California Hydrogen Highway R.I.P. ChiPs are down for the hydrogen highway cul de sac — literally. The future Ponches and Jons of the California Highway Patrol won’t be policing the hydrogen highway.

The false hope of a hydrogen economy is on its death bed. This dream was embraced and elevated by President Bush, who said in his January 2003 State of the Union address:

With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free.

I have explained at length many times why the first car of child born in 2003 — or the last car, for that matter — will not be a hydrogen fuel cell car, most notably in my best selling book, The Hype About Hydrogen [Note to a picky semantic people: The book was not a best seller, but it was the best-selling of all of my books]. Maybe my best (and certainly my most widely read) paper available online is “The car and fuel of the future,” published by Energy Policy back in 2005. It is still worth reading if you want to understand why plug in hybrids, not hydrogen fuel cell cars, are the car of the (near) future.

The last vestiges of a hydrogen economy are collapsing. First, we had Honda’s new FCX Clarity, which the company optimistically billed as “the world’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production.” If so, the Clarity has demonstrated to the world how distant the whole enterprise is (see L.A. Times: “Hydrogen fuel-cell technology won’t work in cars.” Duh. and “The car of the perpetual future” — The Economist agrees with Climate Progress on hydrogen and “The Last Car You Would Ever Buy — Literally“).

Now Greenwire (subs. req’d) has a long story on the collapse of another one of the few remaining pieces of the dream, “Has Schwarzenegger’s hydrogen highway gone bust?” excerpted below:

SAN FRANCISCO — Soon after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) took office in 2003, he set in motion a campaign promise to build, by 2010, a “hydrogen highway” composed of 150 to 200 fueling stations spaced every 20 miles along California’s major highways.

Schwarzenegger’s “Vision 2010” plan promised that every California motorist would have access to hydrogen fuel by the end of the decade. He has since repeatedly mentioned the highway in a standard stump speech on his environmental accomplishments.

But the program has fallen short of expectations. With less than 10 months until the end of the decade, only 24 hydrogen fueling stations are operating in California, most of them near Los Angeles.

The vision of a hydrogen infrastructure, with fueling stations dotting the interstates, has not materialized, partly because the eager governor may have set unrealistic targets.

Gerhard Achtelik, manager of the hydrogen highway program at the Air Resources Board, admitted in an interview that the state would not hit its 150-station goal by 2010.

“That was a very optimistic guess,” Achtelik said. “It’s certainly been a learning experience.”

The state’s hydrogen-highway experience points to a fundamental question confronting any effort to build an alternative car market, be it powered by hydrogen or electricity: What comes first, the vehicle or the infrastructure?

Of the hydrogen effort, Achtelik conceded that the public has “not received the vehicles as quickly as we hoped.”

Automakers have developed test models and advanced fuel-cell technology in labs around the world, but this test phase has not yet resulted in anything close to a commercial hydrogen car market.

“If all the cars were there that would be needed for the infrastructure, then the stations would be there,” Achtelik said.

Vision with ‘hiccups’

Roy Kim, of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, also said developing hydrogen stations when there are not enough cars to serve them does not make sense. The most likely candidates to build the stations in the private sector — the oil companies — still see the infrastructure as a questionable investment, while public dollars, especially in cash-strapped California, have been scarce.

But Kim sees reason for optimism, with General Motors Corp., Honda Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Daimler AG moving closer to putting hydrogen cars in the hands of customers. Once the Honda Clarity or GM Equinox catches on, the stations will come, he argued.


“It has had its hiccups,” said Kim of the hydrogen highway program. “But this is characteristic of any emerging new technology. It takes time to realize a vision, and it takes patience to get there.”

Kim compares the hydrogen fuel cell to the personal computer and likes to reference Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates’ famous prediction that he would one day see a personal computer in every household. Hydrogen fuel cells are getting slimmer and safer, he said, and commercial pilot projects have shown promise.

Catherine Rips, managing director of the California Hydrogen Business Council, puts it another way. She said the alternative car market in the United States — with hydrogen matching up against plug-in electrics, hybrids and biodiesels, to name a few — has spread itself outward rather than imitating the internal combustion engine’s more linear path. This means the highway concept, which was adopted early in the decade, may not apply, at least for the time being.

