Hydrogen fuel cell and electric truck start up, Nikola has announced it and its major European investor, Iveco, have formed a partnership with natural gas distributor OGE to set up a hydrogen pipeline and fuel station system across Europe in order to supply fuel cell powered heavy trucks.
Nikola and Iveco said the goal of the collaboration with OGE is to improve hydrogen availability and hold down the cost of distributing and storing the carbon-free fuel.
Nikola said it will initially install fuelling stations for customers that are tied into the distribution network but didn’t provide a timeline for the infrastructure plans or financial details.
OGE’s chief technical officer, Thomas Hüwener, said the company is committed to establishing a pipeline infrastructure to transport hydrogen from production sources to critical exit points of distribution.
The European development comes as Nikola says it is preparing to create a U.S. fuelling infrastructure for electric trucks that will be powered by both batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, emitting nothing but water.
Nikola says it has an agreement to buy low-cost surplus solar power in Arizona, where the company is based, and will use the solar power to make hydrogen from water, though it is yet to announce the locations of its first fuel stations.
Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, recently stated the Australian government intends to invest heavily in the development and production of hydrogen as a fuel of the future both for domestic use and for export.
Meanwhile, Germany and other EU countries are moving aggressively to increase use of hydrogen for heavy-duty vehicles as part of a strategy to curb carbon emissions. OGE operates 12,000 kilometres of natural gas pipelines in Germany.
“This collaboration, in particular, presents a very compelling long-term fuelling distribution solution that we expect to advance industry and overall market adoption of FCEV technologies,” said Pablo Koziner, Nikola’s president of energy and commercial projects.
Iveco has invested more than $250 million in Nikola and partnered with the company to produce the battery-powered Tre, a truck that is said will go into production at Ulm in Germany later this year, while production of Nikola Two hydrogen trucks is said to be due to starts in Arizona in two year’s time.
Knocks on hydrogen as a vehicle fuel have been that it’s primarily sourced from natural gas, meaning that while it’s a zero-emission fuel when powering a vehicle (producing only water as a byproduct) making it creates carbon emissions (though less than from the use of diesel, gasoline or natural gas). The other problem is it’s more efficient to charge up batteries with electricity than to use that electricity to make hydrogen, which in turn is reverted into electric power for propulsion.
Hydrogen is set to become the energy source of choice for long distance trucks and even trains as ever greater amounts of electricity become available from large-scale wind and solar projects, providing the ability to make “green” hydrogen from water and renewable power.
Green hydrogen eliminates the carbon penalty that comes from ‘brown’ hydrogen, which uses power from coal or gas fired power stations to ‘break’ the hydrogen our of water.
While there is a relatively small amount of hydrogen made in that way at the moment, Norway’s Nel Hydrogen, also a Nikola partner, says it has developed electrolysis technology and estimates it can produce low-cost hydrogen from renewable sources at a large scale by 2025 at a cost of around $1.50 a kilogram, which it says is well below current fossil fuel prices.