Nikola and Hydrogen Vehicles vs Tesla and Electric Vehicles

There is a company called Nikola which claims they will sell semi-trucks using hydrogen.

Amazingly, with virtually no revenue and no vehicles made, Nikola is worth over $22 billion.

They say they will lease the vehicles and get hydrogen for $2 per kilogram.
Most have the lowest cost of hydrogen at about $2.5-4.5 per kilogram. Bloomberg NEF forecasts that $2 per kilogram hydrogen is possible in 2030.
Even if they hit all of their goals, they will still be more expensive to drive and own than a diesel truck and will be more expensive than a Tesla Semi.
75-85% of the cost of hydrogen is for the electricity to produce it. Cheap hydrogen means availability of abundant cheap electricity tied to solar and wind. Solar and wind would power electrolyzers.

Youtuber Chicken Genius Singapore explains Nikola and hydrogen versus electric clearly.

It will cost $114 to fuel a Nikola semi truck vs $20 to charge a Tesla Semi if they both can access 2 cent per kwh electricity.
The 7 year lease cost for 700K miles for nikola will be $660K.
This will be about double the cost of ownership of a Tesla Semi at $387K.

Nikola is forecasting zero revenue for 2020 and its first $1 billion year in 2023. Nikola will bill build and have its Arizona assembly plant fully operational in 2028.

Tesla is making over $20B every year in car revenue from delivered cars and is growing at over 50% every year an its auto margin is over 25%. The auto margin is up from 15% two years ago.

SOURCES- Chicken Genius Singapore, Sean Mitchell, Bloomberg, Detroit News
Written By Brian Wang

32 thoughts on “Nikola and Hydrogen Vehicles vs Tesla and Electric Vehicles”

  1. Exactly, that is why I wrote “There will be intense interest in electric tractors”, because it all comes down to the bottom line in the competitive shipping market.
    My thought is to work my way up to buying a Tesla when they are released and pair that with a micro hydro rig(s) to charge it from the creek on my property. They run $1500 per 1kwh unit, and Pelton wheels run for a very long time. If the batteries last 1 million miles, about as long as the life expectancy of a current tractor, it will pay for itself many times over. The payment for the tractor could be made with the contract fuel allowance given on each load, and loads would be more profitable.
    Of course, insurance is always the elephant in the room. 🙁

  2. Obviously, but Tesla is the only manufacturer of semi tractors that is even remotely offering an autopilot. As such, the fear of truckers getting replaced by machines falls onto Tesla. That they make electric vehicles is irrelevant.

  3. Methane is a lot more difficult and dangerous to transport and to store than methanol. So converting methane into methanol makes more sense. Methane is also a super green house gas when it leaks.

    Using dimethyl ether in trucks derived from methanol is no more lofty that using hydrogen or electricity to power trucks. Such trucks have been in existence for decades. And deriving dimethyl ether from sewage and farm waste puts more money into the pockets of cities and farmers. So its good for local economies. Methanol can also be converted into gasoline.

    Using electrolysis to extract hydrogen from water and CO2 extraction from air to produce methanol from nuclear, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power plants will be required– in the long run– if the world is to completely replace its dependence on fossil fuels by the year 2050. 

    But the world is already starting to move towards a renewable methanol economy with China and Europe currently leading the way!

  4. Range is kind of an issue for autopilot. Autopilot semis have no need to stop every so often to rest their drivers, but would need to stop to recharge/refuel. Longer range means no stopping your truck off at some charging station.

  5. “Hydrogen from electrolysis is expensive”

    Yes but if you have overbuilt your solar (e.g. Germany) then you can use Hydrogen production from electrolysis to pick up the extra energy and so Hydrogen becomes very, very cheap (and no you can’t use truck batteries to sop up the extra electrons).

    (Not that you should overbuild your renewables)

  6. Sure, but lofty goals alone aren’t going to move things if they’re too expensive to implement. If you want carbon-neutral fuels, you’re probably better off with biomethane or bioethanol than trying to capture CO2 and split water “manually”. But those have issues too.

    (Even if it’s only an appearance of “too expensive”, that still gets in the way.)

  7. 1. Its a lot less expensive to modify an existing truck to use dimethyl ether than to buy a whole new electric truck. 
    2. Plug-in-Hybrid electric trucks using methanol fuel cells will probably also be cheaper than EV trucks because they would require substantially less battery storage. Yet methanol fuel cell PHEVs would still have the flexibility to use both battery power for short halls and methanol as an electric power extender for long trips. 
    3. I think the era of the in vehicle truck driver will come to an end by the end of the decade with tele- operated trucks preceding completely automated robot trucks.

  8. The goal is to be– carbon neutral– because its a lot more expensive to flood our coastlines with seawater than to use carbon neutral fuels. And the temporary storage of eFuels is– carbon negative– reducing global warming.

    Dimethyl ether and methanol trucks would be much less damaging to human health. Hybrid electric methanol fuel cell trucks can use electricity for short halls and methanol combined with electricity for long journeys. Plus fuel cells utilize fuel much more efficiently than combustion engines which should mitigate the higher price of eMethanol.

    Fossil fuels– appear to be– less expensive because their damage to the environment and to public health is not factored in. Per kilowatt produced, natural gas has a mortality rate that’s ten times higher than solar, 300 times higher than wind, and about 40,000 times higher than nuclear. 
    Also, the US military spends about $81 billion a year protecting international oil and gas supplies.

