Is Elon Musk Shortsighted, Or Should EV and Hydrogen Thrive Together?

Elon Musk is, without a doubt, one of the most forward thinking and entrepreneurial minds that has prominently emerged in the last few decades. His contributions to society, and particularly to science and the future of this Earth’s sustainability, are nearly unparalleled among modern business professionals.

Musk is fond of stating that hydrogen is and will always be the future of transportation. Recently, Musk’s co-founding partner at Tesla, Marc Tarpenning, added his thoughts alongside Musk, referring to hydrogen fuel technology in a less than positive manner. Musk, Tarpenning, and others share this feedback as they vie for their slice of the market share sought by innovative and sustainable technologies as America works to phase out fossil fuels.

It would be naïve of course to claim to not understand their hesitations around hydrogen fuel technology. First, while the major auto manufacturers including Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, and now Mercedes Benz continue to pursue hydrogen fuel technology, these products have not yet garnered the mass adoption needed to really create a trend. This could, of course, be due to the lack of hydrogen fuel infrastructure, as numerous reports surfaced last year of the unavailability or lack of consistency by the filling stations in California.

Musk and those who criticize hydrogen fuel often point to the cost of production, stating that the energy output to produce and store hydrogen outweighs the positives of the element itself.

It is easy to pinpoint these hurdles, as most emerging markets and technologies encounter challenges in their early stages of development and adoption. Musk too knows this, as his powerful companies of Tesla and Solar City have faced adversity and continued to advance in terms of both adoption and market capitalization.

There is one key distinction that I believe Musk should acknowledge when opining on hydrogen technology - it’s not just about the “future,” it’s about the “now.” Hydrogen fuel technologies are already in use, the market is already there, and the upside for the industry is tremendous.

Hydrogen fuel technologies for industrial use have been in practice for years! Count Walmart, Ace Hardware, FedEx, and many others who depend on it for warehouse transportation. Plug Power’s GenKey, a turnkey solution for businesses, is powered by the Company’s GenDrive product, a hydrogen fuel cell system. Plug Power has stated that there are over 10,000 GenDrives currently on the market - no small figure.

In Aberdeen in the U.K., is now touted as a success and a model for other countries to look to as they continue adoption hydrogen fuel technologies. According to ITM Power, the Aberdeen station that features Linde’s IC-90 ionic compressors dispensed over 35,000 kg of hydrogen to the buses and has proved extremely reliable. The Company is now implementing new filling stations around London with plans to complete at least eight.

In the telecommunications sector, Intelligent Energy announced late last year a $1.8 billion deal to bring fuel cell technology to provide backup for over 27,000 cell phone towers in India. Their proton exchange membrane’s (PEM) are powered by pure hydrogen, and leave absolutely no by-product.

These examples above are just that - examples of hydrogen fuel technology that have already found their place in the market. While there are of course uncertainties going forward, the same can be said for any industry whose market is positioned as high growth.

The real takeaway here should be focused upon the market opportunity for both electric and fuel cell vehicles. Gasoline powered vehicles have dominated the roadways for so long, effectively forming a monopoly that hydrogen and EV must break. Can you really envision only one succeeding, i.e. a major roadway with only EV charging stations or hydrogen fueling pumps? There is room for two if not more alternatives to gasoline.

Thus, the emergence of renewable technologies like green hydrogen production, and innovative battery technologies present in EVs, provide significant opportunity for both categories. The collaboration in terms of developing infrastructure and sharing experience and technology should only result in growth for both sectors - while eliminating America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

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