Nikola’s Challenges and Opportunities on the Hydrogen Highway

Editor’s note: Written by Trevor Milton, chief executive and founder, Nikola Motor Co. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.

Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to its work and accomplishments. The present is theirs, the future, for which I have really worked, is mine. Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)

If pioneering electrical engineer Nikola Tesla were alive today and was asked about heavy-duty trucks, there’s no doubt he would say the present is diesel but the future is hydrogen-electric.

Diesel truck sales will nearly be extinct in a decade, replaced by a new fleet of sleek, driver-centric, clean-energy vehicles, powered by hydrogen, electricity and zero emissions.

At Nikola Motor we revealed our vision of the future a year ago, unveiling the Nikola One hydrogen fuel cell semi-tractor on the stage of our Salt Lake City headquarters. In the last 12 months, we’ve made many big strides, especially as it relates to the hydrogen ecosystem that will make Nikola Motor truly revolutionary.

We are tackling one of America’s biggest challenges — how to create a sustainable, zero-emissions freight eco-system.

Our trucks will have electric power systems that draw energy from batteries that are continually charged by hydrogen. We have partnered with talented teams at Bosch and PowerCell AB to design our hydrogen fuel cell stack. Each Nikola truck will store between two or three megawatt hours (MWh) of energy.

But we know there are more than just technical and engineering hurdles ahead. One giant challenge is that the U.S. doesn’t have enough hydrogen stations. We are going to solve that by designing and building our own hydrogen highway — a network of our own hydrogen stations.

There are many small hydrogen stations in the United States, mostly in California. Nikola has already kicked off the planning of the first two stations and will follow with 14 more by the time Nikola trucks hit full production in 2021. Within 10 years of our 2021 production launch, Nikola will have a network of more than 700 hydrogen stations adjacent to our country’s biggest highways.

Nikola Motor CEO Trevor Milton and his dog Taffy.

Nikola Motor CEO Trevor Milton and his dog Taffy.

Purchase orders for the first two of 16 hydrogen stations have been issued to Nel ASA, which will provide engineering, electrolysis and fueling equipment. Nikola will handle the balance of the plant, construction, dispensers and other station equipment. Each station will produce up to 8 tons daily, with expansion up to 32 tons per day once the stations operate at full capacity.

The first stations will be placed on the highways closest to our customer routes. Vertical integration reduces market uncertainties, allowing Nikola to control fuel prices to keep them affordable for our customers.

Nikola’s objective is to produce hydrogen through zero-emission methods whenever possible. We plan on using wind, solar and hydroelectricity to produce most of our hydrogen.

Our trucks can refuel with hydrogen at any station within our planned fueling network. Under our vehicle lease agreement, Nikola will provide hydrogen fuel for up to 1 million miles for our customers. Nikola will also allow any hydrogen vehicle to purchase fuel at our stations as well.

Our goal is to help move America toward a clean fuel future. Toyota and many other automakers also have hydrogen fuel cell trucks in development. Some, including Toyota, Honda and Hyundai, already have hydrogen passenger cars on the road.

With our early lead and more than 8,000 reservations, our trucks will be on the road long before the competitors. Still, there’s plenty of room in the commercial truck space for everyone as we work to eliminate dirty diesels.

As far as opportunity, we see Europe as our next horizon shortly after we launch in the United States. European governments are very knowledgeable and proactive in seeking zero-emission trucking solutions.

During my recent trip to Olso for the Zero Conference, I met with Ketil Solvik-Olsen, Norway’s minister of transport and communications. I explained my desire to enter the Norwegian and European markets. The Norwegian government and people are genuinely interested in our products.We may ship a couple of initial Nikola daycab trucks to operate in Norway for demonstration as early as 2020. Depending on interest, we may enter the European market as soon as 2023 with a fully compliant flat-faced truck.

Our goal is to have an exciting commercial truck designed with the best partners in the business and a comprehensive plan to test and manufacture the vehicle. The next step is to build a network of hydrogen stations at the right locations on our country’s highways. Both are achievable but require innovation and true grit to accomplish.

We begin road testing in 2018 and can’t wait to get on the hydrogen highway.

Editor’s note: Trevor Milton oversees the day-to-day operations of Nikola Motor Co. as president and chief executive. He has led the Salt Lake City company from startup to an operational business with more than $4 billion in preliminary reservations for the Nikola hydrogen-electric truck.

Read Next: Nikola to Start Fuel Cell Truck Field Tests in Late 2018; Names Fuel Cell Suppliers

2 Responses

  1. Ed PEmund

    Wow, no comments on this? This company will single handedly develop the H2 infrastructure and develop a cost effective fuel cell propulsion system, in a 3 years!!. Where are all the Nikola’s that are on the road now being tested?? Was the original architecture of a NG feed gas turbine REEV generator too difficult to implement so in the middle of taking orders you switched to an even bigger challenge of fielding a production fuel cell truck? There are so many things wrong with this it is hard decide where to start. Oh…lets start at 10,000psi carbon fiber H2 onboard storage tank. What is the cost and the weight of these tanks?? 7000lbs and $100K, that sounds about right.

    • Foo


      Try Hydrogen Storage System Cost Analysis report by Strategic Analysis Inc., ordered by DOE. Every material and capital detail is analyzed and accounted.

      You really picked the wrong thing with this tank(s) if you want to complain. It is about 10 times cheaper and lighter than equivalent Li Ion battery, and you don’t need to invent it, there are suppliers already.


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