Tesla CEO Elon Musk reiterated his skepticism about hydrogen’s role in the planned shift to a more sustainable future, describing it as “the dumbest thing I could imagine for energy storage.” .
During an interview at the Financial Times Future of the Car Summit on Tuesday, Musk was asked if he thinks hydrogen has a role to play in accelerating the transition from fossil fuels.
“No,” he replied. “I can’t stress this enough – the number of times I’ve been asked about hydrogen it’s maybe…it’s well over 100 times, maybe 200 times “, did he declare. “It’s important to understand that if you want a way to store energy, hydrogen is a bad choice.”
Expanding on his argument, Musk went on to say that “gigantic tanks” would be needed to hold the hydrogen in liquid form. If it were to be stored in gaseous form, “even larger” tanks would be needed, he said.
Described by the International Energy Agency as a “versatile 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 hydrogen was “one of the main options for storing energy from renewables and shows promise of being a least expensive option for storing electricity over days. , weeks or even months”.
The Paris-based organization added that hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels are capable of “transporting energy from renewables over long distances – from regions with abundant solar and wind resources, such as the ‘Australia or Latin America, to energy-guzzling cities thousands of miles away’. a way.”
Musk is used to expressing strong opinions about hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells.
A few years ago, when the subject came up in a discussion with reporters at Automotive News World Congress, the electric vehicle mogul described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely silly”.
“It doesn’t happen naturally on Earth, so you either have to split the water by electrolysis or crack the hydrocarbons,” he told the Financial Times.
“When you crack hydrocarbons, you really haven’t solved the fossil fuel problem, and the efficiency of electrolysis is poor.”
Today, the majority of hydrogen production is based on fossil fuels. Another production method is to use electrolysis, with an electric current splitting the 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 interest of major corporations and business leaders in recent years, but it appears Musk isn’t a fan.
“The efficiency of electrolysis is… mediocre,” he told the Financial Times. “So you’re really spending a lot of energy to…separate hydrogen and oxygen. Then you have to separate the hydrogen and oxygen and pressurize it – that also takes a lot of energy.”
“And if you have to liquefy…hydrogen, oh my,” he continued. “The amount of energy required to…make hydrogen and turn it into liquid is staggering. This is 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, but other influential voices are a bit more optimistic. These include Anna Shpitsberg, who is deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation at the US State Department.
During a recent panel discussion moderated by CNBC’s Hadley Gamble, Shpitsberg called hydrogen “a game-changing technology that speaks to a variety of other sources…because it can underpin nuclear, it can underpin gas, it can underpin renewable energy, it can clean a good part of it and the CCUS too [carbon capture utilization and storage].”
Elsewhere in February, Michele DellaVigna, head of Goldman Sachs’ commodity equities business unit for EMEA, highlighted the important role he believed this would have going forward.
“If we’re going to get to net zero, we can’t do it through renewable energy alone,” he said.
“We need something that takes on the current role of natural gas, especially to handle seasonality and intermittency, and that’s hydrogen,” DellaVigna explained, going on to describe hydrogen as “a very powerful”.
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 – with the CO2 emissions generated during the process captured and stored. There has been a charged debate about the role that blue hydrogen can play in decarbonizing society.
“Whether we do it with electrolysis or with carbon capture, we have to generate hydrogen in a clean way,” DellaVigna said. “And once we have that, I think we will have a solution that could become, one day, at least 15% of the world’s energy markets, which means it will be … a market of more than one trillion dollars a year.”