Batteries, Hydrogen, and Hybrids: Where We Are Now, and Where We’re Going

, Senior vehicles engineer | May 4, 2015, 1:15 pm EDT
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Today I’m attending the 2015 Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) summit in Sacramento, California, where automakers, policymakers, and technical leaders are sharing information and plans for continuing the impressive progress in getting clean ZEVs on the road. This is the third California ZEV summit and it’s amazing to see the progress that has been made in getting cleaner vehicles on the road.

Clean plug-in vehicles continue to grow in sales, model availability

In the U.S. there have been over 310,000 electric vehicles sold to date. In 2014, over 59,000 new plug-ins were sold in California alone, bringing the state’s total to 130,500 ZEV over the last 5 years.  These cars are reducing gasoline use by 36 million gallons, fuel spending by $77 million, and global warming emissions by 280,000 metric tons of CO2, each year in California.

New models also continue to be introduced, with the first EVs from Audi and Volvo expected to go on sale this year alongside a redesigned Chevy Volt. More models from Mercedes, Tesla, and Mitsubishi are expected by this time next year. With 20 models of plug-in vehicles already available, customers have more and more choices for clean (and fun to drive) cars.

Plug-in cars are also getting cleaner, as both more efficient electric vehicles are introduced and electricity gets cleaner.  UCS estimates that 60% of the Americans live where driving the average EV is cleaner than the most-efficient gasoline-only car, up from 45% in our prior assessment in 2012.

EV sales in California. Data Source: California New Car Dealers Association.

Hydrogen fuel cell electric cars starting to hit the roads

A second type of EV, the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, is starting to be sold in California.  The Hyundai Tucson went on sale last year in limited quantities and Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell sedan should come to the Golden State this fall.  New hydrogen stations are opening soon in California to provide the fuel for these new cars.

With the introduction of fuel cell cars come questions about their emissions and the sources of hydrogen gas for refueling these vehicles.  We’ve written several fact sheets (linked below) to help understand the role of hydrogen in clean transportation.

  • Why do we need both fuel cells and plug-in electric vehicles?
    Because they have complementary advantages. Fuel cells can be quickly refueled at a station like a gasoline car and plug-ins can take advantage of the existing electric infrastructure in many single-family homes. Depending on your driving needs and home charging availability, one type of electric vehicle might be a better fit for your transportation needs.
  • Are hydrogen vehicles clean?
    Global warming emissions from fuel cells depend on how the hydrogen is made, but in California the first fuel cell vehicles are substantially(?) cleaner than gasoline-powered cars.
  • Where will the hydrogen come from?
    Hydrogen can be made from multiple sources. Natural gas is often used to make hydrogen, but cleaner hydrogen for vehicles is also being made from biogas at wastewater treatment facilities and from water using solar electricity.

Electric vehicles to reduce both California’s emissions and oil use

EVs can both reduce global warming emissions and oil use, two goals we know are important to ensure a healthier and sustainable future.  These goals have also been put forward by California’s leadership, with recent calls to cut global warming emissions 40% from 1990 levels and oil use in half, both by 2030.

We can get to these goals using practical solutions like switching to electric drive vehicles. That’s why the progress and accomplishments we seen so far are encouraging and it’s great to have forums like the ZEV summit to learn about actions that automakers, governments and others can take to make sure the electric vehicle market continues to grow.

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  • Here’s a milestone….Hyundai puts its Tuscon FCEV on the market in the UK today.

    My challenge to those who purport to lead the world on climate and social issues is this:

    Now is the time for all the billionaires, superstars, pundits, scientists, green businesspeople and other assorted bigwigs to pony up on climate change.

    Here is a workable solution.


    Put some actions behind your words and buy a Hydrogen car.

    You can easily afford it.

    And when you buy them, then the rest of us can get them for cheap in a few years.

    Have at it!

    • Chris

      Why would they buy a FCEV when most of them already own an awesome BEV? Can they fill the FCEV at home? no. Can they drive ~3 miles on a kWh? no. Can they travel outside California? no.

  • Bill Guthrie

    Ev’s can be made to farther but the car and oil companies don’t really want this yet. Airinductionchargingandstoragesystem will extend distance but you want to never have to stop,make a 2battery car. Charge one while using the other one switch back and forth. Go from Illinois to California without stopping.

    • C. Alvin Scott

      Hi Bill check HyPulJet Hydrogen Pulse Jet Rotary engine, range extender, A super efficient engine 200 cc to 400 cc equivalent, able to power a family car and provide over 150 mpg.e See Mazda WSE or Wankel Small Engine 300 cc and powering a small car as a range extender.So scale that up if you will, a 1500cc ICE and Mech transmission replaced by a 300 cc rotary engine generator and electrons transimission So a 6,000 cc will need a replacement of about 1200 cc .e with generator and batteries to suit, but fuel consumption will also be proportionately reduced.

      Not far off the mark, two generators direct mount to shaft at 25,000 rpm to 35,000 rpm one powering the drive motors, the second charging the batteries, fully charged, engine switched off, use battery only mode until depleted, when engine is fired up again.
      Best Regards
      Al Scott

    • Ben Helton

      Wow – is this a thorium reactor? Where does the energy come from to recharge a battery and never have to stop?

