Nikola Motor is forging partnerships to develop and install hydrogen fueling infrastructure in North America. The aspiring manufacturer of fuel cell trucks has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with OPAL Fuels. Nikola also announced a strategic collaboration with TC Energy aiming to install ‘Hydrogen Hubs’.
First to OPAL Fuels, which specialises in delivering fueling infrastructure for heavy-duty truck fleets running on natural gas or other renewables. The MoU with Nikola includes the development, construction, and operation of hydrogen fueling stations in North America and the use of renewable natural gas in hydrogen production. Nikola and OPAL Fuels say they also intend to co-develop and co-market hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.
“This alliance with OPAL Fuels provides excellent potential synergies given their experience building and operating fueling stations,” said Nikola President, Energy and Commercial Pablo Koziner.
OPAL Fuels claims it has constructed more than 350 RNG fueling station projects in over 15 years serving trucking fleets across the continent.
On the other hand, Nikola has yet to deliver the fuel cell electric truck Tre, now slated for launch in 2023 from the company’s Coolidge, Arizona manufacturing facility.
Once it does, Nikola and Opal Fuels intend to develop the infrastructure required to serve the needs of large private fleets that utilise fueling infrastructure on their properties. This “Behind the Fence” strategy makes sense since Nikola aims to launch a leasing service when coming to market with the Tre. In addition, the MoU here mentions initiating “beta projects with select customers to drive engagement and accelerate development.” Nikola and OPAL Fuels add they would also identify and evaluate opportunities to establish public access hydrogen stations at a later stage.
Hydrogen hubs with TC Energy
While unrelated, the next partnership also considers hydrogen supply. TC Energy, a North American energy infrastructure company, has agreed to collaborate on co-developing, constructing and operating large-scale hydrogen production facilities, which they call hubs, in the United States and Canada. Nikola says its energy business unit and TC Energy were “actively collaborating” to identify and develop projects to establish the planned hydrogen hubs in what the companies consider “key geographic locations”.
Nikola, in its communications, defines hubs as producing 150 tonnes or more of hydrogen per day near highly travelled truck corridors with the cooperation aiming to install these within the next five years. The company also stresses TC Energy’s “significant pipeline, storage and power assets that potentially can be leveraged to lower the cost and increase the speed of delivery of these hydrogen production hubs”.
The companies left targets such as the number of hubs open.
So far, both partnerships appear to drive on intentions, which may suit Nikola’s recent history. Behind the company lie uncertain times. After a short-seller attack last year, investors lost confidence in Nikola and founder and CEO Trevor Milton had to resign. In the meantime, the New York State Attorney General’s Office has indicted Milton. As a result, Nikola had to realign itself under new CEO Mark Russell. In February 2021, the target for the current year was reduced from 600 to 100 vehicles for customer testing. In August, this target was revised downwards, to 25 to 50 vehicles – due to “numerous” delays related to the procurement of parts.
The first examples are to go to selected customers in the USA. Next year, the Tre will also be deployed in Europe. Among others, the port of Hamburg is to become a pilot customer in Europe. In the medium term, production in the German city of Ulm is to increase to 3,000 vehicles per year.
And there are other signs that Nikola is recovering. Earlier in October, it gained fresh capital and continues to work with powerful partners such as Bosch that will deliver fuel cells for the Tre trucks in Europe. A similar agreement Nikola had envisioned with General Motors in the US had, however, fallen flat.
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