By on May 20, 2021

Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess was bashing hydrogen-powered vehicles on Twitter this week in an attempt to convince those vying for Germany’s chancellorship not to embrace the technology. With Angela Merkel stating that she’ll not seek a fifth term, the country is open for new leadership and VW wouldn’t want them to take a liking to hydrogen power when it has placed all of its eggs into the electric vehicle basket.

“The hydrogen car has been proven NOT to be the climate solution,” Diess wrote on Twitter in German. “In transportation, electrification has prevailed. Sham debates are a waste of time. Please listen to the science!”

It’s uncommon to see any automotive executive take such a bold stance against any alternative energy solution, as many manufacturers spent the last decade hedging their bets by investing in both battery-electric cars and those utilizing hydrogen power. But the infrastructure for the latter is nowhere near ready to accommodate widespread adoption and the process of producing the fuel has not resulted in the kind of breakthrough that makes it seem as though it would offer true benefits.

Diess directed his comments at Armin Laschet (head of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union),  Olaf Scholz (German Finance Minister), Annalena Baerbock (Green Party candidate), and Andreas Scheuer (German Transportation Minister). His words were accompanied by a report from Handelsblatt covering a study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research alleging that pursuing hydrogen vehicles at their present level of technology would probably do the environment more harm than good.

Frankly, the benefits of all alternative energy solutions tend to be overblown by the interested parties. But hydrogen fuel cell technologies seem to represent the largest gap between what is currently possible and what everyone was hoping to achieve. The big concern is the amount of energy it takes to produce and move hydrogen in meaningful volumes seems to result in a scenario where you’re expending more energy than you would have if you just skipped the whole ordeal in the first place.

Despite having waste issues of their own, electric vehicles seem a far more viable option with noted progress. Of course, automakers don’t want to be left in the dust should there be a miracle breakthrough in hydrogen production or governments begin incentivizing the fuel — so there are still a decent number of brands perpetuating their commitment to fuel cell technology.

Volkswagen is not among them and has been fairly critical of hydrogen power, though it frequently hinges on making statements about “trusting the science” rather than providing a detailed breakdown of why it probably won’t work. As things currently stand, electric vehicles are vastly more efficient in terms of total well-to-wheel energy consumption. That, and national energy grids serving as an existing foundation upon which to build charging networks, has made them the dominant form of alternative energy vehicles.

With your author constantly complaining about how EVs are less convenient than advertised, thanks largely to a lackluster (but growing) infrastructure, there’s no way swapping to hydrogen power makes any sense. Outside of Pacific Asia, coastal California, and a smattering of European hot spots, there is basically no fueling network to speak of. That effectively locks owners into driving exclusively within those regions or hauling around gas canisters sized to fit inside a space rocket. It also explains why Japanese and Korean brands have taken a keener interest in the fuel and tend to expend the most cash on developing FCEVs.

But electrification is currently being spurred by government around the world and, if Germany starts playing favorites with hydrogen, there’s a chance automakers ignoring it could be kicking themselves a few years down the road — however unlikely and energy inefficient that currently seems.

[Image: Literator/Shutterstock]

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46 Comments on “VW CEO Suggests Fuel Cell Tech Isn’t the Answer, No Duh...”


  • avatar
    jkross22

    Company that doesn’t make fuel cell vehicles criticizes fuel cell technology that it’s competitors make.

    Truly shocking news.

    • 0 avatar
      mmreeses

      zero profit fuel cell companies whose survival depends on fresh investor cash and government subsidies say fuel cells are the magic bullet say fuel cells are the answer? I say Monorail.

      All the money in fuel cell companies should be pouring into basic materials science research. Fuel cells are no where near commercialization for passenger cars. Only some very discrete applications.

    • 0 avatar
      mmreeses

      zero profit fuel cell companies whose survival depends on fresh investor cash and government subsidies say fuel cells are the magic bullet say fuel cells are the answer? I say Monorail.

