November 27, 2013 – Vol.18 No.37
HYDROGEN OR LITHIUM? FUEL CELLS OR BATTERIES?
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
Toyota, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are planning to offer new hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to the US in the next few years … at least to the California market.
Does this throw a monkey wrench into plans for a lithium battery electric future? Let's see. Let's compare the two.
- Hydrogen is everywhere on the planet.
- Hydrogen needs to be extracted from something else.
So does lithium.
- Hydrogen fuel cells are expensive.
So are lithium batteries.
- Hydrogen, in a fuel cell, has zero tail pipe emissions. (Except water.)
Lithium has no tail pipe emissions.
- Hydrogen can have upstream emissions from its production, or not if made with clean energy.
Lithium can have upstream emissions and can have emissions from recharging, or not if recharged with clean energy. Lithium can have emissions from recycling, if recycled that is.
- Hydrogen range is limited only by the size of onboard storage tanks. Range can easily top 300 miles.
Lithium (with one exception to date) offers less than 100 miles range. (That exception is the one Tesla product: Nearly 300 miles EPA range in the top model.)
- Hydrogen refueling can take just a few minutes.
Lithium recharging, with battery swapping, can also take just a few minutes; fast charging in as little as half an hour or so, slow charging in many hours.
- Hydrogen is recycled naturally. (Water goes back into the natural cycle.)
Lithium needs to be recycled by man.
- Hydrogen requires an expensive fueling infrastructure: A million dollars and up per station.
Lithium doesn't. (At minimum a home wall outlet will do.)
- Hydrogen fueling infrastructure won't be built by big oil unless there's money in it.
Lithium public recharging stations are already being built.
- Hydrogen fueling might be subsidized in states, like California, or other countries, like Japan. But, broke Washington won't help build a hydrogen infrastructure.
Lithium battery infrastructure is already minimally subsidized some states and the Feds.
Lithium is winning right now. But it's the only zero emission game in town. That could change. Fuel cell cars will come on the market. Hydrogen could leap ahead, particularly if Big Oil decides to build filling stations. Lithium could gain a more solid footing if battery prices drop and/or better batteries extend range to hundreds of miles. But then, if batteries don't improve - and quickly - then consumers will be wanting fuel cells. With hydrogen fuel cells looming, it's now up battery makers to scramble to make those better, cheaper batteries.
For what it's worth, if I were The God of Who Decides Energy Technologies I'd pick neither of the above and look for swappable, recyclable metal-air batteries or flow batteries for ALL of our transportation needs of the future. Just sayin'.