Japan's lofty 'hydrogen society' vision hampered by cost


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Not mentioned is that producing hydrogen requires burning large amounts of fossil fuels, so hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are hardly "emissions free". The cars themselves produce no emissions, but as their fuel source is still derived from petroleum and gas, the term "emissions free" is pure semantics.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Well, it is mentioned, Sangetsu03: "It’s also not entirely environmentally friendly: greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels are often required to generate the gas in the first place." But your point is right. Hydrogen is not really a fuel but an energy storage system. These cars are not the "ideal green cars" the Toyota worker wants us to believe.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

commanteer is correct.

Burning fossil fuels is not the only way to produce hydrogen; in fact it's probably the worst way to do it.

Hydrogen is quite easy to generate during off-peak hours from any renewable source of electricity—as well as hydro and nuclear plants—and, in fact makes those sources somewhat more efficient as they can run full bore for more of the time.

Hydrogen fuel cells also require fewer rare-earth materials than batteries (with all the pollution that their extraction causes).

As a fuel source hydrogen is clean and virtually inexhaustible. It really is the fuel of the future.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Seamus78, I wonder where you get your numbers as a gallon of feul weighs 8 pounds, How can 8 pounds of feul emit 19.64 pounds of CO2?

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Hydrogen is an energy storage mechanism, it’s not a source of energy. So you have to get that energy from somewhere. It’s extremely inefficient.

So are battery powered electric vehicles so I am not sure what sir Elon Musk is trying to prove here. I am getting a little of a AC vs DC deja-vu here.

Anyhow, vehicles working with energy storage mechanisms (battery or hydrogen) still depend on electricity provided from a power plant, which makes them not a solution of the problem, but rather it moves the problem towards the power plants.

Which is actually a good thing, as power plants have a much higher fuel efficiency or just use existing renewable sources to generate it.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The elephant in the room for electric vehicles is and has always been the hurdle of extending mileage per charge. Aside from Tesla, no manufacturer has managed to make that next big leap in battery storage tech that is required to make electric vehicles efficient tools for transportation. And the Tesla mileage comes with a hefty price tag that puts the car far out of reach of most consumers.

The holy grail for any electric car manufacturer is to create a car that is both affordable and provided a decent range. Only Ford had a plan on the table for a 200-mile electric car, and it hasn't actually been brought to market yet.

The other thing that never really comes up in the rosy outlook some manufacturers try to lend to electric is that these mileage averages are advertised when the batteries are not experiencing a full load, i.e., loaded up with 3~4 passengers, headlights on, cooler/heater on, cruising at 50~60kph down a freeway. The advertised mileage drops dramatically.

All this without even scratching the surface of how far from efficient electric currently is for larger modes of transportation like buses, lorries, and construction equipment.

Hydrogen may not be quite there yet in terms of consumer market viability, but electric still has quite a way to go as well.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Not mentioned is that producing hydrogen requires burning large amounts of fossil fuels,"

While this is true at the moment, hydrogen is still being developed. There are very promising methods of hydrogen production that use almost no energy, including biomaterials like algae. Like any new technology, people will say "you can't do it because of X" or "it's too expensive." Until X is overcome by Y and the cost comes down.

This shouldn't be necessary to say, but Elon Musk has been telling anyone who will listen that hydrogen is a joke because it takes too much energy to produce it (while ignoring the possibility of future developments). People see Musk as a smart guy, so they believe it. He is a smart guy, but he's also a guy who is heavily invested in the kinds of cars that hydrogen would directly compete with. So it's a bit like asking Steve Jobs for his opinion of Windows.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Just a few numbers.

One ton of hydrogen produced will also produce about 9 to 12 tons of CO2.

About 19.64 pounds of CO2 are produced from burning a gallon of gasoline that does not contain ethanol. About 22.38 pounds of CO2 are produced by burning a gallon of diesel fuel.

Personally though I would prefer not to breathe in vehicle emissions

1 ( +2 / -1 )

About 19.64 pounds of CO2 are produced from burning a gallon of gasoline that does not contain ethanol. About 22.38 pounds of CO2 are produced by burning a gallon of diesel fuel.

What's that in farthings, Seamus (are they imperial or US farthings)? And how many leagues will Mirai travel on a ton of hydrogen?

1 ( +2 / -1 )


I think it's from the oxygen combining with the carbon when it is burnt.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Simple solution: cut off amakudari.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Regardless of the environmental concerns (serious though they are), this is a really risky strategy for Japanese automakers and the government. It seems that the U.S. market is moving towards electric rather than hydrogen as a replacement for gas cars. Given the huge infrastructure required, if the US goes that way while Japanese makers go another...Toyota et al are just going to be shutting themselves out of their biggest market in a few years time because they backed the wrong horse. They might have a huge advantage in the Japanese market of course since the government is building the hydrogen infrastructure for them, but that is a shrinking pie that they already dominate anyway.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Kent Mcgraw, Carbon (C) has a mass of 12, Oxygen has a weight of 16, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) has a weight of 44. Thus burning 1 gram of C (assuming it turns into CO2) gives you 3.67 (44/12) grams of CO2.

And this is mere burning it, it does not take in account the energy required to produce the actual fuel.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

i don't know of any all-electric cars that sell at 28,000.

