Welcome to Tesla Motors Club
Discuss Tesla's Model S, Model 3, Model X, Model Y, Cybertruck, Roadster and More.
Register

Powering my Model S with Hydrogen

Rockster

Active Member
Oct 22, 2013
3,014
4,699
McKinney, TX
Note: This is a rather long post detailing a road trip to power my Model S using a stationary hydrogen fuel cell. The trip took place more than a year ago but various factors prevented me from posting about it until now.

It’s not news to most anyone here on TMC that there has been considerable discussion in the past on the usefulness of hydrogen powered vehicles. We all heard Musk talk about the energy inefficiency and expense of deploying a nationwide hydrogen refueling infrastructure and many of us have echoed the concerns about carrying a tank of hydrogen aboard passenger vehicles. By many accounts, the prospect of fleets of vehicles powered by onboard hydrogen is quickly fading. As National Geographic stated a couple of years ago, “Despite a flurry of investment in fuel cells over the past two decades, the vision articulated by former President George W. Bush of an America leading the world in producing “pollution-free” vehicles that run on hydrogen has seemingly evaporated into thin air.” Even though Toyota still making an effort at a hydrogen powered vehicle, their success in deploying a car with onboard hydrogen seems poised for limited success, at best.

But, as onboard hydrogen vehicles are floundering, hydrogen-based energy is rapidly gaining ground and appears to be here to stay. Not in the form of onboard hydrogen in our motor vehicles but as stationary fuel cells, deployed worldwide in a variety of applications. From backup power for telecom to microgrid applications in corporate and university settings, there seems to be a useful role for stationary hydrogen fuel cells that take advantage of a variety of hydrogen sources, including natural gas, ethanol, methanol, and ammonia. One fuel cell manufacturer reports that direct fuel cell power plants have produced a total of 5,184,112,000 kWh of electricity, word wide, as of September 2016.

While I think onboard hydrogen vehicles face an insurmountable climb to reach economic and logistical viability, I think stationary hydrogen fuel cells are pretty interesting and can be an important contributor to a future of cleaner energy.

In my naiveté, hearing the term “hydrogen powered vehicle” years ago caused me to envision a vehicle that somehow combusted hydrogen to directly power itself. While that’s one possible design, I didn’t realize until I studied the schematic of a Toyota Mirai that a typical onboard hydrogen vehicle actually propels itself using an electric motor that’s fed from a battery. The hydrogen comes into play by fueling a fuel cell whose output is electricity that charges the battery. The battery, in between the fuel cell and the motor, acts as a buffer to better control energy flow to the motor. This buffering is useful during periods of rapid acceleration or times when the fuel cell is coming online from a standby mode.

Upon learning of the [hydrogen] > [fuel cell] > [battery] > [electric motor] paradigm of the typical hydrogen vehicle, it occurred to me that just as any battery electric vehicle can be powered by solar or wind, BEVs can also be powered by hydrogen, in the form of a stationary fuel cell. (“Electrons are electrons,” as someone recently said to me.)

(In fact, because a “typical” hydrogen vehicle is ultimately propelled by a battery and an electric motor, one might argue that BEVs, which are dramatically outselling onboard hydrogen vehicles, are better ambassadors for the benefits of clean hydrogen than “traditional” hydrogen vehicles are!)

Driven by my newfound interest in stationary hydrogen fuel cells, my research led me to a company called First Element Energy in Lenexa, KS. Their web site featured an image of them charging a Tesla Model S using their 12kW stationary hydrogen fuel cell product. Intrigued, I contacted the nice folks at First Element Energy and asked if I could drive to their headquarters and charge my Model S as an interesting technology demonstration. They were very welcoming, even offering to arrange for the visit to take place at the customer who had recently taken delivery of that same fuel cell, Kansas City Power & Light. KP&L, they informed me, is using the stationary fuel cell at their power plant in Independence, MO to power BEV’s, including on-site utility vehicles and employee vehicles. Connection with the BEVs is through a dedicated Chargepoint station that’s attached directly to the hydrogen fuel cell. The fuel cell is inline with the power grid, offering the opportunity to use the fuel cell as a UPS for grid power or to test the fuel cell as a standalone power source by simply severing the fuel cell’s connection to the grid. Quoting a First Element Energy announcement, “The project will validate the efficiency, benefits and commercial cost effectiveness of using fuel cells as a grid connected, grid- failure mode or distributed-generation solution for EV charging.” According to the President of First Element Energy, this stationary fuel cell is believed be the only stationary fuel cell in the world that’s in operation solely to power battery electric vehicles.