“What sounded like a good idea in 1999 doesn’t necessarily match up with reality a decade later,” Rips said. “New technology doesn’t follow a straight path.”

Joan Ogden, director of the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways program at the University of California, Davis, says the 150-station idea was a “broad-brush vision” that experts quickly realized was unlikely to be fulfilled after the governor launched his program.

Transportation planners and policymakers, Ogden said, several years ago stopped taking the highway concept literally. They came up with a new image — the cluster — and decided a more doable pilot program would be to create a network of 10 to 20 stations in a specific region, to fuel the cars where they reside.

Shell Hydrogen BV, an industry leader, and GM soon advocated the same concept in a study that called for the creation of station clusters in three locations, including Los Angeles. So now you have, in theory, a developing network in a region where automakers can directly market their cars.

“GM has repeatedly said the development of such a cluster is what is needed to take their learning to the next level,” Rips said.

Zero-emissions rule

Crucial to the emergence of the cluster, in Ogden’s view, is California’s zero-emissions vehicle rule, which goes into effect in 2012. Under the regulation, which was advanced by the state’s Air Resources Board, automakers will be required to make 7,500 “pure ZEVs” in the 2012-14 time frame, and 25,000 in 2015-17.

Because pure ZEVs emit no greenhouse gas emissions from their tailpipes, that means fuel-cell cars powered by either hydrogen or electricity. “I’m actually pretty encouraged,” Ogden said. “When I started watching this 15 years ago, it took the whole back of a minivan to hold a fuel system. You have a very attractive car now.”

The market for the vehicles and the infrastructure, Ogden added, should “really be driven by this ZEV regulation.” The automakers have announced plans to introduce hundreds of fuel-cell vehicles into Southern California in the years ahead, in hopes that a cluster would emerge.

“Clusters make a lot more sense at this point,” agreed Achtelik, who predicted “bridge stations” to Las Vegas and Santa Barbara, Calif., from the Los Angeles region by 2014 or 2015.

But just who will build the fueling stations beyond the experimental stage is still an open question.

Ogden said the oil companies, unlike the carmakers, are not regulated to build the infrastructure or participate in the fledgling market. Shell Hydrogen and Chevron Corp. are involved in demonstration stations, but they have been resistant to all-out investment for a reason.

“There’s some question as to how this is going to take place,” Ogden said. “What we really need is a network demo.”

‘It’s in the mix’

To the automakers, the bumps on the hydrogen highway are emblematic of the state of the alternative car market and the difficulties associated with building cars during the economic downturn.

The manufacturers are developing a number of models to meet increasing fuel economy standards, with an eye on greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies like the one adopted in California under A.B. 32. That means flex-fuel, compressed natural gas and biodiesel vehicles in addition to hydrogen and electric fuel cells.

What are lacking, said Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, are clear signals on stations and how drivers will be able to drive long distances. “Our industry is committed to offering the vehicles,” he said, “but the reality is there needs to be a very significant effort to expand the alternative fuel infrastructure.”

Ultimately, Territo added, consumers will likely decide on a region-by-region basis what technology they prefer. Some regions in the Midwest could see ethanol-85 networks emerge, while more urban areas could see electrification.

And hydrogen? “It’s in the mix,” Territo said. “Our goal as manufacturers is to provide as many different technologies as possible.”

In the short term, hydrogen advocates have applauded the federal stimulus package, which has billions set aside for research into fuel cells and $300 million earmarked specifically for alt-vehicle infrastructure projects. In the long term, they would like to see more public dollars to build the stations, possibly alongside state and federal facilities in highway rest stops.

“There’s not yet a commercial case for an infrastructure provider,” Rips said. “It’s going to take public support, or a mandate.”

And remember, these quotes are all from the few remaining uber-advocates for hydrogen.

It would have been nice if Greenwire actually talked to a single hydrogen realist for this story, which wouldn’t be terribly hard since they comprise 99.99% of energy and transportation analysts these days.

