Nikola Tesla. The Serbian inventor’s name now sits on the grills of not one, but two, of the most intriguing vehicle brands in the world. We all know about Tesla, the EV maker worth $150 billion (“TSLA” has tripled in price since October 2019) that sold nearly 200,000 EVs in 2019. Now’s there’s Nikola, an Arizona-based electric vehicle maker focused on the long haul trucking market. But Nikola is different: The NikolaOne long haul trucker can be powered entirely on hydrogen fuel cells, not batteries.
Last month Nikola went public via a surprise merger with VectoIQ [NASDAQ: VTIQ], a special purpose acquisition company run by former GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky. VTIQ quickly doubled in value after the announcement. The company is raising cash to finish out its Arizona factory where it hopes to fulfill the 14,400 orders from Pepsi, Anheuser Busch, FedEx and Walmart (worth $10 billion) that have already been placed for its trucks. The first wave will be fully electric trucks built by its European partner Iveco. The hydrogen only trucks are expected to be ready in late 2021.
Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity taking pressurized hydrogen gas from an onboard tank through an electrochemical reaction in which the electrons and protons from hydrogen atoms are split, creating electricity and water. No burning. No carbon emitted. Compared to EV batteries, hydrogen trucks are faster charging, have higher horsepower, lower weight and higher range per charge. That’s what makes them ideal for long haul truckers.
Most hydrogen today is produced by reforming natural gas, an energy intensive process that uses fossil fuels and releases carbon dioxide. But hydrogen can also be produced via electrolysis, whereby water is split into hydrogen and oxygen through electricity. Nikola and others plan to create an intensive “renewable hydrogen” 700 station network along common truck routes in the US to fuel their fleets. This network would use solar, wind and hydro power to create the hydrogen through electrolysis.
Renewable hydrogen costs will come down as a broad network is deployed, similar to what happened with solar, wind and batteries. The performance specs for the NikolaOne all hydrogen semi are astonishing: Up to 2,000 ft lbs of torque, 1,000 horsepower, 500-750 mile range and a 15 minute refill time. That’s better than a traditional diesel tractor trailer.