Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess was bashing hydrogen-powered vehicles on Twitter this week in an attempt to convince those vying for Germany’s chancellorship not to embrace the technology. With Angela Merkel stating that she’ll not seek a fifth term, the country is open for new leadership and VW wouldn’t want them to take a liking to hydrogen power when it has placed all of its eggs into the electric vehicle basket.
“The hydrogen car has been proven NOT to be the climate solution,” Diess wrote on Twitter in German. “In transportation, electrification has prevailed. Sham debates are a waste of time. Please listen to the science!”
It’s uncommon to see any automotive executive take such a bold stance against any alternative energy solution, as many manufacturers spent the last decade hedging their bets by investing in both battery-electric cars and those utilizing hydrogen power. But the infrastructure for the latter is nowhere near ready to accommodate widespread adoption and the process of producing the fuel has not resulted in the kind of breakthrough that makes it seem as though it would offer true benefits.
Diess directed his comments at Armin Laschet (head of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union), Olaf Scholz (German Finance Minister), Annalena Baerbock (Green Party candidate), and Andreas Scheuer (German Transportation Minister). His words were accompanied by a report from Handelsblatt covering a study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research alleging that pursuing hydrogen vehicles at their present level of technology would probably do the environment more harm than good.
Frankly, the benefits of all alternative energy solutions tend to be overblown by the interested parties. But hydrogen fuel cell technologies seem to represent the largest gap between what is currently possible and what everyone was hoping to achieve. The big concern is the amount of energy it takes to produce and move hydrogen in meaningful volumes seems to result in a scenario where you’re expending more energy than you would have if you just skipped the whole ordeal in the first place.
Despite having waste issues of their own, electric vehicles seem a far more viable option with noted progress. Of course, automakers don’t want to be left in the dust should there be a miracle breakthrough in hydrogen production or governments begin incentivizing the fuel — so there are still a decent number of brands perpetuating their commitment to fuel cell technology.
Volkswagen is not among them and has been fairly critical of hydrogen power, though it frequently hinges on making statements about “trusting the science” rather than providing a detailed breakdown of why it probably won’t work. As things currently stand, electric vehicles are vastly more efficient in terms of total well-to-wheel energy consumption. That, and national energy grids serving as an existing foundation upon which to build charging networks, has made them the dominant form of alternative energy vehicles.
With your author constantly complaining about how EVs are less convenient than advertised, thanks largely to a lackluster (but growing) infrastructure, there’s no way swapping to hydrogen power makes any sense. Outside of Pacific Asia, coastal California, and a smattering of European hot spots, there is basically no fueling network to speak of. That effectively locks owners into driving exclusively within those regions or hauling around gas canisters sized to fit inside a space rocket. It also explains why Japanese and Korean brands have taken a keener interest in the fuel and tend to expend the most cash on developing FCEVs.
But electrification is currently being spurred by government around the world and, if Germany starts playing favorites with hydrogen, there’s a chance automakers ignoring it could be kicking themselves a few years down the road — however unlikely and energy inefficient that currently seems.