In any case, the hydrogen highway is never going to be built because it makes no sense and the state has no money anyway.

The only thing keeping the hydrogen dream on life support now is federal R&D. But after some $2 billion spent this decade on this relatively pointless exercise by the Bush Administration, it’s time to pull the plug.

I repeat, it is time for President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu to drastically scale back the federal hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program, to a small basic research program focused on long-term breakthroughs in hydrogen storage, fuel cells, and renewable hydrogen. This could free up some $1 billion in Obama’s first term alone for more important R&D and more urgent deployment efforts (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions“).

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27 Responses to California Hydrogen Highway R.I.P.

  1. Philip H. says:

    So your premise is that, instead of keeping hydrogen in the mix by acknowledging the 150 filling stations that are up and running (and the radical way that could change how Los Angeles uses wheeled transportation) we should kill the thing because a politician (gasp) overpromised and under delivered? Um yeah . . . I’ll get right on that . . .

    Seriously, if there are 150 stations in LA, that’s about 150 more then we have in DC. If California encourages their use, and hydrogen fuel cell cars, trucks and buses become common, the rest of the country will shift in that direction fairly quickly. Or are you really saying that California’s dominance in automotive policy is waning?

  2. John Hollenberg says:


    If you read the article, there are 24 hydrogen stations in LA. The number 150 was the goal (hype?), which wasn’t reached by a large margin. That is the point of the article.

  3. David says:

    I always find it hilarious when governments set goals for something that is completely unrealistic and technologically impossible and just expect it to magically happen because they said it should. California clearly did this with hydrogen stations, just like they did with ZEVs years ago. It will be equally hilarious in 2020 when they are nowhere near meeting their ridiculous renewable energy goals. Or their moronic attempts and reducing “urban sprawl”. Idiots.

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    To me, the critical detail about hydrogen is something that I picked up from The Hype About Hydrogen: As we’re increasingly pressed to reduce our overall CO2 emissions, we won’t have the luxury of using an unnecessarily high percentage of our clean electricity (from wind, solar, etc.) on producing, compressing, and using hydrogen in cars. We’ll get much more bang per clean electron by using that energy to recharge (long range) PHEVs and EVs. Even if you waved a magic wand and made the entire hydrogen infrastructure appear instantly, hydrogen fuel cells for passenger cars still wouldn’t make sense in a severely carbon-constrained environment.

    This is exactly the kind of interplay between technology and market forces that we need to focus on in the coming years and decades.

  5. Daniel Jones says:

    Hydrogen has been used in a few niches, such as the space program, quite successfully for many years. Outside of those niches, it has been, and should continue to be, the subject of a modest research program.

    The problem with hydrogen is that it has been held out to be a promising solution in major energy sectors, such as automobiles and trucks. In the past, it was proposed as such a solution by the likes of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, and other “environmentalists”.

    One great service of George Bush is that he proposed hydrogen as a major part of the solution to fossil fuel use in automobiles. In so doing, he (being a basically unpopular guy among liberals and environmentalists) set off an outpouring of criticism of hydrogen as a solution to our energy problems.

    President Bush served a similar role in regard to CAFE standards (auto and truck fuel standards) and climate change in general. A decade of neglect, or weak-kneed leadership at best, during the 1990s was changed as soon as Bush became president and his opponents began criticizing him for following exactly the same policies they had followed during the 90s (i.e., reject the Kyoto Protocol and aggressive action on climate change in general).

    There are many unrealistic “solutions”, other than hydrogen, being proposed as panaceas to our energy and climate change problems. It is reasonable to promote research and selective use of new technologies in places where they make sense. It is quite another thing to hold those new technologies out as solutions to major problems; thereby promoting complacency and the misguided sense that technology will save us.

  6. No Shineola says:

    This was the justification for building LNG terminals in California. We need to convert natural gas to hydrogen for fuel cell transportation. Sure glad we put a stop to that.

  7. David Walters says:

    So…exactly how much natural gas does it take to make all this H2? What IS the point of hydrogen when the production of it involves more fossil fuels.


