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If hydrogen is to replace diesel, there’s plenty of work to do

171116-toy-usaU.S. coal production has declined in seven of the last eight years, and from 2015 to 2016 four publicly traded U.S. coal companies have declared bankruptcy.

Coal is such a four-letter word that I think Santa got a letter from the EPA telling him to find something else to leave for the naughty list later this month.

This country has tried for years to free itself from the kind of energy you can dig out of the ground but has been incapable of shaking the grip, especially when it comes to fuel.

As recently as 2015, natural gas seemed to be looming like a tidal wave of cleaner burning fuel for trucking. Then diesel bounced around $2.50 per gallon for a year, adding to natural gas’ payback window and taking some of the polish off green energy.

Natural gas still has its place, and fans of its efficiency still run up and down the highways, but CNG and LNG aren’t the buzzwords they once were and seemingly are on the cusp of being replaced by a fuel you can “spell” with two fewer letters – H.

For years Toyota has maintained that hydrogen fuel cell technology could be a zero emission solution across many vehicle types, and the scalability of the fuel has enabled the automaker to explore a semi-trailer truck application for a California-based feasibility study.

Earlier this month, Nikola Motor Company (NMC) gave the world an early Christmas present, unfurling its much-hyped Nikola One tractor and the hydrogen fuel cell that helps keep the truck’s electric drive batteries charged.

The Nikola One utilizes a fully electric drivetrain powered by high-density lithium batteries, but energy is supplied on the go by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The range for a Nikola One, NMC claims, is 800 to 1,200 miles while delivering more than 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 ft. lbs. of torque. If those numbers hold up when an actual truck hits the road, hydrogen will have a buzz of its own.

A heavy-duty truck sized fuel cell vehicle based on the Toyota Mirai, the company claims, creates a potential zero-emission freight transportation solution for the future.

It’s worth noting here that the Mirai is Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell car and features a 151-horsepower powertrain. Toyota has their work cut out for them in scalability, but that work is already underway.

Toyota already has plans to build hydrogen fuel cell buses this year, putting about 100 of the clean-burning buses into service in Tokyo ahead of the 2020 Olympics. Payback aside, the biggest knock on natural gas has historically been the lack of a nationwide fueling infrastructure.

At 1,043 stations, the public CNG & LNG fueling network isn’t expansive but a hydrogen network is still in an embryonic stage. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are currently 31 public hydrogen stations in the U.S., with 28 of them located in the State of California. The other three in are in Massachusetts, Connecticut and South Carolina. There’s almost 2,500 miles between California and South Carolina – more than double Nikola One’s top-end range claims.

Trevor Milton, NMC founder and CEO, says his company plans to solve that by building a network of 364 Nikola hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S. and Canada, with construction set to begin in early 2019.

For reference, once/if the network build out hits 364 locations, there will be almost as many Nikola hydrogen stations as there are Love’s Travel Stops, and it would more than sextuple the current combined number of public and private hydrogen stations in the U.S.

Hydrogen’s sudden pass through the spotlight is helped by the fact these state-of-the-art trucks have some pretty eye-popping styling, but this kind of innovation comes at a cost. A Toyota Mirai stickers for about $57,000 – more than double a base model Camry.

A Nikola One tractor is expected to go for around $400,000.

There are credits and incentives that make both more appealing if reducing your carbon footprint isn’t enough. In Nikola’s case it’s a million miles of free hydrogen and maintenance services included in the lease payment, but it doesn’t change the number on the sticker. Well over a quarter of a million dollars is a tough nut to crack.

The technologies Nikola and Toyota are poised to bring to market are exciting prospects and this space warrants watching in the years ahead, but it’s going to take more than sexy wrapping and a green conscience to displace diesel as the king of the road.

5 comments
Rainwater2
Rainwater2

I am still not very confidant that the real world application of this truck will not be practical or realistic from a monetary basis. The real world highways will be forever keeping the equipment in the shop for repairs or waiting on parts.

Cliff Downing
Cliff Downing

I still think that the Nikola truck be offered as it originally was, in a CNG turbine generator configuration.  At least the option to the buyer.  Initially the Nikola was proposed as a batteries with CNG turbine generator to provide the charging.  That seems more viable than Hydrogen at this and foreseeable future.  And it would still make all the little bunny huggers and posey sniffers feel better that it isn't  using diesel.  One thing that many fail to factor in, hydrogen requires fuel of another sort to be produced.  You don't just grab it out of thin air.  CNG is a one stop shop deal, and probably cheaper to implement on this truck than H2 fuel cell stuff.    I am very interested in the Nikola.  I sincerely hope it gets legs, then wings, and flies!  I would jump on one as soon as they get something realistic that works out here in the real world where trucking goes on.

Richard LeFrancois
Richard LeFrancois

Go Trevor Milton and the Nikola1 and the Nikola2 truck!  The changes this young man is proposing portends to change the entire trucking industry in such a way that it is almost inconceivable.


Granted, there is a long way to go but Trevor Milton is just the kind of dreamer and doer this country needs!



Jack Mosel
Jack Mosel

www.securesupplyusa.com We have MORE to say about H2 "Passing the Limelight"... We shall promote and bring to light GREEN Hydrogen and H2 MW Class Fueling from our PV / H2 Production facilities throughout the USA...

GO GREEN H2!

GO USA!

danieldonatelli1
danieldonatelli1

Secure Supplies is leading way with Solar Hydrogen Farms Making the Chicken before the Egg www.securesupplies.biz


Jason Cannon is the Equipment Editor for Commercial Carrier Journal and Overdrive. Reach him at jasoncannon@randallreilly.com.