Hydrogen is basically a “big pain in the arse”, and is a crazy alternative to battery electric vehicles, says Tesla’s CEO and co-founder Elon Musk.
Hydrogen is touted as a solution to long-range transport needs such as trucks and shipping, and there are a number of developers of hydrogen transport options both overseas and in Australia, such as legacy automakers Toyota and Hyundai and start-ups like Hyzon Motors.
But Musk says it makes way more sense to use batteries.
Responding to a question that at the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Thursday (Australian time), Musk said hydrogen is not the way forward to address carbon emissions.
“Yeah, I mean, honestly, I’ve heard this question a million times just for regular vehicles even back in the early Roadster days, even before we had the Roadster out,” Musk said.
“People were saying, you know, that somehow hydrogen is going to be a better means of energy storage in a car than the batteries and it’s like, this is just really not the case.”
Hydrogen production is often criticised because it is an energy intensive that will increase emissions unless zero carbon inputs are used.
But Musk’s beef with hydrogen is that while it has the highest energy mass of any fuel, its density is so low that the pressure needed to store it, combined with adding fuel cell technology to create electricity, adds way too much complexity.
“It’s only a liquid close to absolute zero, so it’s really not realistic to keep it as a liquid, so you have to keep it as a gas. So you need a gigantic fuel tank, volumetrically, and it’s got to be very high pressure. It’s a big pain in the arse, basically,” said Musk.
Such a pain in the proverbial that he thinks it would make more sense to use propane or methane (although these would be without the zero tailpipe emissions benefits).
“If somebody was going to, say, use an ultimate chemical energy storage mechanism …. I’d say use propane or something like that or methane, those are way, way better than hydrogen, and then having a fuel cell just adds even further complications to the situation,” he said.
“It’s just crazy, basically.
“And we’re extremely confident that we can do long-range trucking with batteries …. if you do it right. You basically have no effect on your payload, or almost nothing, and you can have a long-range truck.”
Tesla has an electric truck under development and is ready to put it into production – once there is enough battery cell production globally.
“We’re not making the Semi because we don’t have enough cells for it,” Musk said.
At the Tesla’s Battery Day in 2020, Musk outlined the company’s plan to make more batteries using the new 4680 form factor.
During today’s call, Musk underlined that this is not to replace the supply of cells from other manufacturers but to supplement production.
“We will have enough [to produce the Semi] when we are producing 4680 in volume – but we need five times number of cells a car would use, but it would not sell for five times the price of a car, whatsoever, so it kind of would not make sense …. right now,” he said.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.