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.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Whether you call it charisma, charm or magnetism, some people seem like naturals. Good news: It can be learned.

By Rachel Feintzeig
Mon, Jul 22, 2024 4 min

Great leaders have it. Gen Z has a new word for it. Can the rest of us learn it?

Charisma—or rizz , as current teenage slang has anointed it—can feel like an ephemeral gift some are just born with. The chosen among us network and chitchat, exuding warmth as they effortlessly hold court. Then there’s everyone else, agonising over exclamation points in email drafts and internally replaying that joke they made in the meeting, wondering if it hit.

“Well, this is awkward,” Mike Rizzo, the head of a community for marketing operations professionals, says of rizz being crowned 2023 word of the year by the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s so close to his last name, but so far from how he sees himself. He sometimes gets sweaty palms before hosting webinars.

Who could blame us for obsessing over charisma, or lack thereof? It can lubricate social interactions, win us friends, and score promotions . It’s also possible to cultivate, assures Charles Duhigg, the author of a book about people he dubs super communicators.

At its heart, charisma isn’t about some grand performance. It’s a state we elicit in other people, Duhigg says. It’s about fostering connection and making our conversation partners feel they’re the charming—or interesting or funny—ones.

The key is to ask deeper, though not prying, questions that invite meaningful and revealing responses, Duhigg says. And match the other person’s vibes. Maybe they want to talk about emotions, the joy they felt watching their kid graduate from high school last weekend. Or maybe they’re just after straight-up logistics and want you to quickly tell them exactly how the team is going to turn around that presentation by tomorrow.

You might be hired into a company for your skill set, Duhigg says, but your ability to communicate and earn people’s trust propels you up the ladder: “That is leadership.”

Approachable and relatable

In reporting this column, I was surprised to hear many executives and professionals I find breezily confident and pleasantly chatty confess it wasn’t something that came naturally. They had to work on it.

Dave MacLennan , who served as chief executive of agricultural giant Cargill for nearly a decade, started by leaning into a nickname: DMac, first bestowed upon him in a C-suite meeting where half the executives were named Dave.

He liked the informality of it. The further he ascended up the corporate hierarchy, the more he strove to be approachable and relatable.

Employees “need a reason to follow you,” he says. “One of the reasons they’re going to follow you is that they feel they know you.”

He makes a point to remember the details and dates of people’s lives, such as colleagues’ birthdays. After making his acquaintance, in a meeting years ago at The Wall Street Journal’s offices, I was shocked to receive an email from his address months later. Subject line: You , a heading so compelling I still recall it. He went on to say he remembered I was due with my first child any day now and just wanted to say good luck.

“So many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a good memory for that,’” he says. Prioritise remembering, making notes on your phone if you need, he says.

Now a board member and an executive coach, MacLennan sent hundreds of handwritten notes during his tenure. He’d reach out to midlevel managers who’d just gotten a promotion, or engineers who showed him around meat-processing plants. He’d pen words of thanks or congratulations. And he’d address the envelopes himself.

“Your handwriting is a very personal thing about you,” he says. “Think about it. Twenty seconds. It makes such an impact.”

Everyone’s important

Doling out your charm selectively will backfire, says Carla Harris , a Morgan Stanley executive. She chats up the woman cleaning the office, the receptionist at her doctor’s, the guy waiting alongside her for the elevator.

“Don’t be confused,” she tells young bankers. Executive assistants are often the most powerful people in the building, and you never know how someone can help—or hurt—you down the line.

Harris once spent a year mentoring a junior worker in another department, not expecting anything in return. One day, Harris randomly mentioned she faced an uphill battle in meeting with a new client. Oh!, the 24-year-old said. Turns out, the client was her friend. She made the call right there, setting up Harris for a work win.

In the office, stop staring at your phone, Harris advises, and notice the people around you. Ask for their names. Push yourself to start a conversation with three random people every day.

Charisma for introverts

You can’t will yourself to be a bubbly extrovert, but you can find your own brand of charisma, says Vanessa Van Edwards, a communications trainer and author of a book about charismatic communication.

For introverted clients, she recommends using nonverbal cues. A slow triple nod shows people you’re listening. Placing your hands in the steeple position, together and facing up, denotes that you’re calm and present.

Try coming up with one question you’re known for. Not a canned, hokey ice-breaker, but something casual and simple that reflects your actual interests. One of her clients, a bookish executive struggling with uncomfortable, halting starts to his meetings, began kicking things off by asking “Reading anything good?”

Embracing your stumbles

Charisma starts with confidence. It’s not that captivating people don’t occasionally mispronounce a word or spill their coffee, says Henna Pryor, who wrote a book about embracing awkwardness at work. They just have a faster comeback rate than the rest of us. They call out the stumble instead of trying to hide it, make a small joke, and move on.

Being perfectly polished all the time is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. We know this, which is why appearing flawless can come off as fake. We like people who seem human, Pryor says.

Our most admired colleagues are often the ones who are good at their jobs and can laugh at themselves too, who occasionally trip or flub just like us.

“It creates this little moment of warmth,” she says, “that we actually find almost like a relief.”


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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