The Mitsubishi MiEV sells for 2,400,00 yen, or 1,400,000 yen after government subsidies and dealer incentives.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If electric cars do win out over hydrogen, it's not actually very difficult to make them. They only have 1/10 of the parts of a gasoline engine car. Hobbyists make them. Since 2005, several aftermarket sellers in the US have offered conversion kits to make the Prius a plug in hybrid with 30 miles or so of electric-only range. Tesla would have had a far harder job as a startup of hydrogen cars. So if an auto maker makes the wrong bet, it will be far easier for any hydrogen car manufacturer to catch up with any electric car manufacturer than vice versa.

Hydrogen strikes me as a more complicated solution than batteries, but it might be telling that by far the world's biggest manufacturers of hybrids, i.e., cars that already have large batteries and motors, Toyota and Honda, are pursuing hydrogen cars not battery powered ones.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The holy grail for any electric car manufacturer is to create a car that is both affordable and provided a decent range.

Tesla has taken a different strategy: build a super cool. high performance electric car that destroys the image of an electric car as a cheap substitute for a "real car." And, boy, does it appear to be working.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Haha - yeah those are a bunch of meaningless quantities for me (and probably most of us).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It seems that the U.S. market is moving towards electric rather than hydrogen as a replacement for gas cars.

Surely hydrogen gives Big Oil an opportunity to exploit existing channels and infrastructure regardless of the geography?

Or are they so politically weak that they'll just ride off into the sunset after renewable generation reaches critical mass?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The US has not steered forward with EV since they have not placed the required infrastructure in any major scale. You'll require universal access to band it as de facto replacements.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ha ha, yeah I know those figure look a little odd, too me too.

A bit embarrassing as I pressed submit without doing more calculations. What I was trying to see was which produces more CO2 per ton of production, Hydrogen or Gasoline?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Actually those figures could be correct. When the fuel is burned, it will combine with oxygen in the air, which could lead to the given figures.

Not to say they are accurate (I have no idea), just that it's possible to end up with a heavier weight of CO2 than the original weight of the fuel.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

After calculating (metric):

Roughly 9-12 tons of CO2 from 1 ton of Hydrogen production 816 tons of CO2 from 1 ton of Gasoline production

Correct me if I am wrong. Excuse the typos ans hasty posts

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Have any life cycle costs analyses been done recently to see which energy source would be best?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A Mirai fuel-cell vehicle costs 6.7 million yen, or about $55,000, nearly double a comparable electric car.

really? i don't know of any all-electric cars that sell at 28,000. maybe if you throw in subsidies, but i'm sure the hydrogen cars would also get the same subsidies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

emissions-free energy source

Not exactly. Hydrogen powered fuel cells emit water vapor, and I think much more than gasoline powered cars. Does anyone know if there are any possible environmental or climate effects from this? Water vapor is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. And although short-lived, I'm wondering of the effect of thousand of cars on a busy city street. Will it get fogged up?

0 ( +0 / -0 )


really? i don't know of any all-electric cars that sell at 28,000.

Base price for a Nissan Leaf is ~Y2.87M....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Elon Musk a guy, when talks were finally start to unite on High Speed Rail as an alternative to personal travel threw in a spanner called Hyperloop that wouldn't stand an analysis by a high schooler who has just enough knowledge about intercity transit so he can divide the HSR proponents. He maybe smart but also sly as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hydrogen is the cleanest energy of all. It should never be produced by petroleum because it makes CO2. Hydrogen must be produced by eco energies such as solar power, wind power, geothermal power, etc. These power plants can be built all over Japan. Never use petroleum to make hydrogen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

'emissions-free energy source'

For the million, millionth time, Hydrogen is not an energy source! It is an energy carrier. H2 is an energy loser, in that it takes more energy to produce that you get from it when it burns. It's that simple.

It is of use to store excess electricity from renewables when that energy is not needed(from wind power at night, excess solar during the day etc), but nobody is suggesting this or planning to use it this way, why not use the electricity in a battery and avoid the combustion step in the first place? More efficient and less complicated as you don't need a combustion chamber and all the wasteful other steps, losing energy at every one!

The Hydrogen economy is an illusion and a con. It'll never happen. Hydrogen fuel cell car will exist only as long as there is petroleum to subsidise them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"but observers say price and convenience are keeping the plan from taking off."

Oh really?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

John Higson

Under your definition everything is only an energy carrier since they all only carry energy and not create energy. Batteries are worse type of energy carrier if you consider the weight to energy ratio or energy efficiency rate since the conversion rate of mass into energy is the least. At the near end of a charge you are still carrying a massive amount of dead weight.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Of course! Economic reality strikes. The same experience Germany made with Merkels stupid "Energiewende" green program which now has to be scaled back because it is too expensive.

It is all well and good to subsidize research into new energy sources, but pretending that we have solutions already and wasting funds on that premise is simply stupid, especially at the current cost of crude.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

cruising at 50~60kph down a freeway


-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Forget for a moment that the hydrogen is from natural gas, a fossil fuel. This just proves that if you want to engineer something, anything, you can, but it doesn't mean using hydrogen was a smart choice to begin with. Hey, let's use the universe's solvent for energy and watch everything break down around it requiring endless maintenance. Driving up costs for everyone. Brilliant!

Meanwhile it would be better to make electricity the arbiter of energy usage, that way however you want to make electricity (including hydrogen) doesn't require the fuel source to be transported. Thus making the road and the highway the battery so you don't need filling stations. Save your cashola.

These are design quibbles but they don't lead to doubt about safety, save a ton of money, are more efficient, and make for simpler and hopefully cheaper vehicles. Then it only matters how the electricity is generated, not how the vehicles run. Thus the end of the day is focusing on making the energy generation greener as we go. Something this article misses.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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