Have you heard? With much fanfare, Nikola, the company working on electric cars, has unveiled their first hydrogen-powered semi concept. The fact is it’s not just passenger cars that are inching away from gasoline-combustion engines, but big rigs are also saying goodbye to the old way of doing things.
Recently, at an unveiling in Salt Lake City, Nikola unveiled their first long-haul truck concept. Per their marketing department deliveries are expected to be taken on the truck starting in 2020. Let’s dig a little deeper into the details of this advanced new machine and discover how viable it really is.
The new Class-8 truck comes in with a range between 800 and 1,200 miles between refueling. If the company can carry through with this promise, expect these vehicles to get from California to Wyoming on a single tank of gas.
The company has also announced that they will build several hydrogen stations across the United States and Canada to refuel in both countries. The company expects to start breaking ground on the stations in 2018. The first should be scheduled to open in 2019.
Consider that without the hydrogen stations, it won’t matter how great the truck is, considering there is no way for the vehicles to get the freight where it needs to go. On the road, expect the technology to run the show.
How it Works
Per the company, the truck’s navigation system will determine the best routes between destinations and where it needs to go. Much like some other prototypes appearing on the market, the Nikola One will have a large display mounted mid-center in the cab.
The vehicle will use a combination hydrogen and electric power setup designed to offer the same level of performance found in comparable diesel varieties. There is an electric motor also attached to each wheel, which helps with acceleration due to increased torque vectoring and regenerative braking.
But although the technology shows a lot promise, there’s one sticking point, and that’s the infrastructure problem. The Nikola truck utilizes a fully electric hybrid drivetrain powered by both lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells.
Where will these stations go? Nikola has announced a partnership with Ryder to build a network of hydrogen fueling stations across the country. Additionally, Toyota Motor Corp. is itself looking at plans to invest in a nationwide hydrogen fueling network.
Building a Network
But where can hydrogen look for inspiration? Take CNG and LNG as an example. While the network isn’t expansive, the U.S. CNG and LNG network spans across 1,040 fueling stations. As for hydrogen fueling stations? There are only 31, most which are in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and South Carolina.
With almost double the distance of the Nikola’s range coming in between California and South Carolina, no doubt there will need to be a far greater amount of infrastructure built to support a fleet of hydrogen-powered big rigs.
Still, companies are on the case. A company called NMC plans to build a network of 364 hydrogen fueling stations across the nation.
Don’t think that sounds like much? Consider that if the planned network gets fully built out, that would equate to more H-stations than there are currently Love’s Truck Stops.
So, what can a fleet equipment purchasing manager expect to pay for such an advanced piece of machinery? As of this publication date they are set to come in at or around $400,000.
But while they may be expensive, the potential for major change using these vehicles is very alluring. How soon we will see fleets of hybrid hydrogen-electric fuel cell big rigs on the road? Only time will tell.