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The hydrogen fuel strategy behind Nikola’s truck dream

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Truck refueling at a hydrogen station.

Ars makes every effort to cover its own travel costs. To attend Nikola’s conference, we covered the flight out to Scottsdale, Arizona, but Nikola covered one night in a nearby hotel.

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona—The Nikola Motor Company wants to reinvent trucking by replacing diesel heavy-duty trucks with hydrogen fuel cell trucks. But hydrogen skeptics are numerous, and not without good reason. Although hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are quiet, emissions-free (with the exception of water) during operation, and relatively fast-charging compared to battery electric vehicles, they have a host of other problems.

First, hydrogen is hard to store, and it must be cooled and compressed. It’s also hard to transport. Additionally, H2 is not a green fuel in the US, for the most part. Generally, natural gas (CH4) is reformed to create H2 in ways that still cause carbon emissions. There is a way to create hydrogen fuel without the carbon emissions: by applying electricity to water (a process called water electrolysis). But water electrolysis has been prohibitively expensive, and if hydrogen can’t compete with diesel, what’s Nikola’s value proposition to freight companies that will make them want to switch?

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