Hydrogen-powered vehicles have been promised for six decades, now.
In 1966, General Motors rolled out the hydrogen Electrovan prototype, but didn’t take the business further. The stock of Ballard Power, a pioneer in hydrogen fuel cells, climbed to $140/share in 2000 but now sells below $5. During the last Bush presidency, taxpayer money was poured into fuel-cell research, but fewer than 7,500 fuel-cell powered cars were produced (ref Forbes). Trevor Milton, however, has launched the Nikola Motor Company which he proposes to make the largest producer of fuel-cell vehicles in the world. His pitch goes like this: The most abundant element in the universe is zero-emission fuel (hydrogen). Convert it to electricity and the only by-products are water and heat. Milton says that hydrogen can power heavy-duty trucks: it goes into a fuel cell and comes out as current to power electric motors. Thus, Milton’s plans are to build prototype semis at his plant in Arizona. Thus far, he’s raised $165 million toward his goal of $1 billion needed to build the factory, put the first trucks on the road, and open ten fueling stations in California and Arizona. He says, “It’s not just about building one part. It’s about actually delivering a product that can compete against a diesel and beat it,” (ref Forbes). Some things that support the notion include the growing surplus of solar energy in the Southwest that could open the possibility of siphoning off excess power at midday to make hydrogen fuel cheaply out of water. And, the alternate idea of battery-powered trucks runs into problems with the long-haul, where batteries need re-charging for long periods of time. Milton’s Nikola truck cab has a 1,000 horsepower system of carbon fiber tanks, hydrogen fuel and a fuel-cell stack and is capable of pushing a 18-wheeler up to 750 miles. That same kind of power from an electric vehicle would require a battery weighing at least 5,000 pounds. To get things rolling for Milton, AB InBev (Budweiser) has ordered 800 Nikola semis, leased for seven years at up to $1 million each (fuel included). And, there are more deals for those preorders in the works. Time will tell if Milton and his Nikola trucks are able to get rolling. We’ll all stay tuned.