Renewable energy skeptics have been looking forward to a rebirth for fossil fuels as the world unwinds from the COVID-19 crisis, but yet another sign of a green recovery has just popped up. This one comes in the form of green hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, under the banner of the ambitious EV startup Nikola.
Wait — What? Green Hydrogen?
Those of you who know your hydrogen may be shaking your heads right now. After all, hydrogen does not come to your door all wrapped up in pretty paper with a bow. It has to be produced from a feedstock, and right now fossil gas is the source of choice.
CleanTechnica has spilled wads of ink on green hydrogen from renewable sources, primarily by splitting water with an electrical current from wind turbines or solar panels. Wastewater or seawater, and biogas and other bio-based sources, are also in the works. However, the main consensus among analysts is that commercial viability for green hydrogen lies somewhere far away in the sparkling green future.
The Future Is Now For Green Hydrogen
Well, guess again. One of the hydrogen fuel cell EV companies to surface on the CleanTechnica radar is the Arizona-based startup Nikola. It made a splashy entrance into the FCEV field in the long haul trucking area, with the promise of generating hydrogen on site at fuel stations with on-site solar arrays.
The on-site solar vision appears to have gone somewhat adrift, but green hydrogen is still part of the mix.
Nikola will put $30 million worth of Nel’s electrolyzer equipment to work splitting water at five of its new fuel stations, which the company is billing as “the world’s first 8 ton per day hydrogen fueling stations.”
Nikola expects a total of more than 40,000 kilograms of hydrogen daily from the five stations once everything is up and running.
If you’re wondering if five stations are enough to cover the whole US, it’s not. Nikola is looking to build 700 of these 8-ton-per-day stations in the US and Canada. If only five of them involve green hydrogen, that would send fossil hydrogen fans into shivers of delight, but it looks like Nikola and Nel are already working on another purchase order.
A Green Recovery From The COVID-19 Crisis
CleanTechnica is reaching out to Nikola to see what its plans are for the other 695 fuel stations and whether or not fossil gas will play a role, so stay tuned for more on that.
Considering Nel’s experience in energy storage applications, it’s possible that a fair number of the new fuel stations could piggyback on wind and solar farms to assist in balancing supply and demand, especially in areas where existing transmission bottlenecks prevent renewables from getting to market. That goes ditto for existing nuclear power plants (interesting!). Grid-supplied electricity is another green option, depending on the grid mix.
Meanwhile, Nel has been in the electrolyzer business since 1927, with an initial focus on hydrogen for fertilizer. By the 1970s, Nel modernized its electrolysis technology and began providing it to other companies. After opening its first public hydrogen fuel station in 2003, Nel made a series of rapidfire moves to expand, culminating in plans for constructing the world’s largest electrolyzer factory. Those plans are still under way, COVID-19 or not.
As for Nikola, the company’s home country has been staggering around leaderless under the twin blows of a mismanaged public health catastrophe and a nationwide civic crisis of a scale not seen since the 1960s. In the middle of all this, Nikola is moving forward with some big EV plans for the future.
Earlier this week Nikola went public, which made it one of Arizona’s most valuable companies practically overnight at $12 billion in capitalization, as described by our friends over at azcentral.com.
The infusion of funds will support the company’s plans for an FCEV truck factory in Coolidge, Arizona as part of a regional automotive hub plan, along with getting to work on those first hydrogen fuel stations.
In an interesting twist, Nikola has also hooked up with Germany’s Iveco, maker of the famous S-Way articulated truck, to make battery-electric trucks.
That move was greeted with some laughter in certain quarters, but it does give Nikola a foothold in the important EU market, where political and business leaders are already coalescing around a green recovery with a generous dose of renewable hydrogen.
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Image (cropped): Hydrogen fuel station via Nikola Corp.