      All the money in fuel cell companies should be pouring into basic materials science research. Fuel cells are no where near commercialization for passenger cars. Only some very discrete applications.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Herb says the Kool-Aide tastes good.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Whatever. They’d still be pushing “Clean Diesel” as the answer if they hadn’t gotten caught cheating. Scummy company. How about we let the customers choose which, if any tech replaces the ICE.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Art Vandelay 2024. Got my vote.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        No man…power corupts. I’d end up being Sauron from Lord of the Rings if people were foolish enough to vote me in. Plus I’d have to introduce the press to the gaggle of skeletons hanging out in my closet. Pass.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’m starting to think we need a Sauron, or better yet a Joker.

          I doubt that would be an issue, President Vandelay simply needs to show one or two of them the Michael Hastings treatment and they’ll cooperate real quick.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I don’t think the Tiguan of the future will be hydrogen but will the Freightliner or Ram 3500 of the future be hydrogen-powered?

  • avatar
    Fred

    It’s not science, but economics. VW has invested in electric vehicles, to change to hydrogen will just cost them more money and put them farther behind.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Just because Herb has all of VW’s future tied to EVs doesn’t mean he is wrong.

    Hydrogen has poor cost, poor efficiency, poor infrastructure, and poor usability. Refueling a 10,000 psi tank is no trivial matter.

    • 0 avatar

      There are so many well known problems with hydrogen infrastructure and technology that I don’t know where to start. But to be to the point I will bring the argument that if fuel cells were better then Tesla would use fuel cells in its car.

      Where fuel cells are more viable than BEV are heavy trucks that follow certain route to deliver cargo (to be able to create viable infrastructure).

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        A fuel cell can be powered by fuel other than hydrogen. That said, all the less than common elements to create a fuel cell are not easy to get in the quantities we need to convert to fuel cells as a whole.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Hydrogen bomb is the answer for everything. Soviets did not do a good job destroying Nazis since this CEO still exists and all of his Nazi company VW.
    Here is capitalism for you. Why compete? Monopolize!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Dirty secret – a fair amount of industrially produced H2 comes from cracking natural gas.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      Hardly a secret. Natural gas molecule is CH4, four hydrogen atoms to one carbon. The problem is coming up with a non-energy intensive way of getting rid of that carbon atom.

      Toyota likes hydrogen fuel cells, presumably because a sizable natural gas field has been discovered off shore in Japan. Hyundai is merely paranoid about letting anyone getting a leg up on them, as they see it anyway, so of course, they have to have a me, me too! program for fuel cell hydrogen-powered vehicles.

      I’m with Diess on this one at the fathead intellectual level, can’t see the point of fuel cells. Why not run big rigs on natural gas and cut out the entire stripping off the carbon atom routine to make hydrogen? Natural gas has only that single carbon atom compared to the many in the molecules making up diesel. Hydrogen leaks through steel wall pipes, the atom is so tiny. It’s nothing but a pain in the rear end to store and handle if you actually care about those losses as $. The leak losses after you’ve expended energy to make it out of natural gas mean it isn’t exactly efficient or particularly eco-friendly.

      For that reason, it’ll be the one society picks. The perverseness of human nature knows no bounds.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “The problem is coming up with a non-energy intensive way of getting rid of that carbon atom.”

        That hasn’t been a problem for a long time. There are plenty of these around. In fact, I’ve charged my EV from one on several occasions.

        https://www.bloomenergy.com/hydrogen

  • avatar
    ollicat

    Actually, the science says the opposite. Fuel cells are much easier on the environment. Everyone forgets the earth destroying mining necessary for RARE earth minerals as well as the disposal nightmares. And what about the MASSSIVE amount of electricity that will need to be generated to power all the cars on the planet. Not to mention the limitations of slow recharge times and massively reduced performance in the cold or towing. Hydrogen fuel cells just might be the only good alternative to gas. Though I still think good ole petrol is the best.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “RARE earth minerals”

      You really have no idea what you’re talking about.