      • Bill Guthrie

        If you had an EV with a two battery system, run on one battery while the other is charging, switch back and forth never stop to charge. With the new battery and charging system being made this is possible to make a 2battery sys. EV. With a one battery system why stop for a quick 30 minute charge to get home when it will charge while your traveling for the whole time you’ve been on the road.

      • Ben Helton

        With what energy will it charge the battery with?

        Your suggesting that you can re-harness the total amount of energy being spent to move the vehicle, by capturing wind?

        At best, you can get MAYBE 10 percent of it back.

        And then, why even have the battery? If you can harness energy going down the road, why charge a battery (lose energy) to then discharge the battery (lose more energy) WHY NOT JUST USE THE POWER AND SEND IT TO THE WHEELS?

        Pipe dreams man. whatever you are smoking, you should turn it into the police.

      • Bill Guthrie

        I was trying to explain this to you but I guess you didn’t understand sorry but for the remark on what I’m smoking FUCK YOU ASSHOLE ‼️

    • Bill Guthrie

      Each unit has a two charging alternators or generators charging the battery two battery sys. never stop switch back and forth.

      • Ben Helton

        Bill…. please, research perpetual motion. That is what you are suggesting with this.

        It is impossible to get as much energy out of the wind (from the vehicle moving) compared to the amount of energy it took to get the vehicle to that speed. You can MAYBE get 1/10th of the energy back picking up the wind resistance; but there is no way it will build up enough energy to continue the cycle indefinitely. You have to have an original energy source, and that energy will get spent; without a doubt.

      • Bill Guthrie

        Doesn’t need to go fast and takes less effort than you think and can turn car in the wind don’t have to move at all can sit still and still charge. 3 units will produce 72ac volts or 1300 or more dc volts for charging. Use either alternator or generator.

  • Supercapacitors not mentioned?

  • Ben Helton


    Your understanding of EVs that may not fit every one is well said without friction.

    The animosity towards hydrogen from much of the ZEV crowd is uncalled for considering the diverse sourcing ability for H2 and its zero tailpipe emissions. Germany is setting a great example of what to do with large amounts of excess wind power in the middle of the night.

    One note I would like to add; battery vehicles are very far from making economical sense for larger vehicles, utility trucks, freight haulers, etc. We need to really focus on the big gas guzzlers anyways if we want to significantly reduce emissions. Nissan Leaf replacing a Nissan Versa is not doing much, as the Versa is already so efficient, simple, and fairly clean. School buses, dump trucks, box trucks, these are the problem vehicles that are the fabric of our motive economy.

    The advancements in fuel cells has been very exciting. A 134hp (100kw) fuel cell has been sized down to that about the same of a 4 cylinder engine with 134 hp. That means a 300 hp application will end up being about the size of a typical v8.

    • Yes, the anti-hydrogen crowd uses hysterics, misinformation and other fear tactics in the media.

      I think it should be the job of Concerned Scientists to fight and speak the truth about hydrogen and fuel cells. And bring up both the good and bad of other technologies, even if they have the imprimatur of “Super Geniuses”.

      Sadly, many members of the engineering and scientific community today repeat out of date facts, wrong data or viewpoints that have long been discredited in the social media as if they were current experts!

      A simple reading of current documentation should be required for any professional speaking broadly across the EV industry that includes hydrogen fuel cells.

      An excellent site is:

    • Chris

      Animosity toward FCEVs comes from MATH; I can drive over twice as far using my solar panels to charge a battery for a BEV vs using them to split water to drive a FCEV. Maybe in the far flung future when we have WAY more solar than we know what to do with we can start talking about splitting water… until then BEVs are the only moral choice.

      • Ben Helton

        That energy waste is cheap when comparing it to batteries….

        A typical lithium ion battery cycles about 1000 times before its life is questionable / unreliable.

        At $350 / KWh of storage, that means every single KWH you store into that battery costs FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the original energy going into it. ($0.35 per 1 KWh stored + original energy cost)

        This is on top of the fact that:
        -big batteries weigh down the vehicle more;
        -big batteries are very expensive and are not economical to replace
        -big batteries take a long time to recharge (4 hours with upgraded 220 volt outlet)
        -big batteries still only take a small, subcompact car only about 80 miles.

      • Chris

        After 100k miles an EV would have used ~15MWh less than a FCEV. Lithium batteries have an ESOI of ~10… so you could build >17 more Tesla battery packs with the energy saved after you drive ~100k miles vs an FCEV.

      • Ben Helton

        That’s what you need to realize; that 15 MWh is only worth about $1,200. Average wholesale price in the US is only about $40 / MWh. It’s all the grid, transformers everywhere, power lines with high up poles that are hard to reach, or buried underground. The meters, the billing office, the 24 hour technicians working around the clock keeping everything juiced up. That’s what costs so much money. But for large scale H2 generation; you can skip all that. You can do the generation right at the power plant; although it would be smarter to just keep the stations close to transmission lines.

        The list price on an 85KWh battery from Tesla is over $44k. All of this expensive battery to save 15 MWh!!? There’s no sense in that. That extra $42,800 has an energy footprint once that money is spent.

