Have you ever heard anyone refer to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as “bullshit” before? Tesla CEO Elon Musk famously did so at an event in Germany in 2013, and he’s also called the technology “fool cells” when asked if they pose a threat to battery electric vehicles.
Toyota, which has its Mirai fuel cell car debuting in the U.S. this year, knows the perception is out there and got proactive about it with a video titled “Fueled by Bullsh*t,” which displays how the eponymous waste can power an automobile. While the video serves as a humorous rejoinder to critics, Toyota will still have problems convincing alternative fuel proponents that hydrogen cars are the greener choice in 2015.
“Fueled by Bullsh*t” was directed by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and produced by Toyota as part of an online video series called “Fueled by Everything,” an effort to inform the public about the many ways hydrogen can be sourced as a fuel.
At present, about one-third (33%) of hydrogen fuel in California is sourced from renewable energy such as wind, solar, and biomass. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, that would make the Hyundai Tucson (a fuel cell car for lease in California) the equivalent of a car achieving 54 miles per gallon.
But the standards will improve — possibly as early as this year — when California hydrogen fuel stations are expected to derive 46% percent of the gas from renewable sources. This mark would push the Tucson’s economy to the equivalent of 63 miles per gallon. Every battery electric vehicle beats even these optimistic standards for fuel cell cars in 2015.
But Toyota is clearly not interested in crunching numbers or debating opponents with “Fueled by Bullsh*t.” Instead, the automaker focuses on the potential of its new automobile to derive power from cow (or human) waste. In essence, there could be nothing greener than a vehicle operating off highly available and completely undesirable materials. Recently, a study showed how corn husks could produce hydrogen affordably.
Critics say the energy needed to extract pure hydrogen from natural gas (where the majority is currently sourced) is excessive for the benefits the fuel would deliver. Those skeptical of the power of renewables as a significant source of hydrogen simply cite the statistics, and the numbers that prove electric vehicles running on batteries have the edge. (Hydrogen activates electricity to power fuel cell vehicles, making them technically hybrids.) There is potential but nowhere near a clear path forward.
Toyota, like rival Honda, has a very prominent dog in this fight, as it has chosen to skip pure electric vehicles in favor of fuel cell vehicles running on hydrogen. Spurlock’s video may score a few points on the publicity front, but automakers have a long way to go to prove their true green credentials and value in the future of transportation. Until then, Musk will continue being the one who’s right. No surprise there.