Tesla CEO Elon Musk rejects hydrogen as an energy storage tool

Elon Musk has a history of expressing strong opinions about hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells. A few years ago, when the topic came up during a discussion with reporters at the Automotive News World Congress, the electric car magnate described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely stupid.”

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk has reiterated his skepticism about hydrogen’s role in the planned shift to a more sustainable future, describing it as “the dumbest thing I can imagine for energy storage.”

During an interview at the Financial Times Future of the Car summit on Tuesday, Musk was asked if he thought hydrogen could play a role in accelerating the transition from fossil fuels.

“No,” he replied. “I really can’t stress this enough — the number of times I’ve been asked about hydrogen could be … it’s over 100 times, maybe 200 times,” he said. “It’s important to understand that if you want an energy storage vehicle, hydrogen is a bad choice.”

Building on his argument, Musk went on to argue that “giant tanks” would be needed to keep hydrogen in liquid form. Storing it in gaseous form would require “even bigger” tanks, he said.

Described by the International Energy Agency as a “versatile energy carrier”, hydrogen has a wide range of applications and can be deployed in sectors such as industry and transport.

In 2019, the IEA said that hydrogen was “one of the leading options for storing energy from renewables and that it looks promising to be a low-cost option for storing electricity for days, weeks or even months.”

The Paris-based organization added that both hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels could “transport energy from renewable sources over long distances — from regions with abundant solar and wind resources, such as Australia or Latin America, to energy-hungry cities thousands of miles away.” .”

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Musk has a history of expressing strong opinions about hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells.

A few years ago, when the topic came up during a discussion with reporters at the Automotive News World Congress, the electric car magnate described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely stupid.”

In June 2020 he tweeted “fuel cells = foolish sells,” add in July of that year: “Selling hydrogen foolishly makes no sense.” Judging by his comments from this week, he’s not convinced about hydrogen yet.

“It doesn’t occur naturally on Earth, so you have to split water with electrolysis or crack hydrocarbons,” he told the Financial Times.

“If you crack hydrocarbons, you haven’t really solved the fossil fuel problem, and the efficiency of electrolysis is bad.”

Today, most of the hydrogen production is based on fossil fuels. Another method of production involves the use of electrolysis, in which an electric current splits water into oxygen and hydrogen.

If the electricity used in this process comes from a renewable source such as wind or solar, some call it green or renewable hydrogen.

Hydrogen projects using electrolysis have attracted the attention of major corporations and business leaders in recent years, but it seems Musk isn’t a fan.

“The efficiency of electrolysis is…poor,” he told the Financial Times. “So you really spend a lot of energy to… split hydrogen and oxygen. Then you have to separate the hydrogen and oxygen and pressurize it — this also takes a lot of energy.”

“And if you have to liquefy hydrogen, oh my god,” he continued. “The amount of energy it takes to … make hydrogen and convert it to liquid form is staggering. It’s the dumbest thing I can imagine for energy storage.”

Different points of view

Musk may be dismissive of hydrogen’s role in the energy transition, other influential voices are a little more optimistic. These include Anna Shpitsberg, who is deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation at the United States Department of State.

During a recent panel discussion moderated by CNBC’s Hadley Gamble, Shpitsberg called hydrogen “a groundbreaking technology that taps into a variety of other sources…because it can support nuclear power, it can support gas, it can support renewable energy, it can do a good job.” part of it and so CCUS . can [carbon capture utilization and storage]†

Elsewhere, in February, Michele DellaVigna, leader of Goldman Sachs’ commodity equity business unit for the EMEA region, highlighted the important role he believes would play in the future.

“If we want to go to zero, we can’t do it with renewable energy alone,” he said.

“We need something that will take over from natural gas’s current role, specifically to manage seasonality and intermittentness, and that’s hydrogen,” argued DellaVigna, who described hydrogen as “a very potent molecule.”

The key, he said, was to “produce it without CO2 emissions. And that’s why we talk about green, we talk about blue hydrogen.”

Blue hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced from natural gas – a fossil fuel – where the CO2 emissions generated during the process are captured and stored. There is a heated debate about the role that blue hydrogen can play in decarbonising society.

“Whether we do it with electrolysis or with carbon capture, we need to generate hydrogen in a clean way,” said DellaVigna. “And once we get it, I think we’ll have a solution that could one day become at least 15% of global energy markets, meaning it’s going to be more than a billion-dollar-plus-a-year market.”

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