View media item 117885
After driving from Dallas to Kansas City, I arrived at the KCP&L power plant in the afternoon, and after meeting the very friendly and helpful staff and watching a mandatory safety video (the KP&L facility in Independence, MO is a working power plant with coal and natural gas turbines in operation), I drove my Model S to a section of the facility where the fuel cell is located and plugged into the Chargepoint unit that’s adjacent to the stationary fuel cell. A few moments later, I was drawing 240V/16A, which was 50% of the fuel cell’s output at that time. (The system is designed to share the power equally between the two Chargepoint connections and another car, a Chevy Volt, was there charging at the same time.)

View media item 117886
During the next hour or so, I charged my Model S using power from their fuel cell setup while I chatted with the folks from First Element Energy and an engineer from KCP&L about stationary fuel cell technology and the usefulness of stationary hydrogen fuel cells, both as backup and as standalone power sources. During my visit, they severed the connection from the grid to the fuel cell so that we could witness the cutover to the fuel cell and then later, we restored grid power and witnessed the fuel cell automatically returning to standby mode.

View media item 117887
After my visit concluded, I drove back to Dallas, my return journey powered, in part, by hydrogen.

As a Tesla owner, I’m happy to help increase awareness that BEVs aren’t really “battery powered.” They’re ultimately powered by whatever produces the electricity that is stored in our rechargeable battery. This could be wind, solar, natural gas, geothermal, hydrodynamic, or even hydrogen. This probably isn’t surprising to most of us here, but it may be tough for the layperson, unaccustomed to non-ICE vehicles, to take a step back and see jut how flexible a BEV is—that whatever charges the battery is ultimately what’s powering the car.

We tend to think that BEVs’ greatest strength is that they don’t run on gasoline. While that’s obviously huge, I now have a slightly different perspective. I now tend to think that a BEV’s greatest strength is its versatility, considering the many, increasingly clean, ways we have of generating electricity today. So yes, if anyone asks, we Tesla owners have a car that’s capable of being powered by hydrogen. I know, I’ve done it!

I would like to thank the very friendly and helpful people at First Element Energy of Lenexa, KS and the staff of Kansas City Power & Light, who took most of their afternoon to indulge my curiosity with this technology demonstration. They are all very clearly passionate about what they do and about the role they’re playing in advancing clean energy production.
 

nwdiver

Well-Known Member
Feb 17, 2013
8,475
11,688
United States
I've never understood why Hydrogen is the preferred fuel source here... Methane is cheaper, FAR easier to transport and there are already filling stations in many locations. Methane from biogas would probably be cheaper than H2 from electrolysis so it would likely be more sustainable too. >95% of Hydrogen comes from Methane anyway....
 

jaguar36

Active Member
Apr 10, 2014
2,098
1,898
NJ
So yes, if anyone asks, we Tesla owners have a car that’s capable of being powered by hydrogen. I know, I’ve done it!.
Its not really powered by hydrogen. The energy is stored at one point as hydrogen, but its still powered by electricity. Far more important though is where did the hydrogen come from? Right now it mostly comes from natural gas, which is not a great solution.

Why not just use a solar panel? (which also incidentally uses hydrogen in the Sun)
 

Rockster

Active Member
Oct 22, 2013
3,014
4,699
McKinney, TX
@Rockster thanks for posting. FYI the images won't load for me: error is "You do not have permission to view media within this album"

I think I set the media permissions incorrectly. Any hints on how I fix that? When I go look at the album with those three images, there seems to be no way to alter permissions.

Later...

I think I fixed the permissions, the images should be visible now.
 
Last edited:

voyager

Member
Apr 28, 2009
971
537
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Upon learning of the [hydrogen] > [fuel cell] > [battery] > [electric motor] paradigm of the typical hydrogen vehicle, it occurred to me that just as any battery electric vehicle can be powered by solar or wind, BEVs can also be powered by hydrogen, in the form of a stationary fuel cell. (“Electrons are electrons,” as someone recently said to me.)

