After over half a century since it was introduced as a potential alternative for fossil fuels, Hydrogen fuel is still disregarded for its expense and efficiency snags alongside the lack of fuel stations.
However, the problem isn’t the technology, argues the founder of Arizona startup Nikola Motor, but that big trucks are a much better choice for Hydrogen. Nikola has been making hydrogen tractor trailer for close to four years now. It extolls a vision as brash as Tesla’s founders unveiled 13 years ago with its pricey all-electric cars.
The company believes that it can bring Hydrogen fuel to the mainstream by building tens and thousands of hydrogen-powered big rigs and coast-to-coast hydrogen station network to fuel them. Their ambitions, as expected, comes at a great cost. Nikola is seeking $1.25 billion to fund it, on top of $300 million raised so far.
Nikola suggests that trucks are perfect for hydrogen fuel as it’s easier to package the bulky tanks that hold the fuel than cars.
“You can’t do this alone. Toyota and the others can’t do it on their own and neither could we,” said the company CEO Trevor Milton. “The thing that Nikola brings to the table is we actually provide the entire network, we’re building 700 hydrogen stations around America. It will be the largest in the world.”
Nikola suggests that trucks are perfect for hydrogen fuel as it’s easier to package the bulky tanks that hold the fuel than cars. The cost of technology is easier to recoup on heavily used commercial vehicles than cars and refuelling time and driving range that are almost similar to that of fossil fuel trucks.
“Hydrogen works way better on heavy-duty (trucks), and we’re 5,000 pounds lighter than Tesla,” said Milton. “Look at Anheuser Busch. They ordered 40 or 50 trucks from them and 800 from us.”
Nikola claims that it’s sold out for eight years of production. However, none of those orders turns into revenue until the company completes its fundraising push and gets into production, targeted for late 2022. Its fuelling network, with stand-alone stations, uses hydrogen that is extracted from water, using electricity produced by wind, solar and other renewable sources. This will take much of the 2020s to set up.
While the market is indeed rapidly moving towards electrification, most of the focus is on passenger cars rather than commercial transport. The physics of long-range semis, hauling up to 80,000 pounds including the cab and trailer, mean the winning technology is still a wildcard.
“If you want to electrify heavy-duty trucks, a Class-8 truck needs seven tons or 700-kilowatt hours of battery in there, that makes four to five packs to store in the truck. By comparison, you get the same range from a few hundred kilograms of hydrogen,” said Bernd Heid, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, who researches trucking industry trends and technology.