Nikola Motor Claims Historic Battery Technology Breakthrough

November 19, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Nikola Motor Co. said Tuesday that it achieved a landmark breakthrough in battery technology that could double the range of electric vehicles without adding any weight.

“We have the Holy Grail of batteries. You are talking about making electric vehicles at an affordable price point,” said Trevor Milton, founder and chief executive of the Phoenix, Ariz., startup. Nikola is developing hydrogen fuel cell and battery-electric heavy-duty trucks.

The breakthrough has not been confirmed by an independent third party.

A number of battery developers and automakers are working on new battery chemistries in hopes of achieving large improvements in energy density and weight reduction. Such gains would bring down the cost and raise the range of electric vehicles.

One promising is a solid-state battery that Toyota plans to debut in electric vehicles to use at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The widespread expectation, though, is that it will take several years before any new technology is ready for market, according to ABI Research, a technology research firm.

NEW CHEMISTRY

Nikola’s technology is a new battery chemistry that includes lithium. But it is not the standard lithium-ion chemistry used in everything from cell phones to Teslas.

Commercialization of the technology would allow Nikola’s battery-electric trucks to drive 800 miles fully loaded between charges. Or they could drive half that distance but carry an additional 5,000 pounds of cargo. The company’s fuel cell trucks, which also use some batteries, could surpass 1,000 miles between stops, Milton told Trucks.com.

The batteries will be in Nikola trucks by the end of next year and in full production in 2021, Milton said.

Automakers could use the technology for passenger vehicle batteries, he said.

INCREASED RANGE

He said the technology could increase the range of current electric passenger cars to 600 miles from 300 miles today with no increase to battery size and weight. Alternately, it could reduce the cost of current electric vehicles with a 250- to 300-mile range, cutting the expense and weight of their battery packs. Milton said the cell technology is environmentally friendly and easy to recycle.

Milton provided only a few details about the technology. He said the company will demonstrate the technology at its Nikola World conference in the fall.

LIGHTER AND SMALLER

He said a typical lithium-ion battery cell used for vehicles is a 5 amp-hour cell that is 21 millimeters by 70 millimeters and costs about $2. The Nikola battery cuts the size and cost in half for the same 5 amp-hour cell.

The technology does that by removing binder material and electric current collectors from the cell, allowing for more energy storage. Current collectors conduct energy through the battery, but they take up weight and space.

“Our material is more conductive,” Milton said. “It can take energy through the cell with the material rather than needing the current collector.”

The company is testing the cells and finding they can withstand 2,000 charge and discharge cycles. That is about double the current standard, Milton said.

MUM ON SOURCE

Nikola is cagey about the source of the technology. It said security and confidentiality concerns prevent the company from providing more details.

“We acquired it from a professor who had been working on it for over a decade. It comes from academia. We improved it to the point where we can commercialize the technology with their help,” Milton said.

Earlier this month, Nikola agreed to acquire a battery engineering company to help bring the new battery to pre-production. Through this acquisition, Nikola will add 15 PhDs and five master’s degree team members to its staff. But it did not name the company it acquired.

Milton said it is open to creating a technology sharing agreement with other manufacturers and automakers.

PRIVATE BUSINESS

Nikola is a privately-held business. It does not report the same level of detail for financial transactions and material developments as a company that has stock that trades on an exchange.

The startup’s significant investors include CNH Industrial, parent of IVECO trucks and automotive parts supplier Bosch Co. Other investors include Hanwha Group, a South Korean conglomerate and Wabco Holdings, an automotive industry supplier.

“We strike out 8 out of 10 times testing various things, but this time we have hit a grand slam,” Milton said.

Jerry Hirsch November 12, 2019
Hyundai Motor Co. has an ambitious plan to wean the global trucking industry from fossil fuels by creating commercial trucks with the same power and range as their diesel counterparts.

4 Responses

  1. Craig M Knight

    As an established fuel cell company deploying dozens of fuel cell trucks WEEKLY, we have struggled to comprehend the ‘darling’ status of Nikola Motor, since they don’t seem to have any core technology.

    They do have some creative genius, clearly.

    At this stage the latest battery announcement firmly belongs in the second camp .. though for the good of The world I hope it graduates to the first ..

    Heavy transport – powered by Hydrogen!

    Craig Knight
    CEO
    Horizon Fuel Cell

    Reply
  2. Stuart Saunders

    Trevor Milton,
    CEO,
    Nikola.

    Trevor, what you have done with batteries, we have done with drivelines. You will be amazed what we could do for your unsprung. and friction. and cost. and packaging. and and and …

    Stuart,
    EsDesign.

    Reply
  3. M J Nichols

    Speaking as an end user (owner) of both pickups and Class 8 heavy trucks, I’ve seen nothing in this market that would cause me to reconsider my 40 year loyalty to, and love of, an “old fashioned diesel.”

    Like other sectors of alternative energy, the proponents will seek to limit customer choice to level the playing field for their inferior products.

    Reply
  4. Matthew Davis

    Looking towards the Future….Unfortunately mounting evidence that diesel exhaust poses major health hazards, reducing diesel pollution has become a World Wide priority. Studies have shown that the use of Diesel for Power will soon be coming to a end for main stream commercial transportation use. Fortunately, New Battery Technology combined with Hydrogen power fuel cells and Zero Emissions will be the norm.

    I have been driving Diesel engine trucks for almost three decades and have seen Automatic transmissions become a standard in the application of heavy class 8 trucks. At the time, I never thought that it would be popular or become the norm…but here it is. Most drivers swear by it because they use it and know the difference it makes with
    fatigue etc., I personally still drive a 10 speed. But hey we cant have everything.

    The same will happen with The hydrogen fuel cell electric powered vehicles like the NIKOLA ONE Semi Sleeper Truck By NIKOLA MOTORS COMPANY.
    This form of transportation won’t take 20+ years to become the norm, due to the fact that we are now fighting climate change more then ever and its not going to disappear or go away, no matter how low you get the emissions down you just can’t beat Zero Emissions. World environmental organizations and governments will encourage and offer incentives to use this clean form of power to reduce global pollution.
    We all know Transport companies are only interested in the bottom line. It wont matter what powers their fleet as long as it’s economical. Zero emissions carriers will be able to emphasize that the “products that are being delivering, will only be leaving a minimal carbon footprint” and this will drive consumers to use these Zero Emission Carriers.

    Personally I look forward to a cleaner and more economical way to get my business done, while doing it in a super quiet , smooth, low maintenance, effective zero emissions way.

    Matthew Davis – CEO
    Stepdeck 1 Trucking.LLC

    Reply

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