Hydrogen trucks: Into the future with up to 1,000 horsepower-Bosch interview with the founder and Executive Chairman of Nikola Motors
A startup out of Arizona is paving the way for locally emission-free delivery traffic: Nikola Motors is looking to usher in the future of climate-neutral transport. Bosch is working with the company to make the fuel-cell drive for trucks suitable for mass production.
Trevor Milton plans to revolutionize the transportation of goods with the world’s first Class 8 semi-truck with a fuel-cell drive, making it possible to transport goods by 40-tonne trucks for over 1,100 kilometers without any refueling stops or local emissions. In 2015, he founded Nikola Motors, a global leader in zero-emissions transportation and infrastructure solutions specializing in the production of Class 8 semi-truck battery-electric (BEV) and fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV). The Nikola Tre BEV trucks will be tested this year in a limited run. For consumers (fleet partners), projected delivery for the BEV trucks is 2021 with FCEV slated for 2023.
1,000 peak horsepower, no CO₂
“These fuel-cell trucks are the most advanced we’ve ever built,” says Milton. Running at 1,000 horsepower peak power output and a range of 1,100 kilometers, it will be approximately twice as powerful as previous diesel models and will not emit a single gram of CO₂ while in operation. The heart of this truck is a dual-motor powertrain with a continuous power output of 480 kW that draws its power from the fuel-cell system and the high-voltage battery. The hydrogen is stored in multiple large tanks, which can be completely filled within 15 to 20 minutes at a pressure of 700 bar.
“We’re very good in innovation, but not so great at productionization. So we needed good partners to help us,” says Milton. “Bosch came in to analyze all the systems, all the technologies. They helped us further to develop the truck, but on top of that they actually helped us to commercialize it.” Bosch provided the electric motors for the hydrogen truck’s drive system. The so-called e-axle combines the motors, gears, and axle structure in one housing.
“It’s not one size fits all. I believe the future will need a lot of different mobilities.”
Trevor Milton, founder and Executive Chairman of Nikola Motors
The motor is not Nikola’s only innovation: with its fully networked control architecture, it’s like a rolling supercomputer. “Instead of having tiny computers everywhere, we have more massive computers on board that can power through any of the data we need e.g., for autonomous driving or the infotainment system,” explains Milton. Bosch’s vehicle control unit provides the computing power for its numerous functions. As the central control unit, it coordinates the various powertrain components and enables over-the-air updates, for example.
1,100 kilometers is how far the Nikola FCEV can go with just one fill of hydrogen.
Hydrogen trucks as the way forward
Trevor Milton sees hydrogen as the ideal solution for long-haul transportation: “Hydrogen is usually much lighter than a battery electric equivalent and it also allows you to fill up just within a few minutes. And the additional advantage of hydrogen is that it’s easier to control the supply of the energy coming in to produce it.” If the hydrogen used is produced with the help of renewable energy sources, this will make it completely emission-free: “So you’re truly zero-emission from production to consumption.” Nikola aims to solve the problem of a lack of refueling stations by building its own infrastructure. “Our advantage is that we actually don’t just design only the truck, we actually design the stations with it,” says Milton. Together with his team, he aims to establish a comprehensive network of renewable hydrogen refueling stations in North America by 2028 and Europe by 2030.
There is no “one solution”
Even though he is all for the hydrogen drive, Trevor Milton is also open to other technologies. “There’s not just one solution for future mobility,” he says. Whether it’s a battery, a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell, or a combination of both systems, the correct solution depends on the vehicle’s intended application. “The advantage of both powertrains is they are completely zero-emission. Nikola offers both. Battery-electric trucks really help the market up to 300 miles. For anything over 300 miles or any application that’s weight sensitive, hydrogen makes a lot more sense.”
An interview with Trevor Milton, Founder and Executive Chairman of Nikola Motors