By Larry E. Hall
Last Thursday Nikola Motors took the wraps off its prototype Nikola One hydrogen-powered electric semi-truck at its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Since appearing out of nowhere last June – and soon claiming 7,300 pre-orders before a running prototype was shown – the startup company’s technology has captured the public’s attention with its potential to radically improve emissions, efficiency, and continues to look promising.
Nikola CEO Trevor Milton said the heavy duty Class 8 truck would travel 800 to 1,200 miles while carrying a full load of 65,000 pounds without stopping at a hydrogen fueling station, where refill time is just 15 minutes.
The Nikola One semi employs a fully electric drivetrain powered by high-density rechargeable lithium batteries that energy is merged with primary electric energy supplied on-the-go by a hydrogen fuel cell that provides juice for the electric motors while keeping the batteries charged.
According to Milton, the truck runs off both the 350-kWh battery and the fuel cell as a parallel hybrid with the fuel cell providing most of the power to eliminate cycles on batteries. The batteries are in place to assist whenever the truck needs more power.
If the fuel cell is turned off, the batteries can be used to drive the vehicle up to around 200 miles.
“We get about .58 miles per kWh,” said Milton, “so about 200 miles [would be the range in battery only mode] if you went a full discharge.”
The company is not naming the chemistry of its batteries because this would reveal the manufacturer, Milton said. This will likely be disclosed later once the partnership between Nicola and the battery maker is announced.
Each driven wheel has an electric motor that provides a combined output of 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 pounds-feet of torque, which Milton said can power a fully-loaded truck up an 8-percent grade at 60 mph.
For short-haul trucking companies, Nikola Two without a sleeper was shown on a screen.
Nikola confused folks in August when it pivoted abruptly from a range-extender hybrid truck that used turbines fueled by natural gas to its current hydrogen fuel technology.
Milton said Nikola decided to “filter out and eliminate any orders from other countries” outside the U.S. and Canada so it could focus on the hydrogen-electric truck. The company will only produce the hybrid truck after the hydrogen-powered trucks hit the market.
At last night’s event, Nikola announced that Miami-based Ryder Systems, with more than 800 service locations, will be its exclusive provider for sales distribution and service nationwide.
To support the Nikola One trucks, Milton said it will have a network of hydrogen fueling stations across the country. The first construction of 56 locations will start in January 2018, and eventually grow to more than 300 stations.
As for the supply of hydrogen fuel for the stations, that will come from solar hydrogen farms owned by Nikola.
In June, Nikola announced that it had received 7,000 pre-orders for the hybrid truck. Last night the company said the number has grown to 8,000 and that 99 percent of the orders were for the hydrogen model representing more than $3 billion in sales.
The Nikola One will be road-ready by 2019 Milton said, and the company will announce the location of its new manufacturing plant in the first half of 2017.
Nikola Motor isn’t the only company that has plans to develop hydrogen fuel cell heavy duty vehicles.
Last week Toyota said it is considering using that technology to develop a heavy-duty fuel cell truck, and has formed a special team in the U.S. to work on a fuel cell electric powertrain for Class 8 trucks.
The Japanese automaker announced last month that will begin selling fuel cell buses next year.
Perhaps the race for fuel cell big rig trucks has started.
This article appears also art HybridCars.com