The hydrogen power scam

I wasn’t sure if I should post this under “Technology” or “Taiwan Politics,” but in order to (probably futilely) avoid a flame war, I thought I’d post it here. Anyway, people on this part of the forum hopefully have an actual interest in technology and real science, as opposed to politicized science.

What got me started on this topic was a news item I saw on TV about 10 days ago, where Tsai Ing-wen went to a “hydrogen energy” conference in Kaohsiung. Here is the English version of that news clip: Tsai Ing wen talks about developing hydrogen energy

The video clip gives the impression that “hydrogen energy” can be used to reduce our reliance on nuclear energy.

I’m going to go easy on Tsai and assume she doesn’t know anything about technology. To be fair, most politicians don’t, regardless of what party they belong to. But I’m going to be harsh on one of her beaming idiotic advisers, who unfortunately isn’t shown in this clip - he was gushing on TV that “hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, so we’ll never run out of it!” Of course, he’s right: Jupiter is 90% hydrogen, the sun is 72% hydrogen, and so on. Big fuck’in deal.

Here on planet Earth, all hydrogen is tightly locked up in chemical compounds, and freeing it takes energy. A lot of energy. So the first thing that needs to be understood is that hydrogen is not a source of energy. Rather, it can be separated and stored (for use with a fuel cell), which can be thought of as a type of storage battery. And if there is any hope of actually using hydrogen for, let’s say, powering fuel cell cars, the demand for electricity will rise considerably, making it more (rather than less) likely that we’ll need nuclear power plants. OK, some will argue that we can use solar and wind for generating electricity, rather than nukes or fossil fuels. In this thread, I’m not even going to argue that point. What I want to discuss is if it’s practical or even possible to run cars off of hydrogen fuel cells.

I would argue that it is not. And note that I’m not opposed to electric cars. In fact, I’m growing more enthusiastic about battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs for short). I don’t yet have an electric scooter, but I might very well get one. They have come way down in price, though I keep hoping the batteries will get better (thus improving the range, which is still kind of limited). The Tesla is a pretty neat car, though still pricey, but it has potential.

Fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) fail in just about every way. Yes, there are a few experimental ones on the road, very heavily subsidized. I think they exist mainly because lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry want to divert everyone’s attention away from BEVs. The logic seems to be to keep the public from actually purchasing a BEV for as long as possible because everyone “knows” that soon they’ll be made obsolete by FCVs. The excellent documentary movie Who Killed the Electric Car? made that very point 10 years ago.

I could spend the rest of my day (or week) writing up why FCVs are such a failure, but I don’t have to. I found a link to someone who is a real engineer who took the time to build an actual FCV and do all the analysis - he spells it out the problems clearer than I possibly could. I’ll give you the link. It’s a 3-part link, and a long read, but if you’re a technology geek with any interest in hydrogen fuel cells, you owe it to yourself to read this. I’d rather not hear from anybody who says “I haven’t read the article, but you’re wrong because…” I like technology, but don’t spare much time for emotional knee-jerkism.

OK, so without further ado… Why fuel cell cars don’t work - part 1

I hope to hear some informed and intelligent responses, even if you don’t agree with me.


Just to add, i have seen these in the news over the last few weeks

They get around some of the dangers of the hydrogen fuel cells, by storing the hydrogen in a solid state instead of a compressed gas or liquid.

It has quite a few potential uses but the one that catches the public eye is the extended flight time of drones.


“Nikola Motor”? Srsly? Whoever came up with that needs a creativity transplant.

It would probably shrivel up and be rejected.

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Hydrogen looks like it could be big in five to ten years…

They’re already starting to build up the infrastructure in the US, for a couple of years actually.

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I wasn’t a believer in H2 but it looks like it’s needed for transportation .

Yeah that could be the industry that gets the ball rolling in a bigger way.

It’s needed to combat climate change, it seems airplanes can’t really use batteries… Hydrogen from carbon neutral sources could be the solution and it would make renewable energy production much more economically feasible.
You can also get hydrogen from breaking down natural gas so it depends on climate change reduction policies .

I agree that H2 has certain viable applications in mass transport, eg., aircraft where the low energy density of electrochemical cells is a showstopper. However the OPs rant is still relevant where it concerns individual transport. The whole idea of cars (ie., human-controlled personal vehicles) should have been dead in a ditch 40 years ago. Cars don’t do what they purport to do; they’re just a massive waste of resources, of all kinds.

Yep mainly due to it being an inefficient way to produce electricity and power compared to a motor engine or an electric car, because hydrogen needs to be refined and because hydrogen fuel cell cars actually just charge a battery anyway.
That’s my understanding. For planes there is no better solution I’m aware of though.

I assume for aircraft you could just burn the hydrogen in an ordinary jet engine, with suitable modifications for the different physical characteristics of the fuel.

I heard it would be fuel cells. Maybe methanol .

Don’t really see the point. Once you’ve gone through the conversion process to electrical energy and then back again to mechanical energy - let’s say a 20% conversion loss at each stage - you might as well have just burned the H2. I would guess jet engines also have a better power-to-weight ratio than electric motors, or at least would require less exotic technology for a given power-to-weight ratio.

You are making sense . Need to look into it.

It’s just amazing to me how alternative energy has really taken off. Even just five years ago, I don’t think many would have predicted where we are now. Full replacement of fossil fuels still seems some decades away, but 50% or so replacement not so far off (probably while many of us are still around). I imagine that this would mean for many developed nations, they will already be at or very close to 100% replacement.


It is kind of amazing isn’t it. Some countries have massively started to switch over like UK and Denmark. Renewables will be cheaper soon than any other form of energy generation, even without subsidies.
Now it’s a race against time.
Record temps and heatwave in Europe, Australia and possibly Taiwan too this Winter.


The funny part is this: despite the vitriol aimed at China for their crappy environmental record (with good reason) the plummeting price of PV panels and wind turbines has been driven mostly by Chinese subsidy ploughed into those industries, with the specific intent of being the preferred global supplier.

If they hadn’t done that, we’d probably still be looking at $2/watt for American and German panels, and the economists would still be smirking and saying, yeah, well, renewables are nice and all that, but they’re not economically viable are they?

They are now, guys. $0.65/watt. Stick that in your smokestack and, um, smoke it.

They were already cheaper than fossil fuels several years ago, at least in certain applications. The problem is that the two things are not directly comparable - a “fuel” represents a condensed energy source, whereas a renewables plant represents a power source - so it’s hard to visualize the economic tradeoffs. That’s especially true if you’re a politician, and especially if you’re talking about hypothetical technologies (eg., all-electric autonomous transport systems) that can’t get off the drawing board because nobody wants to take a flyer on them.


I still haven’t switched over to my winter clothes. And I’ll be swimming at the unheated Songshan 50m pool this Thursday, mid-twenties forecast for this weekend in early January, etc., etc. Mercy, mercy me. Things sure ain’t what they used to be. (Okay, I just wanted an excuse to link to this song.)