(In fact, because a “typical” hydrogen vehicle is ultimately propelled by a battery and an electric motor, one might argue that BEVs, which are dramatically outselling onboard hydrogen vehicles, are better ambassadors for the benefits of clean hydrogen than “traditional” hydrogen vehicles are!)

Driven by my newfound interest in stationary hydrogen fuel cells, my research led me to a company called First Element Energy in Lenexa, KS. Their web site featured an image of them charging a Tesla Model S using their 12kW stationary hydrogen fuel cell product. Intrigued, I contacted the nice folks at First Element Energy and asked if I could drive to their headquarters and charge my Model S as an interesting technology demonstration. They were very welcoming, even offering to arrange for the visit to take place at the customer who had recently taken delivery of that same fuel cell, Kansas City Power & Light. KP&L, they informed me, is using the stationary fuel cell at their power plant in Independence, MO to power BEV’s, including on-site utility vehicles and employee vehicles. Connection with the BEVs is through a dedicated Chargepoint station that’s attached directly to the hydrogen fuel cell. The fuel cell is inline with the power grid, offering the opportunity to use the fuel cell as a UPS for grid power or to test the fuel cell as a standalone power source by simply severing the fuel cell’s connection to the grid. Quoting a First Element Energy announcement, “The project will validate the efficiency, benefits and commercial cost effectiveness of using fuel cells as a grid connected, grid- failure mode or distributed-generation solution for EV charging.” According to the President of First Element Energy, this stationary fuel cell is believed be the only stationary fuel cell in the world that’s in operation solely to power battery electric vehicles.

View media item 117885
After driving from Dallas to Kansas City, I arrived at the KCP&L power plant in the afternoon, and after meeting the very friendly and helpful staff and watching a mandatory safety video (the KP&L facility in Independence, MO is a working power plant with coal and natural gas turbines in operation), I drove my Model S to a section of the facility where the fuel cell is located and plugged into the Chargepoint unit that’s adjacent to the stationary fuel cell. A few moments later, I was drawing 240V/16A, which was 50% of the fuel cell’s output at that time. (The system is designed to share the power equally between the two Chargepoint connections and another car, a Chevy Volt, was there charging at the same time.)

View media item 117886
During the next hour or so, I charged my Model S using power from their fuel cell setup while I chatted with the folks from First Element Energy and an engineer from KCP&L about stationary fuel cell technology and the usefulness of stationary hydrogen fuel cells, both as backup and as standalone power sources. During my visit, they severed the connection from the grid to the fuel cell so that we could witness the cutover to the fuel cell and then later, we restored grid power and witnessed the fuel cell automatically returning to standby mode.

View media item 117887
After my visit concluded, I drove back to Dallas, my return journey powered, in part, by hydrogen.

As a Tesla owner, I’m happy to help increase awareness that BEVs aren’t really “battery powered.” They’re ultimately powered by whatever produces the electricity that is stored in our rechargeable battery. This could be wind, solar, natural gas, geothermal, hydrodynamic, or even hydrogen. This probably isn’t surprising to most of us here, but it may be tough for the layperson, unaccustomed to non-ICE vehicles, to take a step back and see jut how flexible a BEV is—that whatever charges the battery is ultimately what’s powering the car.

We tend to think that BEVs’ greatest strength is that they don’t run on gasoline. While that’s obviously huge, I now have a slightly different perspective. I now tend to think that a BEV’s greatest strength is its versatility, considering the many, increasingly clean, ways we have of generating electricity today. So yes, if anyone asks, we Tesla owners have a car that’s capable of being powered by hydrogen. I know, I’ve done it!

Interesting. FCEV sales were 2300 last year in the U.S. An uphill battle indeed. Still, Asian OEMs like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai keep having faith in H2. My issue with non-fossil fueled cars, is that they are still too much the same, square-platformed car with the propulsion swapped, only made to look futuristic. When a car features electric drive and all sorts of electric controls, why not ditch the old notions of what a car constitutes?.. FCEV needs to do/mean/offer more, to gain acceptance.

%255Bfcev%255D%2Bhigh%2Bevolution%2Bof%2Bthe%2Bcar%2B%25281%2529.jpg
 
Last edited:

nwdiver

Well-Known Member
Feb 17, 2013
8,475
11,688
United States
Interesting. FCEV sales were 2300 last year in the U.S. An uphill battle indeed. Still, Asian OEMs like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai keep having faith in H2. My issue with non-fossil fueled cars, is that they are still too much the same, square-platformed car with the propulsion swapped, only made to look futuristic. When a car features electric drive and all sorts of electric controls, why not ditch the old notions of what a car constitutes?.. FCEV needs to do/mean/offer more, to gain acceptance.

