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Elon Musk has strong views on hydrogen. Not everyone agrees – Prime News Now
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Elon Musk has strong views on hydrogen. Not everyone agrees

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A car is fueled with hydrogen at the Frankfurt Auto Show IAA in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on September 13, 2017.

TOBIAS SCHWARZ | AFP | Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has a history of expressing strong opinions about hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells.

A few years ago, when the subject came up during a discussion with reporters at the Automotive News World Congress, the billionaire and electric vehicle magnate described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely silly.”

“It’s just very difficult … to make hydrogen and store it and use it in a car,” Musk said. “The best-case hydrogen fuel cell doesn’t win against the current case batteries, so then, obviously … it doesn’t make sense,” he added later.

“That will become apparent in the next few years. There’s … no reason for us to have this debate, I’ve said … my piece on this, it will be super obvious as time goes by, I don’t know what more to say.”

In the time since those remarks, Musk’s views don’t seem to have changed much, if at all. In June 2020 he tweeted “fuel cells = fool sells,”  adding in July of that year: “hydrogen fool sells make no sense.”

The tech

First things first: What underpins the tech Musk seems so skeptical of?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — which are also known as fuel cell electric vehicles — as being “similar to electric vehicles … in that they use an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine to power the wheels.”

The key difference is that electric vehicles have batteries that need to be charged by plugging the vehicle into a charging point. Fuel cell vehicles, on the other hand, utilize hydrogen gas and, according to the EPA, “generate their electricity onboard.”

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

Put simply, with fuel cells, hydrogen gas from a tank mixes with oxygen, producing electricity.

A fuel cell electric vehicle emits “only water vapor and warm air”, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center says.

A range of views

Musk is not alone when it comes to being unconvinced about the use of hydrogen in cars.

In February of this year, Herbert Diess, the CEO of German automotive powerhouse Volkswagen Group, weighed in on the subject.

“It’s time for politicians to accept science,” he tweeted. “Green hydrogen is needed for steel, chemical, aero … and should not end up in cars. Far too expensive, inefficient, slow and difficult to rollout and transport. After all: no #hydrogen cars in sight.”

Musk and Diess are two high-profile figures at the helm of major companies with huge influence and reach. What they say carries weight. It would appear, however, that their views aren’t shared by everyone in the autos sector.

To date, firms including Toyota and Hyundai have produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, while smaller manufacturers such as Riversimple are also working on hydrogen-powered cars.

In June, the BMW Group said it had started to test vehicles that use a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain, with the company describing hydrogen fuel cell tech as having the “long term potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems and battery-electric vehicles.”

Although these products obviously don’t account for the bulk of car sales at this moment in time — Riversimple won’t actually sell its cars, offering them on a subscription service instead — that such a range of companies are working on fuel-cell offerings at all shows some see potential in the technology.

“Fuel cell cars will certainly play a part in decarbonizing transport,” a spokesperson for Toyota told CNBC.

“As and when refueling infrastructure expands, they will offer a convenient alternative form of electrified transport over a fully electric BEV [battery-powered electric vehicles],” they said.

Toyota viewed hydrogen “as an alternative to fossil fuels in all manner of settings, including heating, lighting, haulage, mass transit and heavy industry,” the spokesperson said.

“The range of hydrogen applications will increase, enabling cheaper, more efficient power supply and we’ll increasingly see hydrogen powering cars, buses, trains and trucks,” they added.

In a statement sent to CNBC, the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association expressed a similar viewpoint.

Fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen energy, the FCHEA said, offered customers “a zero-emission option with performance they expect and no change to daily routines — long range, quick refueling, and the ability to scale to larger platforms without adding restrictive weight and size.”

The FCHEA went on to say there was a “tremendous opportunity for fuel cell electric cars and fuel cell-powered material handling vehicles.”  

“Also, given the limitations of battery weight and recharging for long haul trucking, a significant opportunity also exists for medium- and heavy-duty delivery vans, trucks, buses, trains, and planes,” it said.

Indeed, as governments around the world attempt to develop low and zero emission transportation systems, the notion of using hydrogen fuel cells in larger vehicles is starting to be explored by a broad range of companies.

Read more about clean energy from CNBC Pro

In a recent interview with CNBC, the CEO of Daimler Truck was asked about the debate between battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cells. Balance, Martin Daum argued, was key.

“We go for both, because both … make sense,” he said, going on to explain how different technologies would be appropriate in different scenarios.

“In general, you can say: If you go to city delivery where you need lower amounts of energy in there, you can charge overnight in a depot, then it’s certainly battery electric,” Daum said.