  8. Bob Wright says:

    Natural Gas: CH4 = 2H2 + CO2. We’re still making CO2! What ZEV? Might as well drive a hybrid. Infrastructure already there.
    OEV = Outsourced Emissions Vehicle.

    Is hydrogen an ozone depleter? Read that someplace.

    Nuclear power: 2H2O = 2H2 + O2. Deliver hydrogen to urban areas and isolated stations along I-80 in pressurized dirigigibles (Hindenburg). Expand and build pipelines if it works.

  9. Tony says:

    One of the attractions to hydrogen is its versatility. If PV solar, solar thermal, geothermal and wind were to provide ample electricity – that electricity could be used to split water and make hydrogen to fill a car with. In effect hydrogen IS a battery: electricity to make H2, H2 converted back to electricity to run the car. Until a better battery solution comes along to make electric cars go further on a charge (cheaper, lighter and smaller) – then I think that hydrogen should stay on the table as a long term vehicle solution. Right now and in the mid-term future I think plug-in hybrids are the way to go.

    But yes, I agree, reforming natural gas to make our hydrogen stock is a silly notion. Even worse, coal gasification reaction: (coal) + O2 + H2O –> H2 + CO
    and water gas shift reaction: CO + H2O –> H2 + CO2. Yikes.

    Battery science has been relatively stagnant over the past decade. PEM and SOFC fuel cell science has made more headway in the past decade, but yes, it’s still a ways off. Platinum group metals for anode and cathode materials are cost prohibitive.

    Thanks for letting me know the last five years of my PhD research was a waste of time. =] We can’t get it all right all the time.

  10. Jeff Wishart says:

    I would like to correct an error that is common whenever people talk (or write) about advanced powertrain vehicles: the plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHV) is not necessarily powered in part by an ICE. Here is the SAE definition for a PHV:

    “A hybrid vehicle with the ability to store and use off-board electrical energy in the RESS (rechargeable energy storage system).”

    This definition isn’t perfect (the ‘R’ is superfluous, since what use would a non-rechargeable ESS be?), but it shows that the PHV is not beholden to any particular technology: any hybrid vehicle that can be charged using off-board electrical energy (meaning that at least one of the ESSs must be electrically based) will do. This means that a fuel cell-battery hybrid vehicle, wherein the battery can be recharged off-board, is also a PHV. One must be specific!

    Joe is clearly against fuel cells and hydrogen. His cameo in “Who killed the electric car?” is an example of this bias. This colours his thinking when it comes to fuel cell technology. I respect his opinion on a lot of things, and I continue to learn things whenever I read his blogs, but he should recognize that he has blinders on now and can’t see that the next transition may well be to ICE-based PHVs, but that if we want to have a transportation system that doesn’t pollute at all, we need to eventually get fuel cells in the powertrain (I believe that it will be a fuel cell-battery-ultracapacitor combo) and ICEs out.

    I am completely on Joe’s side on the Breakthrough Institute argument; however, Joe is showing that he might have been a bit disingenuous in that discussion if he wants to stop funding what could easily be considered to be THE breakthrough technology for transportation. Yes, the challenges are, well, challenging. The performance, cost, and durability of fuel cells needs to improve. The performance and cost of hydrogen storage must improve. We must figure out how the hydrogen will be produced and how it will be delivered to the point of use (if it isn’t produced at that point of use). But as Tony mentions above, hydrogen can be one of the solutions to the energy storage conundrum of renewable energies. Personally, I believe that producing hydrogen at night via ramped up wind power is a strong possibility. But I will learn from Joe’s mistake and not assert to the world that I am rigidly certain in my beliefs about what will happen in the future.

  11. Jeff Wishart says:

    I would add further that Joe sets up a false choice whenever he talks about PHVs and fuel cells: since nobody will ever build another fuel cell vehicle (FCV) that doesn’t include either a battery or ultracap (or both), fuel cells and batteries are complementary, not competing technologies. Those who support one technology over the other miss the point: the two technologies need each other. The fuel cell will ensure that the battery doesn’t discharge too deeply (this is the role of the ICE in the Volt, and thus this vehicle will release both smog-forming pollutants and GHGs), while the battery-ultracap ESS assists with cold temperature operation and transient power demands. If the goal is truly to achieve zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), then we must eventually get rid of the ICEs. The rosy forecasts of FCV advocates have proven wildly optimistic. But that doesn’t mean that Joe’s equally wildly pessimistic forecasts are correct.

