By on November 23, 2016

Jaguar I-Pace

Jaguar Land Rover’s technical design director Wolfgang Ziebart is decidedly not a proponent of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

Due to the amount of energy required to produce, cool, and then compress hydrogen for transportation and subsequent usage within a fuel cell vehicle, Ziebart is highly critical of its role as a practical automotive energy source.

Still, a minority of automakers disagree.

In an interview with Autocar, Ziebart affirmed that “The well to wheel relationship from the energy source to the vehicle is a disaster.”

“You end up with a well to wheel efficiency of roughly 30% for hydrogen, as opposed to more or less well to wheel 70% efficiency for a battery electric vehicle. So the efficiency of putting the electric energy directly into a battery is about twice as high as the efficiency of producing and using hydrogen. “If there was a strong reason to have a hydrogen infrastructure, then I think it would be set up, but with this disastrous well-to-wheel relationship, it doesn’t just make sense.”

As things stand currently, there are only thirty-one public hydrogen fueling stations in the United States and 28 of those reside in California. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, that total number jumps to 56 if you include private filling locations. Meanwhile, there are over 14,800 public charging stations dedicated to electric vehicles with more cropping up every year. There’s also thousands of additional 240 volt outlets provided by workplaces and local governments, and most EV owners have the option of simply plugging in at home.

Battery powered cars are also less wasteful in a macro sense, as they draw their electricity from a pre-existing grid — one that transports energy more efficiently and at a lower cost.

Jaguar certainly didn’t see a reason to wait around for a hydrogen infrastructure to develop and the company’s new I-Pace Concept, which Ziebart oversaw the development of, is proof that.

Perhaps it is time for Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda to reassess what little effort they’ve already put behind fuel cell technology.

[Image: Jaguar Land Rover]

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29 Comments on “Jaguar Design Director: Hydrogen Power is a ‘Disaster’...”

  • avatar
    OE Supplier Veteran


  • avatar

    As someone who has worked in the fuel cell R&D industry, I’d agree. Fuel cells can make sense for stationary power applications that have steady constant demand and can be connected to a pipeline or hydrogen generator. However, that advantage is shrinking as solar panels become more efficient and battery technology improves.

    Last time I checked, the rough cost of power from a fuel cell was $15-20,000 per Kw. From the grid it is 3 cents.

    For mobile applications of wildly variable demand, fuel cells makes no sense at all.

  • avatar

    Then there is this:

    Oh, the humanity!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Toyota’s recent murmurings about developing an EV portfolio seem like a quiet way to walk away from hydrogen.

  • avatar

    Automakers were just trying to look like they were doing something environmentally friendly by developing hydrogen. It is a total joke.

    Plus this article understates the refill station issue. People with electric cars can, in most cases, charge them at home. This is a refill station too.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    “In an interview with Autocar, Ziebart affirmed that “The well to wheel relationship from the energy source to the vehicle is a disaster.”

    The so called well to wheel efficiency of hydrogen would be determined by the method of H2 production. Currently most H2 is made by reforming natural gas which is what I assume is how the 30% efficiency was calculated.

    Some of you who were able to read around the turn of the 21st century will recall that the idea of H2 powered cars was part of the hydrogen economy. The whole point of which was to gradually eliminate the combustion of carbon containing fuels that produce CO2 which contributes to global warming.

    To meet this requirement, hydrogen would have to be produced from renewable or nuclear sources. Renewable energy such as solar, wind or geothermal power has a zero fuel cost. You only pay for the capital required to capture the energy. Free fuel makes well to wheel calcs irrelevant. The cost of the equipment is all that matters.

    At the time this idea was being floated, battery powered autos were basically golf carts with closed bodies (Sorry GM EV) whose batteries were too heavy and costly. Since that time batteries have improved at a faster rate than fuel cells. While this is true now, the future could be much different if the thorny problem of on board H2 storage on vehicles is solved. Battery power has the disadvantage of relatively long recharge rates compared to the time required to fuel a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

    While I would prefer a BEV to a fuel cell vehicle today, the same may not be true in 10 years.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      There is also the problem of the non-existent hydrogen distribution infrastructure. Hydrogen is currently delivered to filling stations by truck.

