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A HARD NUT TO CRACK

Mitchell Smith via email

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A HARD NUT TO CRACK

While ‘hydrogen in water out’ fuel cells sound simple and good, dig a bit deeper and hydrogen faces many challenges as a ‘clean’ fuel for light vehicles, especially in Australia.

Most hydrogen is currently cracked from gas in a high energy-consuming and high CO2-producing process. The only way to produce hydrogen cleanly is to produce it from water using renewable energy. This uses a lot of water and a lot of energy. This is governed by the laws of chemistry and physics and will not change.

It then needs to be compressed or liquefied (using energy) and transported through what would be new, and expensive, nationwide hydrogen distribution infrastructure. And fuel cells are only 50 percent efficient, so in the end the consumer ends up paying a lot for energy consumption and losses at production, distribution and consumption. 100kWh of electricity generation and some 30L-plus of water are required to produce between 19 and 23kWh of electricity output from the fuel cell to power the vehicle to travel roughly 100km.

Compare that to battery electric vehicles. There is already an electricity generation network which is transitioning to renewables and a distribution network throughout the country to plug in to (in almost every home). And batteries are very efficient at storing and releasing energy.

So every 100kWh of electricity generation produces 69kWh of electricity output from the battery to power the vehicle to travel more than 300km.

Which means a fuel cell vehicle owner will pay three times as much for hydrogen every 100km (assuming there is a hydrogen retailer) as the owner of a comparable battery electric vehicle.

Hydrogen, with storage innovations such as CSIRO’s, may make sense on an industrial scale for export similar to LNG (although I am not sure where the water would come from) but it’s hard to see how they have a future for light vehicles, especially with battery energy density rising and costs falling quickly and battery electric vehicle sales taking off while fuel cell vehicle sales are effectively zero.

Mitchell Smith via email

LESS IS MORE

First up, I have been loving the ‘clutter free’ covers this year for us loyal subscribers! The one last month of the Aston Martin in the South Island of NZ was stunning. Worth scanning and making a poster!

Anyway, I have just received the October issue and can’t wait to read it. I was slightly disappointed to get the retail cover with clutter. Hope it’s a one-off?

I love Wheels, I’ve been reading it since the early ’70s, and have kept every issue in mint condition. Keep up the good work, as your publication gets better each time!

David Reid, via email

David, we’ve decided only to run subs covers if we shoot an image that is truly worthy. Happily, normal service is resumed this month. – Ed

“I have been loving the clutter-free covers this year for subscribers”

PAST BLAST

It’s time for Australia to establish a National Motor Museum. With the demise of local car building, and the reduction in people capable of servicing and restoring cars the themselves, it’s time the Federal Government considered the establishment of a national museum. A world-class collection that encompasses Australia’s motoring heritage and cultural legacies, that could entertain and inform new generations of what motoring in the country once was. Private collectors and private motor museums could loan their cars and memorabilia on a rotational basis as well as a permanent display collection.

Greg Jarosch, Cowes, Vic

It’s a great suggestion, Greg, and someone else had the same thought 54 years ago. The

National Motor Museum was est in Birdwood, near Adelaide, in 1964, and is supported by the SA government. – Ed

Letter of the month winner

Thank you, Mitch, for bringing a dose of reality to the future of fuel-cell vehicles. While undoubtedly tricky, big manufacturers like Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai remain convinced hydrogen is the future, with EVs a mere pitstop along the way. We’ll look into this further in our Future Edition, on sale December 27. Until then, enjoy 12 issues of Wheels on us.

BRAKING BAD

I’m at the end of a two week holiday and enjoying the opportunity to catch up on some past issues of Wheels. I’d like to add to the comment made by Mark Small in the September 2018 edition regarding the braking distance measurements being an important comparison between vehicles. I drive an XC90 at home and have had a near-new Kluger as a rental car – more than once I have had a mild panic that the car was not going to stop quickly enough in traffic, and I find the difference to be surprising.

Kevin Kennedy, East Brighton, Vic

“I propose that such a light flash not only be made legal, but encouraged”

Our measured 100km/h-0 brake test does often throw up some curious anomalies, Kevin. But we’d also caution that differing feel through the brake pedal can be misleading in terms of what the vehicle can actually achieve in a full ABS-assisted stop. – Ed

FLASH FORWARD

My first experience of the new 40km/h rule with stationary flashing-lights emergency/ police vehicles came in an 80km/h zone, divided road. I was behind a truck in the right lane, and we were both passing a slower bus in the left lane. Suddenly, both the bus and truck braked sharply, which wasn’t an issue for me as I wasn’t tailgating and was doing my best to drive the road ahead (though there was no chance of getting advanced notice of the impending speed restriction). The Hiace behind me, which would have been in a better position to see ahead than I, and which was travelling much closer to me than ideal, didn’t react quickly to the braking requirement and, if I hadn’t left the room ahead to allow me to ease off the brake to accommodate him, could well have rear-ended me.

There were several occasions in the preceding kilometre or more that motorists coming the other way could have warned us about what was ahead with a simple light flash, but as we all know, this practice is definitely frowned upon by the police as a way to deny them revenue and as such is, I think, illegal.

I propose that such a light flash not only be made legal, but encouraged, to inform drivers approaching such a scene to reduce their speed in advance and so reduce the likelihood of pile-ups that could result, especially in higher speed areas. Thoughts?

Brett Pember, email

We’re firmly of the opinion that this whole process needs a serious rethink and suspect that data will demonstrate that it’s causing more harm than good. – Ed

“Only those who’ve never driven one could knock the noise...”

LOUD AND PROUD

Reading Corby’s ‘Flat six and out’ column (Wheels, October 2018) confirmed for me once again that Stephen is one of the finest automotive journos in Australia. His shock and disappointment at the “farty and flaccid and awful” noise emanating from his Cayman GTS tester struck a resonant chord with me, albeit for different reasons.

Recently I had the privilege of attending a Lexus drive day at Brisbane’s Lakeside Raceway, where I was turned loose to play with the very best of Lexus’ ‘F’ cars: the RC F, LC 500 and the GS F. All are equipped with the now-endangered atmo 5.0 litre V8, putting out 351kW and 530Nm.

And boy, are they opera to the ears! Not the uncouth, unburntfuel-emitting rumbling of American ‘muscle cars’, nor the thunder of AMG’s finest. No, these Yamaha-tuned engines sing a soft, sonorous lullaby at low revs, rising to a powerful Wagnerian bellow when you sink the boot. Say what you like about Lexus, but only those who’ve never driven (or heard a hard-driven) one could knock the noise, or the performance, of these Oriental buggers.

Stuart Kennedy, Bli Bli, Qld

Every staffer here adored ‘my’ long-term LC 500 for exactly that reason (and were so-so about the What’s I’ve hybrid version). What s more, I ve yet to hear a production car that can give you goose bumps quite like the incredible V10 LFA. – Ed