  12. Bob Wallace says:

    “Battery science has been relatively stagnant over the past decade.”

    This statement is so absolutely and completely wrong that it destroys the credibility of anything else you post.

  13. Jeff Wishart says:

    Bob Wallace: I agree that it is a mischaracterization to say that battery science is stagnant. I would argue, however, that unless and until a revolutionary advance in battery science occurs (this may not happen anytime soon), batteries alone will not allow for ZEVs with the full performance of the incumbent ICE vehicle. Ergo my belief in the powertrain of the future to be fuel cell-battery-ultracap.

  14. Tony says:

    Bob Wallace: Ok, maybe I was being a bit harsh on the battery community. Perhaps the engineering and technology has been advancing – that I can’t speak to, but from my perspective as a chemist, I’m not seeing big breakthroughs in new materials/molecules for better/lighter/cheaper batteries.

  15. Garry G says:

    H2 is not dead. Just the old assumptions are dead.

    The hydrogen highway is dead, but not solid state stoarge and ‘swap out’ retail distribution.

    The problem is not storing energy in chemical bonds of hydrogen, the problem is the people who over promised, and those who underestimate it’s role.

    Are we really ready to declare chemical storage via H2 bonds dead? Are we really betting the next century on lithium bonds? Not trying to be snarky, but really? Is that it.

    Aren’t nanostructured cataylsts changing the cost-energy equation, along with materials for solid state storage. Aren’t bio systems changing our ability to bind Carbon with H2, instead of Oxygen?

    Again, not trying to be snarky, but you’ve been hanging onto a snapshot of H2 taken in 1998.

    Yes, it was overhyped. But there are those of us who are not drinking the Kool aid… we just see the sense in storing via H2 bonds- as the standard carrier for electrons.

    There was short-sightedness that Techies had when the built up the ‘hype’ in the late 90s (when scientists were saying, not yet) –and the paradigm-locked short sightedness of wholesale dismissing of H2 now.

    What is the alternative? Plugging in? How much will it cost to extend wall sockets to plug ins? A billion for the Bay Area? How long will the cords be?
    I thought infrastructure was ‘already there’? Don’t we all sit in cafes and pass through airports searching for access to plug.

    Let’s decouple fueling from the grid. Solid state H2 is actually coming along quite well – and not a stagnant platform. I don’t care if it’s not viable for another five or ten years. This is a multi-decade long transition and there is no way I will pick winners now.

    Next generation electric vehicles will likely integrate batteries, fuel cells and capacitors– not one device will rule them all.

    And if I have to pick a chemical bond to store my energy. I pick hydrogen or hydrogen rich feedstocks over lithium or nickel.

    If I have to pick a delivery mechanism, I pick solid state ‘swap out’ — over extending copper wires and having people flight over plugs.

    In the end it’s about integrating various storage devices. There is in fact a price-cost point where batteries and fuel cells will compete. We’re not there now– but we’d be foolish to continue just wholesale dismissal.

    I really wish your tone would evolve… and adapt to a broader view of this transition to electric propulsion. Cars are not iPods, and it’s going to take a lot more than batteries to get us where we’d like to be.

    Let’s not dwell on old dumb ideas like a ‘H2 Highway’– let’s focus on truly disruptive distribution channels. Let’s not use old ‘energy conversion’ equations in a new era of nano-catalysis.

    No slam intend here — hard not to sound snarky via text in comments.

    But it’s getting old to hear the same old ‘H2 is never going to happen’ mantra. The story is much more complex.. and nuanced.

    Garry G
    The Energy

    [JR: Nah. Not complex. Not nuanced. Just not gonna happen. Swap out is not viable for batteries or H2, as I’ve blogged.]