      “The term “rare earths” is a misnomer since REEs are fairly abundant in Earth’s crust, although when they were originally discovered they were thought to be scarce. ”

      https://www.nap.edu/read/12028/chapter/13

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        However, to take them out, can be costly if not done by China. And this is why China is pretty much a monopoly

        US is 3rd in production but 8 times less then China

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      “Hydrogen fuel cells just might be the only good alternative to gas. Though I still think good ole petrol is the best.”

      Hydrogen has sucked for several decades now, and it has not improved. Fuel cells had some hope with the idea of fueling them with methanol, but I guess that never panned out. Meanwhile, batteries actually have improved. I’m no VW fanboy, but the CEO is right about H2.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      You forget that a hydrogen car uses a lithium battery and electric motor. Also, what about the metals in the catalytic converter and motors in ICE vehicles. What about the nickel used in ICE vehicles? The recharge time of almost any EV is faster than the repressurization time of a hydrogen station if you happen to be the unlucky 3rd or 4th car that depletes the high-pressure tank. The tanks in the car, like all pressure vessels have a limited life.

      “massively reduce performance”
      It’s not a “massive reduction”. Thermal management reduces the range loss in winter. It’s not that bad. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, towing in an ICE reduces range too.

      The recharge times are less than it takes to fuel an ICE. Unattended overnight charging at home means you don’t have to find a gas station and then stand outside the car pumping fuel. Always full range and ready to go with an EV.

      • 0 avatar
        airfidget

        Mirai uses a 1.2 kWh battery. Prius uses a 50+ kwh battery. And a corolla uses a 0.75 kWh battery. Battery, yes, electric motors, yes. Comparable?

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          The Lithium-ion battery in the new Mirai, depending on its formulation, could possibly contain more cobalt than a Tesla Semi battery. Can’t say for sure since I don’t know what they are using for cells in the Mirai. There are also metals including in some cases cobalt in the fuel stack itself. Again, I don’t know the details, so I can’t be sure what they are using.

          If you want to get greener, sodium-ion cells are in production for grid storage applications. They are getting closer to achieving the density needed for vehicles. You could go with a cobalt-free electrode and sodium-ion battery that would be greener than what’s in the Mirai battery and fuel cell.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Nuclear power is looking pretty good to me (first chart here):

    https://ourworldindata.org/safest-sources-of-energy

    [Modern nuclear, not grandpa’s technology.]

  • avatar

    “Sham debates are a waste of time. Please listen to the science!”

    Where I heard that before?

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    Three things.

    1) Anna Lena Baerbock must not become chancellor. A Green-led Germany will be hell on earth. Speed limits, drastically increased fuel prices (2-3 Euros per liter), a ban on domestic flights, this gender insanity on the German language, open borders and more illegal migration and so forth. I absolutely despise this political party.

    2) Armin Laschet is basically a male version of Angela Merkel. His political visions are 99% similar to Merkel. No wonder the CDU is crashing in the polls. People are sick of Merkel and Laschet stands for the same path.

    3) Herbert Diess needs to let the market decide and innovate. Most Germans don’t want an EV because they lack the daily flexibility that an ICE offers. The constant news out of Germany that ‘EVs are selling well here’ is absolutely not true – they simply count plug-in hybrids in the sales, which in real life are pretty much always used in ICE mode.

    Forcing people into EVs means drastically reduced individual freedom of mobility. In my opinion synthetic fuels are the answer UNTIL EVs finally become flexible and competitive. And by that I mean that they can be fully recharged in under 5 minutes with a stable range and without the battery life being drastically reduced. Until then, I will remain loyal to my Diesel cars.

    The good news is that the CDU and FDP in Germany are pushing for synthetic fuels for the automotive sector in order to guarantee the mobility of millions of Germans. The Green Party on the other hand wants to raise fuel and car prices to such outrageous levels in order to prevent people from using their ICE cars.