%255Bfcev%255D%2Bhigh%2Bevolution%2Bof%2Bthe%2Bcar%2B%25281%2529.jpg

Worth noting that ICE can also be powered by renewables. You can synthesize gasoline or diesel from CO2 and H2 just as H2 is synthesized from H2O. The lower efficiency of using gasoline or diesel vs H2 in a FCV is roughly the same as using H2 in a FCV in stead of just using the electricity directly in a BEV...

Seems like if H2 is worth the efficiency cost vs BEV then renewable gasoline and diesel would be too vs H2 especially since you wouldn't need a new car AND the fuel is much easier to transport.
 

Saghost

Well-Known Member
Oct 9, 2013
8,224
7,086
Delaware
Worth noting that ICE can also be powered by renewables. You can synthesize gasoline or diesel from CO2 and H2 just as H2 is synthesized from H2O. The lower efficiency of using gasoline or diesel vs H2 in a FCV is roughly the same as using H2 in a FCV in stead of just using the electricity directly in a BEV...

Seems like if H2 is worth the efficiency cost vs BEV then renewable gasoline and diesel would be too vs H2 especially since you wouldn't need a new car AND the fuel is much easier to transport.

But then you get your other combustion products back, too - Nitrous Oxide from atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen, carbon monoxide and soot from incomplete combustion, etc.

Still better for global warming, but not a great solution.
 

nwdiver

Well-Known Member
Feb 17, 2013
8,475
11,688
United States
But then you get your other combustion products back, too - Nitrous Oxide from atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen, carbon monoxide and soot from incomplete combustion, etc.

Still better for global warming, but not a great solution.

With diesel and to a lesser extent gasoline yes but not methane. And it’s fairly easy to convert a gas engine to run on methane.
 

Saghost

Well-Known Member
Oct 9, 2013
8,224
7,086
Delaware
With diesel and to a lesser extent gasoline yes but not methane. And it’s fairly easy to convert a gas engine to run on methane.

Aren't you changing the goalposts here?

I was pretty sure the post I responded to was about the implications of synthetic gasoline and diesel fuel...
 

TheTalkingMule

Distributed Energy Enthusiast
Oct 20, 2012
7,783
33,542
Philadelphia, PA
We had methane buses at Penn State when I was there in the late 90's.

As for charging via fuel cell.....

Thanks for sharing. Certainly something like Bloom Boxes might play a role in charging infrastructure at some point? At the end of the day, it's power by methane since that's where the hydrogen likely came from. As mentioned....charging via solar/wind is where it's at.
 

immolated

Member
Oct 3, 2016
231
326
Las Vegas
So how much research have you done about where the hydrogen actually comes from? Hint: fossil fuels are burned to power the grid that runs hydrogen generators (proton exchange membranes), and then more fossil fuels are used to transport the hydrogen to filling stations or stationary fuel cells. Way more efficient to just plug your car into the grid in step 1. I think you missed the hill for the mountains with your vision.
 

TheTalkingMule

Distributed Energy Enthusiast
Oct 20, 2012
7,783
33,542
Philadelphia, PA
As mentioned, we had methane buses at PSU from the late 90's(I'm assuming through today) because PA is a fracking state. PA, Texas, Oklahoma.....will all be pushing hydrogen from methane as a form of "clean energy". Perhaps the OP is in the gas industry?

Even produced from pure wind/solar energy, there's no real reason to use H through a fuel cell to power a car. You lose half the energy round-trip if I'm not mistaken, and that's without compressing, transporting, etc...

Energy storage and tons of it is the way to go.
 

Products we're discussing on TMC...

About Us

Formed in 2006, Tesla Motors Club (TMC) was the first independent online Tesla community. Today it remains the largest and most dynamic community of Tesla enthusiasts. Learn more.

Do you value your experience at TMC? Consider becoming a Supporting Member of Tesla Motors Club. As a thank you for your contribution, you'll get nearly no ads in the Community and Groups sections. Additional perks are available depending on the level of contribution. Please visit the Account Upgrades page for more details.


SUPPORT TMC
Top