  16. Jeff Wishart says:


    There you go again dismissing an entire industry just because it hasn’t met expectations and the challenges seem daunting. Garry and I and others are trying to get you to take off the blinders that you have when it comes to hydrogen and see that the transition could go from ICE to ICE-hybrids to ICE-PHVs to fuel cell-PHVs. Nobody is saying that fuel cells will be taking over the market anytime soon: the transition to FC-PHVs could be decades in the making.

    But surely you must agree that a ZEV would be preferable to a PHV with an ICE?

    Because I value your judgement in other areas of energy systems, I am continually surprised at your stubborn refusal to see ICE-PHVs as a bridge technology to FC-PHVs. PHVs in their current form are a huge step on the way to achieving lower emissions in the transportation sector; however, it should be clear to someone who understands the need to reduce our emissions as much as possible wherever possible that a vehicle that emits GHGs (not to mention criteria air contaminants!) can not be the “end-game” technology.

    I, for one, hope that you can at least soften your rigid stance on hydrogen and fuel cells. Belief in the future success of one technology or another is one thing, but outright dismissal and ridicule of one that many smart people find promising is both counterproductive and quite possibly setting up embarrassing mea culpas later on.

  17. John says:

    Battery technology already exists for fast charging and long range. Look at A123, and Altairnano, probably some others I’m forgetting. Hydrogen is impractical, and unnecessary. As volume increases battery price will come down. Most transportation needs can be met right now with existing battery technology, which is constantly improving all the time. The charging infrastructure can be much more easily implemented with slow charging available everywhere already. Hydrogen is wasting our time, energy, resources and money that would be better spent elsewhere.

  18. Jeff Wishart says:


    The problem with batteries (not including flow batteries that are more like fuel cells) is that the energy is all contained within the battery itself.

    So gasoline has an specific energy of ~12000 Wh/kg while the best Li-ion batteries will have a specific energy of no more than ~ 150 Wh/kg currently. Hydrogen, conversely, has a specific energy of ~ 33000 Wh/kg. Energy density values are gasoline (~ 9000 Wh/L), battery (~ 200 Wh/L) and hydrogen (~ 1900 Wh/L). (These values don’t include the weight and volume required by the ICE or electric machine.) Granted, the values for batteries will almost certainly increase, but they probably won’t ever get near the value for gasoline or hydrogen.

    So as you can see, the fact that the energy is contained within the battery, as opposed to the cases for ICEs and fuel cells, means that the amount of energy capacity you get for a given battery is likely to be much lower than for the other two. Thus, the range of vehicles that rely only on batteries will be much lower. It would be great if people could be convinced that the next-generation of vehicles won’t do as much as what they own currently, but I challenge anybody who thinks that batteries alone as the power and energy source for vehicles are the solution to show me one instance where we have gone backwards in the capabilities of our technology.

    So batteries need fuel cells. Fuel cells need batteries. We need to get past the false choice that it’s either one or the other. In order to have a vehicle that is both ZEV and performs as well as the current technology, we need fuel cell-battery-ultracap plug-in hybrids, IMHO.

  19. John says:

    EV’s are so much more efficient than ICE’s that the differences in energy density between batteries and gas aren’t as large as they seem. Once you get batteries that can give you 300+ miles, (Tesla already does 240 miles), and fast charging, you really don’t need anything more. The extra weight and expense of PHEV ICE’s or fuel cells become unnecessary. We know most people only drive 40 miles or less each day, and most households have more than one vehicle. Short term one of those vehicles can be replaced with a 100-200 mile EV as the fast charge infrastructure rolls out, then in a few years when 300-400 mile packs become more affordable and fast charge stations more common the rest of the vehicles can become EV’s. ICE PHEV’s can fill in any gaps along the way, no need to pursue expensive, inefficient, fuel cells and hydrogen infrastructure.

  20. Jeff Wishart says:


    I agree that electric machines are more efficient than ICEs. But you must remember that the Roadster is a two-seater and it only goes about 220 miles (not 240). And if you drive 220 miles a lot, your battery lifetime will go down precipitously. So it’s a bit disingenous to give ranges for EVs (unless the control system doesn’t allow the state-of-charge to go below about 30%).

