Dude, Where’s My Hydrogen-Powered Car?
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Dude, Where’s My Hydrogen-Powered Car?

With zero-carbon emissions, hydrogen was supposed to be an energy cure-all. So why aren’t we filling up our cars with it?

By Dan Neil
Fri, Feb 11, 2022 10:02amGrey Clock 4 min

If this were a party, and you sat down and asked, “Why not hydrogen-powered cars?” you could be in for a long night. May I get you an espresso?

I get this question a lot. People wonder, given the current limits of battery technology, whether a hydrogen-powered car, using a fuel cell device to convert compressed hydrogen into electricity, would have longer range and quicker refill/recharge times.

Yes, if first you have the hydrogen. Preferably liquid hydrogen.

People assume hydrogen is abundant. It isn’t—not in a readily usable form. Atomic hydrogen bonds tightly to whatever is around. In the case of hydrocarbons, hydrogen has a death grip on compounds of carbon; in the case of water, it doesn’t want to quit oxygen.

Hydrogen is liberated from water in a process called electrolysis, using electricity to break its bond with oxygen. To separate H2 from fossil fuels—typically, natural gas, or methane—the process is called steam reforming. Neither is particularly efficient. Electrolysis can reach an energy efficiency up to 80% using best practices. That means it takes 50-55 kWh of energy—and associated emissions—to liberate 40 kWhs worth of “zero-emission” hydrogen.

Steam-methane reforming is about as efficient but the process produces intense carbon emissions, several times the hydrogen extracted, depending on the feedstock. It also requires a non-trivial sum of energy to compress H2 into a storage device—a hydrogen tank—so it might be used in an automobile.

Once on board, hydrogen’s ROI takes another hit at the fuel cell, a stack of permeable membranes where hydrogen is married with oxygen to produce water and electricity. The most efficient such devices yield about 60% of the potential energy, which knocks the system’s well-to-wheel efficiency down to 30-40%, comparable to that of a typical internal-combustion vehicle.

All of which is to suggest why, if your national energy policy aim is lower carbon emissions per unit of economic activity, hydrogen-based transportation has a hard time scaling.

How’s that coffee? Ready for another?

But even if zero-carbon hydrogen flowed like honey from the rock, it would be difficult to transport and deliver to millions of automobiles on a retail basis. Take pipelines: The infrastructure the oil-and-gas sector uses to move natural gas (methane) cannot readily be shared with compressed hydrogen.

Or fueling stations: The costs of the few publicly accessible H2 fueling stations that have been built in the last decade (there are currently 48 public H2 stations in the U.S., 47 in California and one in Hawaii) have been many times higher than those associated with conventional gas stations. These costs typically include a natural-gas reformer on site, avoiding the necessity of aforementioned pipelines and high capacity tanks. They also reflect the costs of compliance with federal, state and local regulations having to do with letting granddad pump his own high-pressure space fuel. Somebody at the city council meeting yells Hindenburg in three, two, one…

Hydrogen does have some lovely physical properties. Chief among them is high energy density by mass. A kilo of hydrogen embodies about three times the energy content (120MJ/kg) as a kilo of gasoline (44 MJ/kg, equivalent to six properly fused Molotov cocktails).

On that account, hydrogen mops the floor with the best lithium batteries. Tesla’s new 4680 cells may pencil out to, at best, 300 Wh/kg. The most energy-dense solid-state batteries on the horizon might deliver two to three times more. It still sums to less than 1kWh per kilogram, a fraction of hydrogen’s energy-carrying capacity.

And yet, outside of a few small-scale projects and compliance cars such as the Toyota Mirai, the entire automotive world is turning to batteries. Why?

In light vehicles, hydrogen’s limiting factor has always been its low energy density by volume—the size of the bottles, in other words. A typical automotive-grade pressure vessel might be a cylinder three feet long and one foot in diameter, nominally (3:1 ratio), heavily overwrapped with carbon-fiber reinforcement and pressurized to 350-700 bar. Such a bottle holds a precious 5.6 kg of H2, worth about 185 kWh.

However, again taking into account the losses at the fuel cell, the effective capacity is more like 111 kWh, comparable to current and conventional lithium battery technology. In this way hydrogen has a range problem too.

The thing is, if you need to move energy in bulk, or just move bulk, H2 is your friend. Test fleets of fuel-cell-powered heavy trucks are already on the road, as well as locomotives, ships, buses, and other applications where dimensional space isn’t quite so dear as in light vehicles.

Hydrogen could play a role in EV-charging infrastructure, especially in remote or delicate areas where wise policy would avoid generators, power lines and substations. Imagine an H2/EV station set up outside a national park, quietly producing electricity with a stationary fuel cell, using truck-delivered H2. “Compressed hydrogen is really a way to truck electricity around,” said David Reichmuth, senior engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Or you know what would be really cool? Liquid hydrogen (LH2), stored at -253 C. One cubic meter of cryogenic hydrogen represents about 2,343 kWh worth of energy, roughly equivalent to the stored energy of 23 fully charged Teslas.

