Just 90 days before startup Nikola Motor Company’s scheduled unveiling of its “emissions free” Nikola One natural gas electric hybrid semi truck, it has abruptly announced a switch to hydrogen power for the U.S. and Canada.
The Nikola One is still electric, and the company says the truck for which it now has 7,300 pre-orders will be indeed entirely free of emissions.
Last June, Nikola had come out of “stealth mode” saying it was building the truck powered by both a 320-kilowatt-hour battery pack and a natural gas turbine range-extender engine. This powertrain, it now says, was only for other than U.S. and Canadian markets and will still be produced.
It featured six electric motors, one on each wheel, that generated 2,000 horsepower and 3,700 pounds-feet of torque, and had a driving range of 1,200 miles provided by a 150-gallon natural gas tank.
This gas turbine design is similar in concept to Wrightspeed’s turbine, and Nikola’s founder, Trevor Milton, fielded tech questions about the gas turbine.
“Our turbine is about one-quarter the weight of a diesel and outputs more energy more efficiently,” said Milton. “There are many ways you can compare and to what engines. Compared to the large class 8 trucks, they are around 20 percent from our history of analysis. Some are greater, but most are not.”
Milton said also the company was strenuously validating the turbine.
“That is part of validation and testing. All are steps that are required to build a truck that will last,” observed Milton. “We are validating every part of the truck for over 2 million miles, not just the turbine. These are normal steps, yet costly. Just part of the process.”
No Turbine for US or Canada
Apparently that was a ruse to hide the truck’s actual powertrain intended for its primary markets.
The company’s latest statement is now saying, essentially, it had to omit critical information because of the need simultaneously for confidentiality with suppliers while seeking form the media as much publicity as it could get prior to a Dec. 1 unveiling.
“At that time, details about how Nikola achieved zero emissions were kept confidential pending finalization of key supplier agreements,” said the company, adding “the electric drivetrain used in the U.S. and Canadian markets will be powered by a custom-built hydrogen-electric 800-volt fuel cell.”
And where will the hydrogen fuel come from, given that there are only a hand full of hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S.?
“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. Nikola will produce hydrogen via zero emission solar farms built by Nikola Motor Company,” said Milton. “These solar farms will produce over 100 megawatts each and will use electrolysis to create hydrogen from water. Even our manufacturing facilities will be run off of zero emission hydrogen energy.”
Nikola will build 50 hydrogen stations to support the trucks, which still have a 1,200-mile driving range. Milton said the stations would either be very close to existing truck stops or at current stops.
The Nikola One hydrogen-electric semi is still on tap to debut on December 1 in Salt Lake City.