How Hydrogen Vehicles Are Changing The Way We Travel

September 10, 2019 pmg2019

How Hydrogen Vehicles Are Changing The Way We Travel

I am so excited about Nikola Motor Company and the innovations rolling out. As the founder of the National Clean Air Green Tour, we are always looking for the most sustainable ways to travel on our 50,000 mile plus green tour every year. In the past, we have used bio-diesel and other ways to reduce our own footprint. As we roll out the 2020 National Clean Air Green Tour to over 60 cities and 40 states, I could see having the Nikola Two on the tour for our solar-powered marketing displays.

Recently Nikola Motor Company announced a line-up of all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. Although Nikola is in testing with an unproven truck, Anheuser-Busch recently ordered about 14,000 of these new trucks to add to their fleet.

The Nikola vehicles feature two large commercial trucks: the Nikola Two and the Nikola Tre (for European markets), as well as a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) for off-roading, a military-grade UTV, and a previously unannounced jet ski.

Nikola CEO Trevor Milton, a college dropout from Utah who is pushing to raise at least $1 billion to put hydrogen trucks on the road, is a billionaire thanks to the latest investment that valued his Nikola Motor Co. at around $3 billion.

It has always been a challenge to overcome the distance of this class of vehicles whether a passenger car or truck. The other challenge is adding a load and to overcome rapid discharge of the fuel cells. Nikola aims to get thousands of futuristic hydrogen-powered trucks on the road throughout the 2020s that can travel up to 750 miles between fuelings at stations it plans to build and operate. For fleets requiring shorter-range semis, going a maximum of 300 miles per trip, Nikola will also lease battery-only variants of its Nikola One, Two and Tre trucks that will compete with Elon Musk’s Tesla Semi.

Trevor Milton, a serial entrepreneur whom only completed less than a semester of college, developed a passion for commercializing low-emission vehicles a decade ago, beginning with dHybrid Systems, an earlier startup that designed fueling systems for natural gas trucks. He sold that company to metals manufacturer Worthington Industries, which in turn provided seed capital for Nikola four years ago. Additional investors include hedge fund ValueAct Capital and NEL Hydrogen, Nikola’s Norwegian tech partner for producing hydrogen at its fuel stations.

The Nikola Truck

Nikola One has been sidelined by the Nikola Two, which appears to be a better fit for actual commercialization: its powertrain can be made with a battery bank for all-electric operation, or it can be made with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell that constantly regenerates a smaller battery providing more power and performance for long-range driving.

Tesla is currently working on an all-electric truck but Milton expects hydrogen fuel cell trucks to make up 80 percent of the company’s truck orders and all-battery trucks to make up the other 20 percent.

Nikola says the fuel-cell version of this truck will have 500 to 750 miles of range, which is on the upper limit of by DOT standards that a commercial driver can drive on one trip. Refueling the hydrogen truck will take a fascinating 15 minutes at any of the 700 hydrogen refueling stations that Nikola has promised to build. Customers can order trucks with hydrogen as a fuel, or they can order trucks with a 500, 750, or 1,000 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery pack.

The current limitations are on refueling stations which Nikola recently released a solution with its new refueling stations. Below is the Nikola Motor Company ZEV Station. They will provide 8 tons/day hydrogen with fueling for both heavy-duty fuel cell trucks and light-duty FC vehicles as well as EV DC-Fast charging. The energy used at the station will be either be from renewable and/or carbon-neutral sources with the goal to remove Well to Wheel Emissions from the ground transportation sector. This will have an impact on greatly reducing both greenhouse gases as well as smog in our push to commercialize true zero-emission vehicles.

From a strategic point of view, it would make sense to partner with companies like Pilot, Love’s, etc. is they already have thousands of locations for trucks. The reason other vehicle manufacturers have not succeeded in hydrogen because of the lack of fuel stations. I can remember in 2010 when GM released a hydrogen-powered vehicle. The problem was they only had one station in the Los Angeles area.

All-Electric Powersports

Nikola is releasing a line of electric utility vehicles and has anything from a recreational vehicle called the Nikola NZT to the Reckless, a military which is virtually silent and has a low thermal signature due to its state-of-the-art refrigerant cooling system.

Nikola believes production would begin this year. Now, commercialization has been pushed back to 2021, a year before the Nikola Two is scheduled to go to market. Nikola has already been taking reservations for its NZT.

The Reckless, a military-grade UTV, which appears to be a heavier-duty extension of the NZT. Company representatives noted that the Reckless’ advantages are primarily in stealth. The UTV makes less noise compared to a diesel-powered UTV, it has almost no heat signature (especially if it’s operated in either the remote-control or autonomous modes, without a human in the passenger seat), and it can be fully submerged in water. It’s unclear whether the company has a contract to sell these to the military yet.

The Water Adventure Vehicle (WAV), a jet ski with no emissions and little noise pollution. The WAV will have zero environmental impact (which is not true of any battery-powered vehicle) and will have zero emissions. With an electric powertrain, it could avoid any oil or gasoline spillage into the water and could avoid releasing fossil-fuel emissions into the air and water. Currently, you can reserve one online with no money down at https://nikolamotor.com/wav.

The WAV has a sleek design modeled after sportbikes. It has angular LED headlights upfront, an LED light bar in the rear, and a cool pass-through beneath the steering column. It also has a 12-inch 4K digital display that would integrate technology such as over-the-air updates and cruise control.

Like the NZT, the WAV is set for commercialization in 2021. The WAV is rumored to have a 12-inch 4K display that is apparently fully submersible. Reservations for the WAV opened up last night.

Fuel Cells and Our Water for Hydrogen Vehicles

GM Fuel Cell Vehicle Hydrogren car Nikola

My take on hydrogen fuel cells and what innovation is doing to resolve any water supply issues. The biggest problem for hydrogen fuel-cell cars has been where to get a plentiful, affordable supply of hydrogen that doesn’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Now scientists may have come up with what some have called the holy grail of clean transportation: a way to create hydrogen affordably from seawater.

The salt in seawater has been problematic for electrolyzers that separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms from water molecules because it quickly corrodes the electrolyzer’s anode. Desalinating seawater before putting it through an electrolyzer is too costly. Most hydrogen is made by splitting methane, which results in large amounts of leftover carbon dioxide, the primary gas scientists have associated with global warming.

As in lithium batteries, the solution is in a new type of catalyst coating the anode.

Electrolyzing seawater to create hydrogen for fuel-cells solves an obvious problem with today’s electrolysis: the supply of freshwater, which is already constrained in many parts of the world, often including Southern California, the home to most fuel-cell cars in the U.S.

The breakthrough doesn’t solve all the challenges of hydrogen cars, such as developing a sustainable and affordable distribution network for hydrogen. But if it makes electrolysis viable using renewable energy, it could make the rest of the challenges worth solving.

To read more about Nikola Motor Company, visit https://nikolamotor.com

 

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