      • Chris

        Ok… so let’s compare $$$…. 1st, battery packs are now ~$250/kWh as stated at the power wall unveiling… ~$18k for a pack not $44k. 15MWh of Hydrogen IS NOT $1200; To drive 100k miles on H2 you need ~30MWh of hydrogen which currently runs ~$0.20/kWh; So to drive 100k miles that’s ~$6k for a FCEV vs ~$600 for a BEV both fueled by solar. So the break even point in terms of COST is currently ~300k miles with a ~240 mile range. With a LEAF sized pack the COST break-even point is ~100k miles.

        There is no physical law that says battery pack cost can’t reach ~$100/kWh… which they likely will by 2030. It is physically impossible for a FCEV to EVER go half as far as a BEV on the same amount of energy.

        Further… for those that care about their legacy… fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar for fueling BEVs; Due to the Capital, Operation and Maintenance costs of electrolysis fossil fuels will likely maintain a cost advantage over renewables for hydrogen production.

      • Ben Helton

        Your math is a little wonky…. 85kwh x 250 is well over $21k. As to your other calculations (like a bev using 1/10 the energy of a fcev), is just pipe dreaming. Where do you even come up with this chapter?

        BTW, my reference to $40/mwh is easily fact checked. By coming along and trying to say that we pay $200/ mwh is ridiculous. Even after retail adjustment, I personally pay 9.5 cents per kwh which is nowhere close to what your talking. But industrial applications don’t pay that….. I get ripped off because I need that electricity sent to my home, an oddly expensive process…. Otherwise, the actual power costs less than it does to get to me

      • Chris

        ELECTRICITY from Solar PV is ~$0.04/kWh; Converting that ELECTRICITY to HYDROGEN is not free. It adds ~$0.16/kWh. Never said BEVs use 1/10 the ENERGY per mile… it’s 1/10 the COST. 70kWh x 250 = $17500. 70kWh gets you a BEV with a 240 mile range.

        In ~3 years 60kWh will probably get you a 240 mile range and the pack will be ~$200/kWh…. FCEV will STILL consumer 2x as much energy per mile and converting Solar PV => Hydrogen still won’t be free….. While converting Solar PV => BEV will still be so cheap as to be negligible.

      • Ben Helton

        Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. The 85 KWh battery barely gets over 220 miles. Edmunds (after 30k miles) best observed range was 230 miles. Not impressive for a $44,564 battery.

        I don’t know how you figure that in 3 years, 60KWh will magically get you more than the current 85kwh battery does today. Total Pipe dreams.

        All of your other numbers don’t make sense at all.

        In the Mirai You can create 1 KG of H2 for 55KWh and travel 60 miles.

        In a Tesla you can create 39.73 KWh for the same 55KWh (charging and discharging loses 15% each way). That will take a Tesla about 110 miles (based on real world data)

        That’s not even a 2:1 ratio. Yet, you’re trying to say it takes 10x as much energy? You say it’s 10x the cost, but how does 10x cost not lead to 10x the energy? This doesn’t make sense. Your pipe dreams are making you think funny.

      • Chris

        The 70D has a range of 240 miles; The model 3 will be a smaller car and will likely have similar efficiency as a LEAF. That’s not magic… it’s physics… Even if the range is only 200 miles… I RARELY need >180 miles of range.

        How does 10x the cost not equal 10x the energy? Seriously? You think someone is going to build a $2M electrolizer plant and convert Electrons to Hydrogen for free? The cost of 1kWh worth of H2 is SIGNIFICANTLY more than 2kWh worth of electrons. Just like a barrel of oil is $60 but a barrel of gasoline is $160.

        If you could burn oil 50% more efficiently than gasoline why go though the extra effort of converting it? That IS FCEVs vs BEVs… Wake up and smell the Toyota FUD. With fuel cells success isn’t one of the possible outcomes…

      • Ben Helton

        Well Chris; I guess we will both wait for the day that a battery powered vehicle will be capable of being the very vehicle that digs for the raw earth that makes batteries….Personally, I doubt it well ever happen, but who knows, crazier things have happened!

        As Einstein enlightened us so well to how much we know about the future: “There is not the slightest indication that (nuclear) energy will ever be obtainable”

        BTW… a fuel cell is 60% efficient. an ICE is about 25% efficient. If BEVS can’t replace our combustion engine paradigm, I think fuel cells are a great meet in the middle!

      • Chris

        Fuel Cells aren’t a compromise… they’re a distraction. The economics of fuel cells are so hopeless that their only useful purpose is to delay the inevitable transition to truly sustainable transport. Toyota is smart… they don’t want their engine and transmission patents to become useless.

        Think battery powered excavators are unlikely? Batteries at least have the POWER. Earth movers need kW more than kWh. Batteries have that in spades… Fuel Cells not so much. The whole point of the Gigafactory is to be designed from the ground up to build AND repurpose batteries at scale.

        BEVs pay extra for kWh… FCEV for kW. The $5k battery in a LEAF at least has the HP to be appealing. Try selling a $5k FC drive train with 75HP.