And yet I know of only one effort to exploit cryo-hydrogen’s potential on four wheels: the Glickenhaus HFC Pickup. The work of Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus (SCG) in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., the HFC Pickup will be battle-tested in a future Baja 1000 off-road race, possibly using swappable tanks of liquid hydrogen to refuel on course.

And you thought it was hard to keep the beer cool.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: February 10, 2022.



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The Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index reveals investments of passion are paying strong dividends, in some areas at least

By Bronwyn Allen
Tue, Apr 9, 2024 4 min

Art was the investment of passion that gained the most in value in 2023, according to Knight Frank’s Luxury Investment Index (KFLII). This is the second consecutive year that art has risen the most among the 10 popular investments tracked by the index, up 11 percent in 2023 and 29 percent in 2022. Art was followed by 8 percent growth in jewellery, 5 percent growth in watches, 4 percent growth in coins and 2 percent growth in coloured diamonds last year.

The weakest performers were rare whisky bottles, which lost nine percent of their value, classic cars down six percent and designer handbags down four percent. Luxury collectables are typically held by ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) who have a net worth of US$30 million or more. Knight Frank research shows 20 percent of UHNWI investment asset portfolios are allocated to collectables.

In 2023, the KFLII fell for only the second time, with prices down 1 percent on average.

Despite record-breaking individual sales in 2023, a surge in financial market returns contributed to a shift in allocations impacting on luxury asset value,” the report said. “… our assessment reveals a need for an ever more discerning approach from investors, with significant volatility by sub-market.

Sebastian Duthy of AMR said the 2023 art auction year began with notable sales including a record price for a Bronzino piece. But confidence waned as the year went on.

“It was telling that in May, Sotheby’s inserted one of its top Old Master lots – a Rubens’ portrait – into a 20th Century Modern evening sale. But by then, it was clear that the confidence among sellers, set by the previous year’s record-busting figures, was ebbing away. In the same month, modern and contemporary works from the collection of the late financier Gerald Fineberg sold well below pre-auction estimates.”

The value of ultra contemporary or red-chip’ art contracted the most in 2023.

“Works by a growing group of artists born after 1980 have been heavily promoted by mega galleries and auction houses in recent years. With freshly painted works in excess of £100,000 almost doubling in 2022, it was little surprise that this sector was one of the biggest casualties last year. There is a risk there are now simply too many fresh paint artists with none really standing out.”

In the jewellery market, Mr Duthy noted that demand was strongest for coloured gemstones of exceptional quality, iconic signed period jewels, single-owner collections, and items with historic provenance in 2023. In the watches market, Mr Duthy said collectors chased the most iconic and rare timepieces.

A Rolex John Player Special broke the model record when it sold for £2 million at Sotheby’s in May, double the price for a similar example sold at Phillips in 2021,” he said.

Although whisky was the worst-performing collectable in 2023, it has delivered the highest return on investment among the 10 items tracked by the index over the past decade, up 280 percent. Andy Simpson of Simpson Reserved, said 2023 was a challenging year but the best of the best bottles gained 20 percent in value. In my opinion some bottles that lost significant value in 2023 will return through the next two years as they are simply so scarce and, right now at least, so undervalued, Mr Simpson said.

Whisky was the worst performing collectable in 2023 but it had highest return on investment over a 10-year period. Image: Shutterstock

Classic car expert Dietrich Hatlapa said the 6 percent fall in collectable vehicle values in 2023 followed a 22 percent surge in 2022. The strong performance of other investment classes such as equities may have dampened collectors’ appetites it’s a very small market so it only takes a minor change in portfolio allocations to have an effect, and there has also probably been a degree of profit taking. However, we have seen some marques like BMW (up 9 percent in value) and Lamborghini (up 18 percent), which appeal to a younger breed of collector, buck the trend in 2023.”

Mr Duthy said a dip in the share price of the top luxury handbag brands last Autumn appeared to spook investors. Last autumn it was possible to pick up an Hermès white Niloticus Himalaya Birkin in good condition for under £50,000. The recent slide reflects a general correction at the upper end that’s been underway for some time rather than changing attitudes to the harvesting of exotic skins.

According to Knight Frank’s Attitudes Survey, the top five investments of passion among Australian UHNWIs are classic cars, art and wine. Fine wine values gained just 1 percent in 2023 as the market continued its correction, said Nick Martin of Wine Owners. “It’s been a hell of a long run, so I’m not that surprised. Some wines from very small producers that had enjoyed the most exuberant growth have seen the biggest drops. It had got a bit silly, £50 bottles had shot up to £200 or £300.”

Favourite investments of passion: Australia vs Global

1. Classic cars (61 percent of Australian UHNWIs vs 38 percent of global UHNWIs)
2. Art (58 percent vs 48 percent)
3. Wine (48 percent vs 35 percent)
4. Watches (42 percent vs 42 percent)
5. Jewellery (18 percent vs 28 percent)

Best returns among investments of passion (10 years)

1. Whisky 280 percent
2. Wine 146 percent
3. Watches 138 percent
4. Art 105 percent
5. Cars 82 percent

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