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Myths and Urban Legends

“Fuel cell vehicles use 3-4 times more energy than battery electric vehicles.”

FCVs and BEVs are about equally as efficient. Because hydrogen and electricity can be made from several different sources, you could pick the least efficient way of making one fuel and compare it to the most efficient way of making the other. Well-to-wheels studies use a mixture of fuel pathways that represent how fuel is made today and in the future. It paints a more realistic picture.

“Fuel cell vehicles are not as good for the environment as battery electric vehicles.”

Using the “California mix” of hydrogen and electricity production pathways, well to wheels FCVs and BEVs are about equal in GHG reduction; FCVs are slightly better in reducing air pollution contributors. As the grid becomes cleaner over time, FCVs and BEVs will both become cleaner, too.

“BEVs will win over FCVs (or FCVs will win over BEVs).”

Electric vehicles are vital for reducing petroleum dependency and cleaning up the environment. The future will most likely hold a combination of fuel cell electric and battery electric vehicles. CaFCP members are pursuing many technologies that will let people choose a vehicle that fits their lifestyle and provides clean, green transportation.

“It takes more energy to make hydrogen than you get from it.”

This is true for all fuels. According to well-to-wheels studies, using hydrogen in a fuel cell vehicle is at least twice as efficient as using gasoline in a combustion engine, and 40% more efficient than a hybrid. Research by the California Air Resources Board found that it takes less energy to make hydrogen from natural gas than it does to burn natural gas to make electricity.

“Fuel cell vehicles are million-dollar cars.”

Currently, FCVs do not have an MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price.) Honda is leasing a fuel cell vehicle for $600 a month, including fuel and insurance. Most automakers have announced that their fuel cell vehicles will be competitive with hybrid models.

“Hybrids have lower greenhouse gasA gas in Earth's atmosphere that traps heat and can contribute to global warming. Carbon dioxide and methane are two GHGs. emissions than FCVs.”

Well-to-wheels studies look at fuel from production through consumption. All studies conclude that hydrogen used in a fuel cell vehicle has about 40% fewer GHGs than a gasoline hybrid. Only one production pathway produces more GHGs—using electricity from a coal-fired power plant to electrolyze water. However, most hydrogen from electrolysis is generated at the station usually using solar or wind energy, which has zero GHGs.

“FCVs will need tens of thousands of stations at $2 million a piece.”

Eventually, yes. But it’s tens of thousands over a 50-100 year period. The first “filling station” was constructed in St. Louis in 1905. The second station was constructed in 1907 in Seattle. According to the 2002 census, the US has 117,100 gas service stations. Just as the gasoline station network grew over time, so will the hydrogen infrastructure.

“Hydrogen is not as safe as other fuels.”

Hydrogen is as safe as other fuels, it’s just different. Like every fuel, hydrogen will burn when combined with the right amount of oxygen. Because hydrogen is so light and such a tiny molecule, it usually dissipates before it reaches a flammable level.

“What about the H-bomb?”

The thermonuclear explosion from a hydrogen bomb is the consequence of a nuclear fusion reaction. During this reaction, extraordinary temperatures (hundreds of millions of degrees) cause two rare isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, to collide at very high energy to fuse into helium nuclei, releasing neutrons and tremendous amounts of energy.

A fuel cell operates at low temperature and causes the hydrogen molecule to split, not collide.