Earlier this year, Nikola Motor Company outlined its optimistic plans to bring a hybrid electric semi to market. It promised 2,000 all-electric horsepower, and an impressive range from a 320 kWh battery and proprietary range-extending turbine, but the lack of detail suggested this spec wasn't exactly set in stone. Today, the details changed dramatically, with the switch from range-extended electric power to a hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain.
The new powertrain, which will slot into American and Canadian trucks, is a custom 800 V hydrogen-electric fuel cell. Just like the first range-extender promised earlier this year, Nikola says the hydrogen setup will offer more than 1,200 miles (1,931 km) of range thanks to hydrogen consumption figures of 20 mpg (11.7 l/100 km).
Although it's clean, and allows us to maintain existing fuelling patterns, there are a few issues with hydrogen power. The most notable – especially for truckers, who are expected to traverse the widest reaches of North America – is a lack of infrastructure. There are fuel-filling stations on every street corner, and electric vehicles can be topped up on any wall plug given the time and space.
Hydrogen stations are seriously hard to find, and building them isn't particularly simple. Tanks need to be pressurized, and the filler nozzles all need their own special locking valves too. Then, of course, there's also the small matter of sourcing the fuel itself.
To circumvent these issues, Nikola plans to take the hydrogen fueling process into its own hands, producing hydrogen through its own zero-emission solar farms. The company says each farm will produce more than 100 megawatts of energy, and use electrolysis to produce hydrogen from water.
"The desire to be 100% emission free in the U.S. and Canada is a critical piece of our long-term engineering and environmental efforts, not just in vehicle energy consumption, but also in how energy is produced," said Trevor Milton, CEO, Nikola Motor Company.
"Nikola plans to have a nationwide network of over 50 hydrogen stations for customers to begin fueling by 2020. This will make Nikola Motor Company the first company in the world to be 100% emission-free from energy production to transportation to consumption. Say goodbye to the days of dirty diesels and after treatment in the heavy duty class 8 market."
As you might imagine, all of this is just on paper at the moment, so we're taking these claims with a hefty grain of salt until we see something concrete.
Nikola says the gas-turbine range extender powertrain will still be offered in countries where hydrogen isn't readily available. The truck will be fully revealed on December 1 this year. Stay tuned.