“But the moment you’re on the road, the moment you go from Stockholm to Barcelona … in my opinion, you need something which you can transport better and where you can refuel better and that is ultimately H2.”

“The ruling is not out, but I think it’s too risky for a company our size to go with just one technology.”

Versatility

Daum’s comments on fuel cells touch upon the idea that they could, eventually, find a home in heavier forms of transport covering long distances, hauling cargo and, in some cases, ferrying people from one destination to another.

He’s not alone in taking this view. The European transport giant Alstom, for instance, has developed the Coradia iLint, which it describes as “the world’s first passenger train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.”

In aviation, plans to operate commercial hydrogen-electric flights between London and Rotterdam were announced in October, with those behind the project hoping it will take to the skies in 2024.

In construction, JCB, a major player in the sector, said last year that it had developed an excavator “powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.”

Weighing 20 metric tons, the company said the vehicle had been tested for over 12 months, adding that the “only emission from the exhaust is water.”

Challenges

While there is a sense of excitement about the use of hydrogen fuel cell technology in a variety of applications, the path to any mass rollout may not necessarily be a smooth one.

Earlier this year, Honda ceased production of its Clarity plug-in hybrid and fuel cell models, although the company did make a point of saying that fuel cell electric vehicles would “play a key role in our zero-emissions strategy.”

Elsewhere, the U.S. government has cited a number of challenges. These range from the durability and reliability of fuel cells to vehicle cost.

“The current infrastructure for producing and getting hydrogen to consumers cannot yet support the widespread adoption of FCVs,” it adds.

In February 2020, Brussels-based campaign group Transport and Environment hammered home just how much competition hydrogen would face in the transportation sector.

T&E made the point that green hydrogen — which is produced using renewables — wouldn’t only have to “compete with grey and blue hydrogen,” which are produced using fossil fuels. “It will compete with petrol, diesel, marine fuel oil, kerosene and, of course, electricity,” T&E said.

“Wherever batteries are a practical solution — cars; vans; urban, regional and perhaps long-haul trucks; ferries — hydrogen will face an uphill struggle because of its lower efficiency and, as a result, much higher fuel costs.”

Bridging the gap between battery electric and fuel cell vehicles will be a huge task, as the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook 2021 notes.

According to that report, registrations of fuel cell electric vehicles “remain three orders of magnitude lower than EVs as hydrogen refuelling stations … are not widely available and unlike EVs cannot be charged at home.”

The race to dominate the low and zero emission future of 21st-century transportation is underway.

When it comes to cars, battery electric vehicles are in a strong position with firms such as Tesla leading the charge, but the road to success is never a straight one. Watch this space.



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European Central Bank heads into pivotal meeting with omicron infections rising

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Christine Lagarde, president of the ECB, speaks at the Bank’s press conference in Frankfurt, Germany.

Boris Roessler | picture alliance | Getty Images

With inflation surging and the omicron Covid variant expected to spread through the region, the European Central Bank has the unenviable task of presenting its policy outlook for 2022 on Thursday.

The rise in the cost of living for the euro area (the 19 nations that share the euro) reached a record high of 4.9% in November, while omicron looks likely to become the dominant coronavirus strain with some European economies already locked down due to the delta variant.

“The sharp rise in infections and inflation and the emergence of the new Omicron variant has complicated the picture to an extent that the Governing Council may need more time to decide on all the details of adjusting its non-conventional policy tool,” said Dirk Schumacher, an ECB watcher with Natixis, in a recent research note. 

The institution led by Christine Lagarde developed a new bond-buying program in the wake of the coronavirus in March 2020 to support the euro zone. The PEPP is due to end in March 2022 with a potential total envelope of 1.85 trillion euros ($2.19 trillion).

The ECB has also kept its asset purchase program, known as APP, amid the pandemic which has a current monthly pace of 20 billion euros. The central bank has been using this program in combination with PEPP to sustain the 19-member economy.

Schumacher added that Natixis still expects an announcement that the PEPP program will end by March and “we expect a clear signal that the APP will be used in a more flexible way.”

A big focus of this week’s meeting will be the new staff projections for inflation and growth. They show whether the inflation target of 2% will be met over the medium term, which is ultimately ECB’s primary mandate. 

“I see an inflation profile which looks like a hump. So it has clearly increased over the last three quarters and we know how painful it is,” Lagarde said at a Reuters conference on Dec. 3, 

“And a hump eventually declines and this is what we project for 2022,” she added.

Flexible APP

Another key question is how the ECB will bridge the end of the PEPP program at the end of March into a more flexible and potentially larger APP without provoking major market volatility and keeping financial conditions on “favourable” terms. The ECB is expected to stress the need for flexibility.