      • 0 avatar

        Plus the re-pressurization times for the hydrogen filling station. Some complaints from FC vehicle owners in cali about pulling up to a pump to refill, only to have to wait for 30-60 minutes for the fill tanks to re-pressurize.

        • 0 avatar

          The re-pressurization issue puts in doubt the main selling point of hydrogen, which was that you could refuel faster than a battery electric vehicle. If you have to wait 30 to 60 minutes before you can refuel, well, in that same 30 to 60 minutes you could have added 90 to 180 miles of range to a Chevy Bolt on a 50 kW fast charge station, let alone what a Tesla Model S could do with a 125 kW Supercharger.

          I think the issue of refueling times is overblown anyway, given that Better Place offered customers a 5 minute EV battery swap but went bankrupt, and Tesla had only two enthusiastic users at their pilot quick battery swap station. If you’re road-tripping, by the time your Tesla needs a big recharge, you’re probably ready to eat lunch and/or have a poo anyway, and the wait to charge isn’t a big inconvenience.

          • 0 avatar

            Many of the people I know who do long road trips do not stop for an hour of farting around. Fill the gas, empty the bladder, grab a burger… out in 5 minutes.

      • 0 avatar

        Gasoline is also delivered to filling stations by trucks.

        • 0 avatar

          That’s H2s main selling point as a full stop atmospheric CO2 brake. While BEVs will allow Californians and Scandinavians to feel smug about their CO2-free cars, their reduced demand for oil will just contribute to lower prices to where the oil is burned in poorer places without reliable, high amperage electricity grids.

          With hydrogen, it’s different. The rich world, who can afford to care about luxuries like climate change can, if they are serious, subsidize H2 production to the point where oil is left in the ground, since it is such a drop in replacement for petrol and diesel distribution infrastructures.

          And ditto for the aviation industry. And the military. No matter how “greenly” some San Franciscan hipster may live his life; allowing for a bit of internet hyperbole, all he’s really doing, is making it cheaper for the Taliban and the US military to power the warmaking equipment they keep pitting against one another. Not realistically contributing to ensuring oil is left in the ground for the next million years, despite people in other parts starving to death for lack of sufficiently cheap energy.

        • 0 avatar

          Gasoline has a much higher energy density and doesn’t require high pressure tankers.

  • avatar

    It’s not just the efficiency problem. No one has mentioned hydrogen’s tiny molecules that are difficult and therefore costly to contain. Always leaking away.

    Then there is the problem of being extremely explosive. How would the insurance industry react after a few hydrogen explosions in underground parking lots?

    Then the question of who pays for the million dollar filling stations. Neither the hydrogen industry nor governments were in any hurry to absorb this fantastic added expense.

    As a former employee of a large Canadian hydro utility I recall when a group was set up to promote this boondoggle. Nice fat salaries to show off the hydrogen pickup filling up at the sleek pump. A total waste.

    Then there was Ballard Power. Umpteen millions of taxpayer and investor dollars down the tubes to create automotive systems that never showed up, then bus systems that sputtered to a halt and now promoting expensive stationary power plants.

  • avatar

    Did any notice the HUGE oil find in Texas?

    This is the largest estimate of continuous oil that USGS has ever assessed in the United States.

  • avatar

    Or you could run your hydrogen car on a methanol/water mix:

    Disclaimer, Dr. Buxbaum is a close friend.

    • 0 avatar

      Nissan’s ethanol-water fuel cell is rumored to be an optional range extender for the next Leaf.

  • avatar

    One starts to wonder why the world’s #1 car maker Toyota stated earlier that it wants to focus on hydrogen. Although the latest reports seem to contradict this. The battery-powered vehicle advocated have a long way to go too IMO. I mean, 500 kg of batteries in a car that’s being used by one person 90-95 percent of the times, making the car weigh 25-30 times more than that single occupant, is also such a waste of energy and materials. I am talking about the Tesla Model S of course.

  • avatar

    The fuel cell is a technology that turns millions of government research dollars into a small amount of electricity and water.

  • avatar

    Let’s not forget another reason why this idea won’t die – because existing energy companies (who will sell the natural gas that will be reformed into H2) will still get a piece of the action. And can claim to be “green” while doing it.

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