The goal of Nikola Corp. to build and power pollution-free fuel cell electric trucks is bolstered by a new partnership with oil and gas giant TC Energy, the company behind the now-canceled Keystone XL pipeline project to bring in place of large scale up hubs to produce hydrogen.
Nikola and TC Energy, headquartered in Calgary, say Forbes they plan to jointly design, build and operate high-volume hydrogen production facilities within five years, which will have a significantly larger capacity than Nikola’s first stations. Initially, the Phoenix-based company will operate hydrogen stations that produce up to eight tonnes of clean fuel per day. The project with TC Energy will result in hubs generating 150 tonnes or more per day for both the trucks and the energy customers of the Canadian company.
The partnership does not include investment in Nikola by TC Energy and the companies are yet to say how much each future of their hydrogen refineries will cost. They will use different base materials to make the fuel depending on local market conditions, including renewables, biomass, and natural gas, and sequester the by-product carbon dioxide as needed.
“We see the opportunity to partner with Nikola (as a means) to identify and expand our customer base, using the infrastructure and skills we have, to provide that basic infrastructure that will be needed as we grow. The hydrogen economy will grow over the next few years. Said Corey Hessen, senior vice president of TC Energy and president of the company’s electrical and storage division. “We are a company rooted in the energy sector, regardless of the technology used. Hydrogen is just another product that we can provide them.
The alliance is the latest in a series of partnerships that Nikola has unveiled in recent months as she works to overcome founder Trevor Milton’s legal woes and stay on track with plans to build and sell. high capacity battery and hydrogen trucks. Last month, Nikola announced that it would develop hydrogen stations with OPAL Fuel, a supplier of renewable natural gas; in June, it bought a $ 50 million stake in a hydrogen plant in Indiana, following plans announced in April for a hydrogen pipeline alliance in Europe with commercial vehicle maker IVECO and distributor of natural gas OGE and the announcement of its intention to create hydrogen filling stations with the road transport powerhouse TravelCenters of America.
In late 2020, the company also reached a deal to purchase cheap excess electricity from Arizona utilities, which it will use to produce hydrogen by electrolysis of carbon-free water.
The merger with TC Energy will have an impact on increasing Nikola’s production over the next few years, said Pablo Koziner, president of the company’s energy and commercial activities.
“We have solutions for the early production of low volume trucks and how we support those that use hydrogen. We are in a rush to build facilities in areas where we anticipate high volume, ”including southwestern California and Arizona, he said. “But there are other areas as well. There are other parts of the country, and the Canadian market is — the Canadian government is — very progressive. We also see opportunities there. It is really a question of coordination and prioritization. This is the type of work we are excited to do with TC energy.
Before delivering fuel cell trucks to commercial fleet customers, Nikola aims to deliver the first units of its battery-powered Tre semi-trailer by the end of this year. Production of the first models begins in Ulm, Germany, at a plant operated by commercial vehicle manufacturer partner Iveco. Production of the battery-powered Tres also begins next year at Nikola’s plant in Coolidge, Arizona. A fuel cell version of the Tre is due to be built at Coolidge from 2023 and a larger, longer reach Nikola Two semi-trailer will go into production at the plant in 2024. Nikola’s business plan is to lease fuel cell vehicles to customers including Anheuser-Busch— and provide all the hydrogen they need.
The eight-ton hydrogen production and distribution facilities that Nikola said they would start with are expected to provide fuel for up to 200 trucks per day. By comparison, the 150-ton (150,000-kilogram) hubs it plans to build with TC Energy could provide enough fuel for thousands of trucks per day.
“We have set a goal to identify opportunities over the next five years,” Koziner said. “We have certainly started to look at the areas that we believe will be the highest demand for hydrogen in all respects, but certainly paying close attention to the density of commercial traffic.”
Nikola is far from alone in pushing hydrogen to power heavy vehicles. Toyota, Hino, Hyundai Motor, Volvo, Daimler, Cummins, General Motors, and Navistar have their own hydrogen fuel plans. The companies say the technology is better suited for heavy trucks that travel hundreds of miles per day than multi-ton batteries, such as those required by Tesla’s delayed electric semi-electric, because the fuel cell powertrain is lighter and can be refueled about as quickly as a diesel truck.
Fuel cells have been used since the 1960s, especially with NASA spacecraft. Rather than storing electricity like batteries do, they manufacture it as needed in an electrochemical process involving hydrogen and oxygen that emits only water as a byproduct.
“Our customers tell us they want solutions that also include carbon-free production. ”
While Nikola’s image has been hammered by the DOJ’s indictment of Milton for making false statements about the company in public appearances and on social media that misled investors about its technology ( accusations he denies), TC Energy’s pivot to hydrogen comes the day after work on its controversial Keystone XL pipeline ended after the Biden administration blocked it.
“For all of us in the (energy) industry, we listen to what our customers tell us. Our customers tell us they want solutions that also include zero carbon production, ”said Hessen. “It is happening and I think you are going to feel more and more effort from our industry.”
Shares of Nikola rose less than 1% to $ 10.21 on Nasdaq on Wednesday, while TC Energy fell less than half a percent to $ 48.58 in New York.