“Flexibility, in our view, means varying purchases depending on the inflation outlook and financing conditions, i.e. preserving the principle of ‘favourable financing conditions’ that characterises the PEPP,” Spyros Andreopoulos, a senior European economist at BNP Paribas, said in a note.  

“This view has been supported by recent ECB rhetoric that has emphasised the need to maintain flexibility, as opposed to pre-committing to a fixed volume of purchases.”

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UK inflation hits 10-year high ahead of key Bank of England meeting

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Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk through the rain on Oxford Street in London on June 18, 2020, as some non-essential retailers reopen from their coronavirus shutdown.

Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

LONDON — U.K. inflation climbed to a 10-year high in November as consumer prices continued to soar ahead of the Bank of England‘s crunch monetary policy meeting on Thursday.

The Consumer Price Index rose by 5.1% in the 12 months to November, up from 4.2% in October, which was itself the steepest incline for a decade and more than double the central bank’s target.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 4.7% for November, and the Bank of England had projected that inflation would hit 5% in the spring of 2022 before moderating towards its 2% target in late 2023.

On a monthly basis, U.K. inflation rose 0.7% in November from October, above a Reuters poll for a 0.4% increase.

Core CPI, which excludes volatile energy, food, alcohol and tobacco prices, rose by 4% year-on-year against a Reuters forecast of 3.7%, and 0.5% month-on-month versus a 0.3% projection.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee meets Thursday to decide whether to tighten monetary policy, with inflation surging and the labor market remaining robust, but the rapid spread of the omicron Covid-19 variant has cast fresh uncertainty over the economic recovery in the short term.

The MPC defied market expectations in November by voting 7-2 to hold interest rates at their historic low of 0.1%, but analysts are split on whether it will pull the trigger on rate hikes on Thursday in light of the emergence of omicron.

“Unfortunately for consumers, peak inflation may still be a few months off. Today’s CPI data only serves to increase the pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates at its MPC meeting tomorrow,” said Richard Carter, head of fixed interest research at Quilter Cheviot.

“However, the Bank of England may well decide that discretion is the better part of valour and instead opt to wait until next year given the current uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Omicron variant on the economy, coupled with the risk that further restrictions may need to be introduced before long.”

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Most Chinese companies could delist from US, says TCW Group

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Budrul Chukrut | LightRocket | Getty Images

Chinese companies listed on Wall Street will likely to be cut off from U.S. capital markets in the next three years as tensions between Beijing and Washington persist, says one global asset management firm.

“I think for a lot of Chinese companies listed in U.S. markets, it’s essentially game over,” David Loevinger, managing director for emerging markets sovereign research at TCW Group, told CNBC Wednesday. “This is an issue that’s been hanging out there for 20 years — we haven’t been able to solve it.”

TCW Group had $265.8 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2021, according to the company’s website.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this month finalized rules to implement a law that would allow the market regulator to ban foreign companies listed in the U.S. from trading if their auditors do not comply with requests for information from American regulators. 

The law was passed in 2020 after Chinese regulators repeatedly denied requests from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to inspect the audits of Chinese firms that list and trade in the United States.

Given the current level of distrust between the U.S. and Chinese governments, and with the bilateral relationship unlikely to improve anytime soon, there is “no way we are going to solve this in the next few years,” Loevinger said.

“So the reality is, I think, by 2024, most Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges are no longer going to be listed in the United States. Most are going to gravitate back to Hong Kong or Shanghai,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”

Less than six months after going public, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi said it will start delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, and make plans to list in Hong Kong instead.

When a company delists from an exchange like the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange, it loses access to a broad pool of buyers, sellers and intermediaries.

I just don’t think China’s government is going to allow U.S. regulators to have unfettered access to internal auditing documents of Chinese companies.

Chinese regulators were reportedly unhappy with Didi’s decision to list in the U.S. without first resolving outstanding cybersecurity concerns. Regulators told the firm’s executives to come up with a plan to delist from the U.S. due to concerns around data leakage, according to reports.

Beyond Didi, many of China’s top internet companies listed in the U.S. have already undertaken dual listings in Hong Kong. Some high-profile names include e-commerce giant Alibaba, its rival JD.com, search engine giant Baidu, gaming firm NetEase and social media giant Weibo.

“We have already hit the turning point,” Loevinger said, pointing to Didi’s delisting announcement. “I just don’t think China’s government is going to allow U.S. regulators to have unfettered access to internal auditing documents of Chinese companies.”

“And if U.S. regulators can’t get access to those documents, then they can’t protect U.S. markets from fraud,” he added.

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