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Thoughts on hydrogen cars

We need a breakthrough.

(A recent note to a friend):

Kevin – Thanks for the article. I'm glad Toyota’s Mirai is coming along well. I like the Hyundai Nexo - a smooth, quiet, powerful front-drive hydrogen-electric SUV. I rode in one in 2018 in Los Angeles, and Consumer Reports has tested a 2020 Nexo and liked it. I drove the Mirai in LA and wasn't quite as impressed, but it sounds like they've improved it quite a lot.

Nikola Corporation was going to provide the necessary initial hydrogen fueling stations nationwide, but they’ve recently had some problems. Maybe the HCar companies will get together to provide enough stations, or more likely other long-haul H-Truck developers will install them, if not Nikola. Eventually a small electrolyzer to produce H in your garage should make sense, especially if you have your own solar power, but the cost (and storage pressure) right now are too high. Low-pressure H storage would fix that.

We need a breakthrough to deploy hydrogen efficiently: A high-speed research project (a ManHattan project), funded in a few dozen universities plus the national labs, to develop low-pressure, room-temperature H storage that could put about 15 kg of hydrogen into a car. That would provide a thousand-mile range and reduce the initial required number of hydrogen gas stations by an order of magnitude. The H-powered long-haul semi's should quickly achieve that range. A few dozen H-stations would then cover the entire U.S. A Nikola rep told me in 2018 that they’d be happy to sell us automotive hydrogen at their stations; that should be true for other suppliers as well.

Fun fact: An HCar or a Tesla could silently run your home for days in a blackout. Given home solar panels, an around-town battery-electric car doesn't pay for power right now. That can be true for HCars as well, but probably not for awhile.

[Note: It's also fun to think about a hydrogen-powered pickup truck: Several long, cylindrical hydrogen tanks will fit nicely under the truck bed; very long range should be practical right now. Great horsepower and torque, plus all-wheel drive using (e.g.) the Mirai's motors front and rear (180HP/220lb-ft each), would be a plus, as would having your own silent electric power plant when camping in the wild.]

Low-pressure H storage would have another huge benefit: It would allow hydrogen to be used to store solar and wind energy when it's over-produced, feeding it back into the grid later via fuel cells. That's already becoming important where lots of green (solar or wind) electricity generation is installed.

As we slowly get to self-driving vehicles, hydrogen may well power the long-distance vehicles. Battery-electric cars are excellent around town and out to a few hundred miles without stopping to charge up. We need both types of vehicles to get to a zero-CO2 world.

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