytic hydrogen alone accounts for around $7 per kg.

Suggestions that the price of hydrogen can be brought down to, for example, $1.14 per kg appear outright dishonest.

To lease very limited numbers of fuel-cell vehicles each year, Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota all offer three-year leases that include $15,000 worth of "free" hydrogen fueling—clearly an unsustainable practice.

The approximate fueling cost estimates in the table below are based on five-year average retail prices of fossil fuels and of industrial-rate electricity.

Approximate fueling costs in cents per mile for various vehicles [chart: Victor Ettel]

Approximate fueling costs in cents per mile for various vehicles [chart: Victor Ettel]

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Another serious hurdle is that hydrogen fueling stations are expensive to install, and probably not viable without public financing.

Seven new stations in California, recently announced by Shell and Toyota, will cost $28 million. California will pay 60 percent of that total.

Operating around the clock, each station can fuel up to 300 hydrogen cars a day.

California expects to spend more than $200 million by 2024 to reach its target of 100 hydrogen stations, capable of supporting 30,000 fuel-cell vehicles—which is a mere 0.1 percent of all vehicles on California roads.


 
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