    So we have a very small car that can go just over 200 miles. Imagine how far an SUV would get! In order to get even the Roadster to “300-400 miles” would mean a doubling of the batteries or of the capacity or some combination of the two. This is an extremely tall order, in terms of cost and weight and volumetric restrictions.

    I agree with you that an EV for a second car for urbanites is perfect. I am an EV enthusiast for this part of the overall market. But not everyone owns two cars in the U.S., and this is certainly the case for the rest of the world (remember, we are trying to change the global transportation sector, not just one country). So EVs, in my opinion, will not satisfy the needs of everyone for the foreseeable future. This is where PHVs come in. And since we want to minimize GHG emissions, we need to get rid of the ICE. If you can think of a better way than a fuel cell, let me know!

  21. John says:

    Most of the world doesn’t need 100+ miles of range, and neither does most of the US. It’s simply an artifact left over from our cheap fossil fuel world, which no longer exists. The Roadster gets 240 miles in an EPA driving cycle, and the battery is never fully charged or discharged to preserve the life of the pack. To get the Roadster to 300 miles would not require a whole lot. I think the Roadster packs were built with 2400 mAh cells because they were the cheapest price point, now the same sized cells are at 3000mAh and higher, so the exact same physical size pack could easily hit 300 miles right now. That’s how fast the battery technology is improving. Maximize a vehicle for range, not performance, and the same pack could go even farther.
    Hydrogen and fuel cells are simply unnecessary, they will not become practical and economical fast enough, if ever, to make a difference. Fuel cells are magnitudes more expensive than lithium batteries, and the hydrogen infrastructure does not exist, and will certainly not be rolled out world wide any time soon. PHEV’s alone will mostly run on batteries so their emissions will be negligible, and can be run on renewable bio fuels like biodiesel.

  22. Roger says:

    It’s nice to read such a respectful, intelligent discussion of these points. Thanks for the forum, Joe, and for the interplay, John, Jeff and others.

  23. Jeff Wishart says:

    Joe, my last comment has been deleted for some reason. Is there some reason for this or was it inadvertent?

  24. Jeff Wishart says:

    Oh, my mistake, it just didn’t load up that last time. Strange…

  25. Jeff Wishart says:


    I was right the first time–my comment was apparently “moderated”. I am not sure why this might be. Can you please post it so that I and the others can continue this discussion?

  26. Jeff Wishart says:

    This is the post that has been “awaiting moderation” for nearly four days:


    I think it’s a non-starter to try and convince people that the new vehicle in the dealership window is great, except that it doesn’t do as much as the used vehicle on the lot does. I couldn’t agree more that most people don’t need 100+ miles of range, and that we should be building up our rail system and enacting legislation like fuel taxes and registration fees that go up with miles driven. But convincing people that newer technology is what they should want when it can’t do everything the technology that it is replacing can do is a marketing problem that I wouldn’t want to have to solve!

    I think you mean the FTP driving schedule when you say “EPA driving cycle”. Firstly, that is only for city driving and the range on the highway cycle, the HFET, might be significantly different. Secondly, you should know that the EPA is revising its testing procedures to include factors such as aggressive driving, cold weather conditions, and higher peripherals (e.g. air conditioners) consumption. So the range is definitely much lower than 240 miles. But whether it’s 240 or 220 (or, and this is likely, less) is largely irrelevant. The point is that its lower than most people are willing to accept. Now you or I may be completely satisfied with a range like this. But in order to sell this to the rest of the masses, the car simply can’t do less and yet be more expensive. As much as we would like it to succeed, this is a business plan guaranteed to fail.

    I am very interested in your values of the Ah per cell for the Roadster battery pack. I calculate a much lower value. Where did you get these numbers? Also, I am a bit skeptical that the batteries have improved by 25% since the design was finalized only a few short years ago. Can you provide a reference? So it follows that I have to question the 300 miles claim. And I reiterate that this is for a tiny vehicle in any event.

