Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA), its European joint venture manufacturing partner IVECO and German pipeline company OGE will work together to transport hydrogen to stations serving commercial fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).
The 124-mile natural gas pipeline network will move hydrogen from where it is produced to hydrogen stations. Nikola will not begin heavy-duty fuel cell truck production until late 2022.
A lot of details of the three-way partnership remain uncertain, such as roles and responsibilities and how the collaboration will govern itself.
“We believe this collaboration, in particular, presents a very compelling long-term fueling distribution solution that we expect to advance industry and overall market adoption of FCEV technologies,” Nikola President of Energy and Commercial Pablo Koziner said in a press release.
Europe leads in fuel cell stations
Europe is far ahead of the U.S. in establishing a hydrogen fueling infrastructure. There are 144 hydrogen fueling stations across the continent, according to the Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Joint Undertaking. The Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center listed 43 publicly available hydrogen stations in the U.S. in 2020.
Nikola plans a network of 700 hydrogen stations across the U.S. and Canada by 2028. Each station is expected to cost about $17 million. The startup maker of fuel cell Class 8 trucks expects to open its first station in Arizona this year.
The availability of hydrogen has long been the egg in the chicken-and-the-egg conundrum surrounding the viability of fuel cells. The prohibitive cost of hydrogen — more than $16 for a kilogram (a little more than a quart) — is seen as a stumbling block to wide scale use of hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Nikola is on a quest to get the cost to $2-$3 per kilogram. Its recent deal to buy solar-generated electricity from an Arizona utility at between 2 and 3 cents a kilowatt (kW) would allow power-intensive production of hydrogen through electrolysis that separates water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
Nikola’s fuel cell vehicles in Europe and the U.S. follow battery-electric commercial trucks planned for production by the end of the year.
All commercial fuel cell vehicles benefit
The collaboration with IVECO, a subsidiary of U.K.-based CNH Industrial N.V. (NYSE: CNHI), is to support the European commercial transportation system by working with industry partners to install safe, reliable and cost-effective storage and fueling locations.
“Our collaboration is a great first step in starting up a growing platform of partnerships to make this a reality here in Europe, which requires entrepreneurial and nonlinear thinking across fossil industrial structures,” said Gerrit Marx, president, commercial and specialty vehicles, CNH Industrial.
Hyundai Motor Corp. is among the first to commercialize fuel trucks in Europe. It delivered seven of 50 planned Xcient fuel cell trucks to Switzerland last October.
“OGE is committed to establishing a pipeline infrastructure to transport hydrogen from production sources to critical exit points of distribution,” said Thomas Hüwener, OGE’s chief technical officer.