It’s gradually almost being forgotten, but before Elon Musk came along with Tesla, cars with hydrogen fuel cells were still widely regarded as the solution for the clean future of individual transportation.
In the case of passenger cars, it has now all but disappeared, as almost the entire world is turning to battery electric cars instead. For trucks, too, vehicles with thick batteries seem to be winning out over hydrogen visions. And as Musk has now made clear, he doesn’t even want to grant the volatile gas a role in the seasonal storage of energy from renewable sources.
Tesla CEO thinks hydrogen storage is “stupid”
He said as much in an interview this week at the FT Car of the Future conference, having already spoken out about a number of other issues – for example, a possible halt to Tesla orders due to absurdly high demand. In the end, Musk was asked to answer the question of whether hydrogen could help accelerate the move away from fossil fuels. He related that to the gas’ suitability for storing energy, said “no,” and began to explain why it would be the wrong choice for that.
Then the free live broadcast of Musk’s interview broke up, probably for technical reasons, but on Thursday the financial network CNBC reported how it continued. Already for liquefied hydrogen you need gigantic tanks, the Tesla CEO said according to the report, and for gas they would have to be even bigger. In addition, it would first have to be extracted – as in the past from hydrocarbons or by means of electrolysis from water. But in the first case, the problem of the fossil energy economy has not really been solved, and with electrolysis, the efficiency is weak.
In addition, according to Musk, there is the energy cost of storing it in tanks, CNBC reports. It’s already high for pressurized tanks, and if you liquefy hydrogen instead – “oh my God.” Overall, it would take a staggering amount of energy to create it and turn it into a liquid. That’s “the dumbest thing” he could think of for energy storage, the Tesla CEO said, according to CNBC. He had made roughly the same judgment in the past about hydrogen in cars and then (in public agreement with VW CEO Herbert Diess) trucks.
Musk: Renewable energy is sufficient 100 times over
As for what would work for stationary applications instead, Musk said earlier in the still live portion of the FT interview: Solar and wind, along with battery farms for storage, could easily meet global demand, he explained. For example, with photovoltaic systems at 20 percent efficiency, a piece of Spain would be enough to supply electricity for the entire EU, or part of the state of Utah for the entire U.S. – in theory, he said, in practice it would be better to spread the plants out geographically. According to the Tesla CEO, renewable resources would even be enough to provide ten times as much energy as the global economy needs today. In a Twitter comment, he later picked up on this again, confirmed the statement and expanded it to a factor of 100.