Tesla CEO Elon Musk rejects hydrogen as an energy storage tool

Elon Musk has a history of expressing strong views on hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells. A few years ago, when the topic came up during a discussion with reporters at the World Car News Congress, the electric vehicle mogul described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely stupid.”

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

During an interview in The meeting of the Financial Times Future of the Car on Tuesday, Musk was asked if he thought hydrogen was playing a role in accelerating the fossil fuel transition.

“No,” he replied. “I really can’t stress that enough – how many times I’ve been asked about hydrogen, maybe over 100 times, maybe 200 times,” he said. “It’s important to understand that if you want energy storage, hydrogen is a bad choice.”

Extending his argument, Musk went on to say that “giant tanks” would be needed to keep hydrogen in liquid form. If it is to be stored in gaseous form, “even larger” tanks will be needed, he said.

Described by the International Energy Agency as a “universal energy carrier”, hydrogen has a diverse 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 renewable sources and looks promising to be the cheapest option for storing electricity for days, weeks or even months.”

The Paris-based organization added that both hydrogen and hydrogen fuels are able to “transport energy from renewable sources over long distances – from regions rich in 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 views on hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells.

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

In June 2020, he tweeted “fuel cells = fool sells”, adding in July of the same year: “Selling hydrogen fools doesn’t make sense.”

Judging by his comments this week, he remains unconvinced about hydrogen.

“It doesn’t occur naturally on Earth, so you have to either separate the water by electrolysis or break down hydrocarbons,” he told the Financial Times.

“When you break down hydrocarbons, you really haven’t solved the problem of fossil fuels, and the efficiency of electrolysis is poor.”

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

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

Electrolysis hydrogen projects have attracted interest from large companies and business leaders in recent years, but Musk does not appear to be a fan.

“The efficiency of electrolysis is poor,” he told the Financial Times. “So you really spend a lot of energy on … separating hydrogen and oxygen. Then you have to separate the hydrogen and oxygen and put them under pressure – it also takes a lot of energy.”

“And if you have to liquefy… hydrogen, oh my God,” he continued. “The amount of energy needed to … produce hydrogen and turn it into a liquid form is staggering. It’s the dumbest thing I can imagine storing energy.”

Different points of view

Musk may be dismissive of the role of hydrogen in the energy transition, but other influential voices are a little more optimistic. These include Anna Spitsberg, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Transformation at the US State Department.

During a recent panel discussion moderated by CNBC’s Hadley Gamble, Svalbard called hydrogen “a game-changing technology that speaks to a variety of other sources” because it can support nuclear energy, it can support gas, it can support renewable energy, it can clean much of it, and so can CCUS [carbon capture utilization and storage]. “

Elsewhere in February, he saw Michele Della Vina, Goldman Sachs’ leader of a business unit with commodity shares for the EMEA region, emphasizes the important role it believes it will play in the future.

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

“We need something that takes on the role of natural gas today, especially in managing seasonality and periodicity, and that is hydrogen,” DellaVigna argued, describing hydrogen as “a very powerful molecule.”

The key, he said, is “to produce without CO2 emissions. And that’s why we’re talking about green, we’re talking about blue hydrogen.”

Blue hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced using natural gas – a fossil fuel – with CO2 emissions generated during the process, captured and stored. There was a heated debate about the role that blue hydrogen can play in the decarbonization of society.

“Whether we do it by electrolysis or we do it by capturing carbon, we have to generate hydrogen in a clean way,” DellaVigna said. “And once we have it, I think we have a solution that could one day become at least 15% of the world’s energy markets, which means it will be … over a trillion dollars a year.”

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