Nikola believes hydrogen semi-trucks will bring the alternative fuel to the mainstreamApril 18, 2019
Nikola Motor is betting on big rigs to launch hydrogen transportation into a feasible reality.
The American hybrid truck design company based out of Arizona feels that hydrogen semi-trucks are the future of America’s clean trucking industry. While the CEO and founder of Nikola Motor, Trevor Milton, knows there are challenges with hydrogen cars, he feels that big trucks are a much better choice for the clean, alternative fuel.
Nikola wants to build tens of thousands of hydrogen-powered big rigs.
Nikola’s hydrogen fuel plans for the future include building tens of thousands of hydrogen semi-trucks and a coast-to-coast hydrogen station network that will be needed to fuel them.
Moreover, the company wants to help other companies expand their hydrogen fuel cell vehicle sales as well, including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, General Motors and Daimler, by allowing them to use these stations so that they can take their vehicles outside of California.
“You can’t do this alone,” Milton told Forbes. “Toyota and the others can’t do it on their own and neither could we. 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’s hydrogen semi-truck is much lighter than Tesla’s electric semi.
Nikola’s CEO is pushing for hydrogen trucks because it’s easier for these large vehicles to accommodate the bulky tanks that hold compressed hydrogen gas, than it is for cars. Also, the technology costs are reportedly easier to recoup on heavily used commercial vehicles compared to cars. Moreover, the refueling time and driving range of fuel cell trucks are comparable to diesel trucks.
That being said, Nikola is not without its competition. Tesla has already signed up big-name companies like Pepsi, FedEx, Anheuser Busch, and Walmart for its electric semis. Other competitors include Daimlers, BYD and Thor.
Still, Milton told Forbes he sees a big advantage for Nikola’s hydrogen vehicles for long-distance highway runs of 500 miles or longer. What’s more, in addition to drive range, Nikola’s truck does have a huge advantage over Tesla’s battery-powered semi in that it is 5,000 pounds lighter.
Milton also pointed out that while Anheuser Busch ordered 40 or 50 trucks from Tesla, they ordered 800 from Nikola.
“We’re sold out for eight years of production,” said Milton.
That being said, while Nikola’s hydrogen semi-trucks are very promising, the full scale production of these vehicles won’t begin until late 2022 at the earliest.
Hydrogen has been stored for the last 100 years in the USA by H2 producers in salt domes & oil wells. There is no shortage of either structure in this country. Electrolyzers in the megawatt level are commercially available.
What the Electrical Utilities need to do is find an old fossil power plant in oil country (for SCE: Ormond Beach GS, Mandalay GS, Etiwanda GS…) park about 10 electrolyzers over the closest well and start selling mass storage of off peak renewable energy to the R.E. producers: “P2G”. The gas from the well can be piped to the nearby generating unit. New burner nozzles would need to be refitted to use relatively pure H2, but NREL says that a 15% mix of H2/natural gas requires no modification of equipment and has minimal transport leakage. Overall cycle efficiency is about 40%, so R.E. producers only need a 3:1 differential between peak/off peak rates to come out ahead. Off peak here is 0$-5$/MWHr vs. peak rates of $150-$250 MWHr, so there is apparently room to maneuver here.
The main sticking point seems to be that the Electrical Utilities would lose lucrative “wheeling fees” for bringing in out of state power, and the natural gas suppliers would lose sales. This apparently is allowed to be the deal killer.
All the pricey batteries in California collectively store about 3000 MWHrs. Peak load on a summer day is 20,000-35,000 MWHrs. So batteries carry us (maybe) 6-10 minutes total on a hot day. At the NREL 15% blend, renewable energy sourced H2 could account for at least 4K-6K MWHrs continuously, massively increasing the demand for PV & Wind energy. The powerplants already exist. so no cost there. The storage is already in the ground, so not much to build. The electrolyzers just need a waste water supply to work, some grid-tie switch gear and a 60×150 metal shed near the well. Germany & Holland both have 200 MW+ P2G demo industrial projects that have been in service for about 10 years, and THEY had to build storage at great expense; we have it “for free”. Cal-ISO is fully aware of the metering requirements and is mostly wondering why nobody in California is doing it yet. So lets poke some sacred cows, dedicate some in-ground storage, create some user-friendly P2G & get these Toyota Mirais and Honda Claritys on the road from L.A. to the Big Apple, OK?