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.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Exterior Schemes | Dulux

Best for: Exterior walls

Available in 10 paint types, including Low-Sheen, Semi Gloss and Render Refresh, the Weathershield range has been specifically designed for Australian conditions with built-in UV, mould dirt and stain resistance. As the market lead, the Dulux range of colours stretches into the thousands,but  the company provides specific advice for popular exterior colour schemes.



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Best for: Interior walls

Created with Nanoguard Advanced Technology, the Taubmans Endure range is ideal for high traffic areas such as hallways and living areas thanks to its ability to withstand wear and tear. According to the manufacturer, it also protects against mould and mildew and is approved by the National Asthma Council Australia’s Sensitive Choice program.



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As the name would suggest, the point of difference with this paint product is its ability to weather seasonal changes. Owned by the Dulux group, British Paints 4 Seasons is self priming on most surfaces, for a faster, more satisfying result. It comes with a 25-year guarantee against peeling, flaking and blistering as well as providing resistance to mould, fungus and algae.



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Haymes Paints was established in Ballarat in 1935 and the family-run business still offers an Australian owned and made product. Haymes Expressions® Low Sheen has been designed for easy washing – and stain removal –  and is ideal for wet areas, thanks to its seven-year mould and mildew protection guarantee. Haymes Paints also releases a yearly colour forecast to provide design professionals and homeowners with inspirational colour palettes.



Wattyl Solagard | Wattyl Australia

Best for: Exterior surfaces

A mainstay of the exterior paint market, Wattyl Solagard is known for its durability and colour fastness over an extended period of time. Suitable for painting over most exterior surfaces, including concrete, masonry, timber and galvanised iron, it is UV and dirt resistant. It is available in a wide range of colours to suit most house styles, including Coastal, Heritage and Modern.



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Best for: Specialty finishes

Now part of the Dulux Group, Porter’s Paints has built its reputation on its wide range of specialty finishes for exterior or interior use such as limewash, chalk paint, French wash and liquid iron. While some products require specific application processes, there are easy-to-follow video tutorials and step-by-step instructions to support customers interested in a unique finish. Aside from an enviable array of carefully crafted colours, Porter’s Paints are water based and low in VOCs.




More homeowners are becoming aware of the potential hazards associated with house paint, particularly when it comes to air quality. The main concern is Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, which are released into the indoor environment and have been linked with eye irritations, breathing difficulties, as well as damage to kidneys, the liver and the central nervous system. From a product perspective, VOCs slow down the drying process, creating a wet edge on application so the user has more time to work with it.  More paint manufacturers are now offering low or zero VOC paints, but be aware that even those paints may still contain elements like ammonia and formaldehyde. Ventilate the space as much as possible, opening windows and doors as well as using fans and wear masks and gloves to minimise exposure to fumes while working.




Painting a home involves so many decisions, and choosing the right paint for the right job is tricky. Here we look at the top paint brands for the jobs at hand.

Exterior paints need strength to withstand the elements, they do this by adding additional and expensive, top quality resins so fading is less of an issue, and new technology that offers UV protection.  Who wants to repaint a house, right? After years of advancement, you can now achieve great results with acrylic exterior paint, which has the primer built in. Taubmans All Weather and Taubmans Sun Proof are great options here.

Exterior features such as fences and front doors are a chance to add extra zing to the design, and very often the best way to produce that effect is with a gloss or enamel paint. While there have been improvements in acrylic gloss products, purists and pros are still reaching for the oil based product – the finish is simply brighter and more reflective, and more to the point will last longer on high traffic spots such as doors. The lesser known Norglass brand offers a magnificent result, and comes in small cans, which is a bonus for feature trim jobs.

Interior walls cop the most passing traffic scuff and grime, especially if you are blessed with kids or pets. The ideal paint here is a washable, acrylic based paint that goes on smoothly, and wipes clean easily. A combination of huge colour range, and great coverage (meaning less coats to put on) is the Dulux Wash and Wear brand. You can actually feel the extra weight on the brush or roller, which is a good thing, but tougher on older hands, or newbies to the roller game.

Getting on top of ceilings is perhaps the most difficult of paint jobs; back breaking and neck stretching, it is a job with little pay off – but is critical to achieve a perfectly finished room. A dead matte finish is ideal, usually in white (but don’t let that stop you), and always acrylic. While you can use a cheaper matte paint, a purpose designed one will go on easier and offer better coverage – it’s designed to be a one stop wonder. British Paints Paint and Prime is reputed to have be a good ceiling paint that goes on thickly, and works particularly well with a long knap roller, reducing spray.

Houses have damp zones, and yes they need extra care because paint that doesn’t deflect the wet will get mould, mildew and then peel. The elasticity of acrylic paint is great here, and Berger Paints have a product, Kitchen and Bathroom Everlast which offers a five-year guarantee against mould and mildew. Best tip here is to, for once, not use a matte ceiling paint, but the soft or low sheen bathroom paint.

A secret of professional painters is the top paint brand Haymes. Haymes is perhaps a lesser known brand to the home decorator but it has been rated by Canstar as the top paint in Australia for the last six years. Haymes has been produced by the one family in Australia for generations, and commands respect from those who spend their lives up a ladder. They don’t need expensive ad campaigns, because those in the know don’t need reminding of this solid and impressive brand. Always consider checking out their products when starting a project.


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