ByJoey KlenderPosted on May 19, 2021
Volkswagen Auto Group CEO Herbert Diess is voicing his distaste for using hydrogen to solve global climate issues. “Please listen to the science,” Diess said in a Tweet.
Citing a report from German media outlet Handelsblatt, Diess said that hydrogen-powered vehicles have been proven not to be as environmentally conscious as they once were thought to be. Instead, Diess suggests that companies should focus on electrification, a narrative that many companies under the Volkswagen AG umbrella have announced they are joining. The most recent being Italian carmaker Lamborghini, which Volkswagen AG owns.
The price of lithium-ion batteries has declined by 97% since 1991
There are several ways to store excess energy. Most of us think of batteries. Here we’re going to look at lithium-ion batteries: the most common type. Lithium-ion batteries are used in everything, ranging from your mobile phone and laptop to electric vehicles and grid storage.3
The price of lithium-ion battery cells declined by 97% in the last three decades. A battery with a capacity of one kilowatt-hour that cost $7500 in 1991, was just $181 in 2018. That’s 41 times less. What’s promising is that prices are still falling steeply: the cost halved between 2014 and 2018. A halving in only four years.
We see this decline in the chart, which shows the average price trend of lithium-ion cells from 1991 through to 2018.4 This is shown on a logarithmic axis, and measured in 2018 US dollars per kilowatt-hour.5 This data comes from the work of Micah Ziegler and Jessika Trancik, who constructed a global database tracking lithium-ion cell prices, installed capacity and other metrics such as energy density over time.6 This database combines data from 90 series that describe how lithium-ion technologies have changed from 1990 onwards. The full article includes many more results and the authors’ discussion of their relevance, as well as the methodology behind this work. Additionally, you can also access the associated data series.
Let’s put this price decline in perspective:
The popular Nissan Leaf electric car – which is also one of the most affordable models – has a 40 kWh battery. At our 2018 price, the battery costs around $7,300. Imagine trying to buy the same model in 1991: the battery alone would cost $300,000.
Or take the Tesla Model S 75D which has a 75 kWh battery. In 2018 the battery costs around $13,600; in 1991 it would have been $564,000. More than half a million dollars for a car battery.
This shows how important these price reductions are for decarbonizing not only our electricity grids but our transport systems too.
Diess said (via Google Translate):
“The hydrogen car is proven NOT to be the solution. Electrification has established itself in traffic. Sham debates are a waste of time. Please listen to the science!”
The Handelsblatt report that Diess cited shows that a new study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) has concluded that hydrogen cars are not the way to achieve climate neutrality. Instead, scientists who performed the study indicate that battery electric cars (BEVs) are more sustainable and can be a more environmentally-conscious option for those who are concerned about their car’s emissions.
The Handelsblatt report states:
“Rather, direct use of electricity would make more economic and ecological sense in the coming years, especially in the passenger car sector. It is also criticized that new hydrogen-based fuels could keep combustion technology alive longer, which in turn would ensure continued dependence on fossil fuels and thus further greenhouse gas emissions and endanger the climate targets.”
Additionally, Falko Ueckerdt, the lead author of the study and a PIK scientist, said:
“Such fuels as a universal climate solution are a bit of a false promise. While they are wonderfully versatile, they cannot be expected to replace fossil fuels on a large scale. This can only be achieved with direct electrification.”
The study highlights the high-energy requirements of hydrogen vehicles, which use substantially more electricity to produce an EV. The study states that the production uses between two to fourteen times the amount of electricity is needed for combustion engine cars in manufacturing. Hydrogen-powered cars utilize around five times as much energy as BEVs.
Diess, who has become one of the most vocal automotive frontmen in the industry in support of electrification, has led Volkswagen to become one of the major OEMs in the transition to EVs. Over the past two years, Diess has taken Volkswagen from the depths of the Dieselgate controversy to the heights of the EV sector, with its ID.4 winning 2021’s “World Car of the Year” Award for 2021.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below, or be sure to email me at [email protected] or on Twitter @KlenderJoey.