    Another thing; Germany has the most expensive electricity prices in the Western world with around 32 cents per kw/h. The few public charging stations in Munich (where I live) often already demand well over 1 Euro per kw/h!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “Forcing people into EVs means drastically reduced individual freedom of mobility.”

      That’s the plan.

    • 0 avatar

      Thomas, does it mean that you also have the Church of Woke? I thought it was only American idiocy.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Don’t you have a party that think Germany is still a Wiemar Republic and recently stormed Reichstag?

      • 0 avatar
        CKNSLS Sierra SLT

        slavuta-
        Why don’t you just go away? Why do you continue to spew your garbage on a car forum?

        What’s your motivation?
        Who is paying you?

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          We know Vlad is paying him enough to drive decade old subcompacts so there is that.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            @Art

            you forgot my 2019 Highlander that I paid with cash 2 years ago. That was a bonus from Vlad. Right?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Maybe. I just had one asa rental. I hope Vlad stacked some cash on the hood. A reliable pile is still a pile.

            I prefer the no car payment AND no POS life.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            Art,

            I never had a single car payment in my life. And why would I throw away perfectly reliable no-problem 10 yo Mazda? In fact considering that I don’t need to drive daily, I have too many cars and bike on top of that. Wasting my money into insurances, registrations, etc. But when my son comes home, he drives it.
            I don’t now what POS life you’re talking about. I have no issues life which can be ruined only by American neo-marxists, biden, pelosi, tlaib, kamala. I only worried about retirement here. Imagine these people must support me when I am old. Better to shoot myself. But even here, they want to take guns away. Hopefully, America will split and I’ll move to mostly conservative state. Lets hope!

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Worried about your retirement? Did you forget you were going to be old one day? Why would a “All things government are evil” sort like yourself be depending on others for their own retirement? Guess that personal responsibility stuff is just a bumper sticker slogan eh? Can’t imagine so called conservative states as you describe welcoming no load old geezers who offer nothing outside of taking the money of those still working.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            Art,

            my properties are my retirement, I don’t need no shi##y gov. I could retire today in Ukraine and never work again, way before age of 59.5

            ToolGuy

            you know your music

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            Your self sufficency explains your worry about other people supporting you in your old age for sure.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          CKNSLS Sierra SLT

          While we are discussing interesting topics, if you don’t have anything to add to such topic, welcome to walk by.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            @slavuta,

            That reminds me. (Use the good headphones.)

            Amazingly awesome:
            https://youtu.be/vsGsCvJWEo8

            Next level:
            https://youtu.be/iqR4CZj0mJQ

  • avatar
    stuki

    “The hydrogen car has been proven NOT to be the climate solution”

    Devote enough of society’s time and effort solely to robbing competent, literate, productive people; in order to transfer all wealth to connected utter abject retardos in FIRE and ambulance chaser rackets, and you’ve got a perfect retardtopia: All resources controlled by dimbulbs so completely devoid of even the basic ability to put a coherent thought together, that their standard for what passes for “proof”, involves a “solution” to nothing but figments of dumb peoples imaginations, the “solution” of which has not yet even been attempted, yet has magically “proven” something….. Great “proof” there, monkey! Par for the course for a financialized Dystopia ran, as are all such insults to eonomic literacy, by and for rank idiots.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Take 500lbs out of every new car and you’d save vast amounts of emissions.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      That’s true. It’s shocking to see how the weight of all types of cars has been increasing. I was shocked the see the Acura TLX go over 4,000 lbs. On the electric side of the industry, weight reduction is badly needed. Less weight means more range from smaller batteries. Smaller batteries for a given range increases miles/minute charging rates. Smaller batteries mean lower costs as well. The battery engineers will give us lighter batteries, but I’m afraid crash regs will continue to increase vehicle weights erasing any gains.

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