    So I have to respectfully disagree that hydrogen and fuel cells are “unnecessary”. In order to get a ZEV that can do everything that the current model you own can do, batteries just won’t cut it. Add a fuel cell to the mix, and now you have the possibility of succeeding.

    I would also argue that the infrastructure isn’t there for batteries either. There are millions of people around the world who live in apartments and park on the street with no access to a plug. Of course, the electricity infrastructure is a lot more mature than hydrogen, but let’s not pretend it’s ubiquitous. Furthermore, installation of a fast charger is not that different from installation of a home electrolyzer to produce the hydrogen, foregoing the need for the hydrogen infrastructure (Honda is working on one that it wants to pair with its FCX vehicles).

    Fuel cells are more expensive than Li-ion batteries, no doubt. But Li-ion batteries are much more expensive than ICEs–do you advocate not doing the RD&D on Li-ion batteries as a result?

    FC-PHVs are not going to be mainstream before 2015-2020 at least. But I fail to see the logic in preventing the work to completely remove fossil fuel usage from the transportation sector. I have said it before in this forum, but I will repeat it here:

    Can’t we (battery and fuel cell enthusiasts) all just get along?

    [JR: Sorry this didn’t get up sooner — I got a huge spam bombardment in the last couple of days, which pushed a lot of stuff out of my sight. That said, if plugs ins and EVs prove practical and affordable, they are fatal to FCVs, which are simply a HUGE extra cost, grossly inefficient well to wheels, and require a delivery infrastructure that nobody has an incentive to build.]

  27. Jeff Wishart says:

    Thanks for the explanation Joe–I didn’t think that my post warranted moderation!

    I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on whether fuel cells will ever make their mark in the transport industry. I do concur wholeheartedly that ICE-based PHVs and EVs are going to be sold in large numbers in the next few years. But I don’t agree that this precludes the future transition to fuel cell-based PHVs.

    EVs will stick around as urban transport (and I want one desperately), but their limited range means that they don’t really compete for the same market as PHVs. I will reiterate my challenge from above: somebody please show me a product that got both more expensive and less capable as it matured. This is the problem that people who want EVs to take over have.

    ICE-based PHVs are a great bridge technology, but Joe, as someone who writes so passionately about our need to reduce our GHG emissions, why would you write off a technology that has a chance to do that for the transport sector, just because the costs are large? From my understanding of your wedges, the costs for any reductions will be huge and won’t be made based on financial considerations alone (barring some miracle that the externalities associated with fossil fuel use are internalized).

    Finally, I have to take issue with your claim that FCVs (and I would prefer to call them FCHVs, since no knowledgeable powertrain engineer thinks that FCVs should be built) are “grossly inefficient well to wheels”. As you well know, fuel cells are much more efficient than ICEs (although less than batteries). So you must be referring to the well-to-tank efficiency of hydrogen production. I refer you to the following presentation by an ANL researcher:

    On slide 15, the different efficiencies are summarized, and you will note that the delivery of gasoline well-to-pump is just under 80% while the delivery of hydrogen well-to-pump is 55%. The higher efficiency of the fuel cell hybrid drivetrain more than makes up for the relatively less efficient production of hydrogen. Moreover, we have only just gotten started thinking about hydrogen production on a serious level. If technologies like solar hydrogen pan out, that efficiency can shoot up immensely. And that is the beauty of the fuel cell-hydrogen solution: there is so much more improvement possible. You want to essentially tie propulsion development to a technology (the ICE) that is only going to improve in tiny increments.

    I understand where people who diss fuel cells are coming from, as FCHVs have yet to live up to even a small fraction of the hype. And I understand that it would be difficult for you to ever accept the promise of FCHVs since this would make your book a bit inconvenient. But I think we can all agree that ZEVs are a laudable objective and we should be striving to develop them. I agree that we should focus on ICE-based PHVs and EVs for the moment, with fuel cell-based PHVs in the back of our minds. And I think that the automotive OEMs are doing this. But since I would think that we share the same goal, maybe gleefully pointing out setbacks in FCHV development is not all that constructive.