Nikola Motor Company Wins $1.7 Million US DOE Grant To Improve Fuel Cell Membranes

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The Nikola Motor Company is working to change the way humans get around with its array of electrified vehicle offerings. Its lineup of vehicles run the gamut, from full-sized hydrogen fuel cell-powered semi trucks down to personal electric watercraft.

The Nikola Two. Image credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

This week, the company announced that it was awarded a $1.7 million grant to research the fuel cell membrane electrode assembly (MEA) development. The membrane electrode assembly is the heart of any hydrogen fuel cell and primarily acts as a barrier to separate the cathode and anode of the fuel cell system. It is a permeable membrane as it also serves as the layer through which hydrogen gas flows and releases electrons to generate electricity.

$1.7 million dollars surely is not going to break any new records for R&D investments, but the grant from the US Department of Energy speaks to the potential for breakthroughs in fuel cell technology. Nikola is specifically looking to use funds from the grant to develop a new MEA architecture that is better suited to the high power output and extreme durability required for use in heavy duty vehicles like its class 8 trucks.

The primary drawback of hydrogen fuel cells is their inefficiency in converting the incoming electricity that is used to produce hydrogen into electricity and back into electricity. Improvements in the efficiency of the MEA have a direct tie to making hydrogen fuel cells more efficient, and thus more competitive with the entrenched fossil fuel industry. That’s especially exciting with the first of Nikola’s hydrogen fuel cell semi trucks set to hit the highways in the US in the next few years, displacing their antiquated diesel chugging predecessors along the way.

The Nikola Tre. Image credit: Nikola Motor Company

“This award provides an opportunity for the highly talented Nikola team to leverage expertise in academia and exceptional resources within the DOE Fuel Cell Consortium for Performance and Durability to accelerate a breakthrough that will benefit the entire hydrogen and fuel cell industry and community,” said Jesse Schneider, executive vice president, Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Technologies, Nikola.

Nikola is partnering with experts from Carnegie Mellon University, Northeastern University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology on the research and development on the MEA. The joint grant was funded by the US DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Transportation Office under the recently announced Fiscal Year 19 Commercial Trucks and Off-Road Applications Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).

“Through research and new developments in both energy efficiency and domestically-sourced fuel technologies, we can not only strengthen our energy security but also improve transportation affordability for our nation’s trucking industry – helping those who deliver American goods and those who use them,” US DOE Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes said of the FOA.

Nikola has already racked up more than 14,000 orders for its class 8 trucks which include long haul hydrogen fuel cell trucks and the more recently announced urban battery electric configuration. The first road tests of the new vehicles is slated to kick off later this year in Arizona, with production scheduled for late 2022.

Featured image credit: Nikola Motor Company

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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