Nikola Motor Co. plans to begin field tests of its hydrogen fuel cell heavy truck next fall, with a year of “rigorous” trials in “extreme climates,” the company said. Full production is expected to start in 2021.
Salt Lake City-based Nikola, a startup that hasn’t built a truck yet but has raised the visibility of fuel cell electric powertrains for long-haul, low-emissions trucking, also said Thursday that it is adding Swedish fuel cell developer PowerCell AB to its development team, at least for pre-production test models.
PowerCell, formed in 2008 as a spinoff from the Volvo Group, will join Germany’s Bosch as the primary suppliers for fuel cells for pre-production models of Nikola’s Class 8 hydrogen-electric trucks, the Nikola One and Nikola Two. The “Two” is a day-cab version of the company’s long-haul sleeper-cab model, the Nikola One.
PowerCell could not be reached for comment, but Nikola founder and Chief Executive Trevor Milton said Bosch and Nikola are the fuel cell system designers, PowerCell will provide the fuel cell stacks that produce electricity from hydrogen, and Nikola will build the completed fuel cell system.
Bosch also has worked with Nikola to develop the truck’s “eAxle,” which houses the electric motor, transmission and power electronics.
Each truck will use two eAxles, a 320-kilowatt-hour battery pack and a 300-kilowatt fuel cell to produce the necessary electrical power. The trucks will carry reinforced tanks of the hydrogen gas the fuel cells use.
Nikola has said the trucks will be able to run up to 1,200 miles between refueling stops, depending on the amount of hydrogen they carry.
The powertrain is rated by the company at 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 pound-feet of torque.
PowerCell has developed a fuel cell stack that can operate on hydrogen gas reformed from “dirty” hydrocarbon fuels such as diesel. Other fuel cell systems typically use hydrogen reformed from cleaner sources such as natural gas.
PowerCell also has developed a hydrogen reformer that can produce the gas from diesel without creating particulate emissions or emissions of NOx — nitrogen oxides, a pollutant closely tied to respiratory disease.
Because almost every country has a developed diesel fuel delivery system, the ability to produce hydrogen from diesel and use it in a fuel-cell electric system could greatly increase the marketability of Nikola’s truck.
The company has said that it intends to lease the trucks to users and to supply the hydrogen fuel as part of the lease cost through a nationwide network of 376 hydrogen fueling stations.
PowerCell will become part of Nikola’s permanent production team “if all goes well during road testing,” Nikola said in its statement Thursday. Nikola said it also intends to name a “secondary” fuel cell stack provider next year to act as a back-up to PowerCell.
The company said the field tests will start next fall using the Nikola Two truck and Nikola test divers. Real-world testing with potential fleet customers will come after that. Testing of the Nikola One sleeper truck will begin later.
The announcements, coupled with a pair of key executive appointments earlier this week, come as Nikola is setting the stage for a major fundraising effort.
Nikola recently completed a $110 million funding round and is starting on a new campaign aimed at bringing in an additional $150 million.
Earlier this week it announced the hiring of former Wall Street capital advisor Kim Brady as chief financial officer and tasked him with heading up the new fundraising effort.
Nikola also has hired Scott Perry, longtime chief technology and procurement officer for fleet rental giant Ryder System. Perry will be Nikola’s chief operating officer.
Ryder is Nikola’s exclusive distributor and maintenance provider.
The 3-year-old electric vehicle company still has to prove to investors that it can scale up from a pre-production prototype to fully functioning test vehicles and then to production vehicles, said Gartner Inc. analyst Mike Ramsey.
Nikola plans to build its own manufacturing plant and has said that the site location will be announced and construction will begin sometime next year.
Nikola has retained Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a Tennessee-based specialist in outfitting rebuilt powertrains into chassis from major truck makers, to build the first 5,000 Nikola trucks.
As Nikola works toward a 2021 production goal, it faces competition in the short-haul heavy-duty electric truck market on several fronts, but so far it has not been challenged in the long-range segment.
After several delays, electric car maker Tesla intends to unveil a Class 8 battery-electric truck Nov. 16, and Toyota already is testing a Class 8 fuel cell electric truck on short drayage routes at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
Toyota’s truck is designed to travel up to 200 miles between hydrogen refueling stops, while Tesla’s is expected to be in the 200- to 300-mile range between battery recharging sessions. Neither company has announced a retail production timeline.