  9. Currently in the US truck drivers must get specific amount of sleep per day and periodic breaks and they must keep a log of this for police officers to review. So Legally it is very difficult to drive a Semi more than 500 miles a day. due to speed limits, required sleep, and periodic breaks the driver is legally required to take. Tesla has designed their mega chargers to be capable to fully recharging the trucks while the driver sleeps or to get a 80% charge during a driver break. So the ability to rapidly refuel and a Semi is not a big advantage over the tesla semi. But tesla will still have a refueling cost advantage over methanal, DME, or hydrogen.

  10. Hydrogen from electrolysis is expensive, and will continue to be until the efficiency fixes such as H2Pro’s solution are scaled up. Then you have CO2 capture, which is expensive, esp when capturing from the atmosphere. And then the chemical steps add further cost and complexity. So methanol via this path will be much too expensive for the foreseeable future.

    CO2 capture from power plants also makes limited sense energetically and economically. If you’re starting from natural gas, it’s simpler and cheaper to use it directly: steam reform it to syngas, then convert the syngas to methanol.

    edit: Actually, if you’re starting from natural gas, you might just want to go with CNG.

  11. There is about a 1.5 times improvement potential in water splitting efficiency (current is ~70%ish, I think; H2Pro are claiming over 98% energy efficiency). Beyond that, it depends on energy prices. Electricity price can drop by half, but then electric vehicles will also be cheaper.

    One other factor is if part of energy can come from power plant waste heat. If that can be half of the energy or more, then it can hit the x3 total. But it doesn’t seem likely at the moment.

  12. That’s because if you put Nikola and Tesla together… you get: “Nikola Tesla” the inventor. It’s like When peanut butter, and chocolate accidentally collide …. presto… 100 billion dollars appears out of thin air…

  13. Maybe – but a lot of the investors are supposedly companies that want to supply components, or who in fact provide designs or components with a certain value instead of investing cash. So if it’s a scam, it apparently isn’t a ‘conspiracy against Tesla and battery electric trucks by Big Oil’ type of scam – or at least not wholly such.

  14. Tesla claims 500 mile range for the Semi. Roughly 8 hours driving, assuming some slower, some faster. After 8 hours consecutive driving, a trucker is supposed to take a break of at least 30 minutes.

    With megacharger, 30 minutes is supposed to be enough to add 400 miles (presumably on top of 0 remaining). But after the break, the driver can only get in another 3 hours before hitting their 11 driving hour limit, after which they need a 10 hour break anyhow.

    You could swap drivers at the 11 hour driving limit, assuming it’s a company truck rather than individually owned. But if you do you might as well charge up at that point. If after the final 3 hours for one driver the truck is down to 200 miles left, adding another 200 miles probably takes under 20 minutes, and topping off to 500 miles might take 30-40 minutes.

    So a Tesla semi shouldn’t be far from matching real world needs. It’ll be interesting to start hearing reports from real truckers.

  15. The autopilot issue is independent of the energy source.
    It’s no more difficult for a robot to drive an electric, hydrogen, diesel or coal powered vehicle.

  16. Trucks fueled with renewable methanol and renewable dimethyl ether will prevail over electric trucks and over hydrogen fuel cell trucks since they’ll be faster and easier to refuel and have– substantially longer travel ranges. 

    Diesel trucks can currently be cheaply modified to use dimethyl ether which burns cleaner that diesel fuel and can be derived from a large variety of renewable resources. Trucks that use reformed methanol (methanol heated to produce hydrogen) can take advantage of both the advances of lithium battery technology and hydrogen fuel cell technology as hybrid electric fuel cell vehicles. And methanol would be inherently cheaper than dimethyl either since dimethyl ether is produced from methanol.

    Renewable methanol (eMethanol) can be derived from biogas from urban sewage and from agricultural waste. eMethanol can also be produced by nuclear, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power through the production of hydrogen through water electrolysis and the extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere. Synthesizing hydrogen with CO2 can produce methanol. Dimethyl ether can be produced through the dehydration of methanol.

  17. But batteries don’t work for long-term runs either. So really neither of them are a solution until there is a major improvement in their underlying technology.

  18. Another consideration. At 200-300 per day a diesel semi-truck runs 60k per year for fuel. So by year 7 if an EV semi is lets say 30 per day, then at 360K per truck you save the cost of the truck on fuel cost alone.

  19. I work in the trucking industry right now, switched from IT about a year ago. The cost of diesel is a huge factor in trucking. The first company I worked for, TMC, spent over $12 million a month for fuel. My current company, which makes local runs, will spend $200-300 dollars a day per truck with average runs of 300+ miles.
    There will be intense interest in electric tractors, but trucking is inherently conservative. While the lower fuel prices will be important, the trucks themselves will have to prove their reliability before wide scale adoption. It will also require the major truck stops to build out the charging infrastructure for non local companies, and recharge times will be a factor because time is money. If these trucks prove themselves the highly competitive freight market will drive adoption through lower rates.
    One fear of the truckers ourselves is of the autopilot feature, not the drive train of the truck. There is a widespread fear of the autopilot eliminating trucker jobs and driving down our wages, which per hour are already pretty low. I personally don’t think that will be as much of an issue. I think the new features installed on the Tesla trucks will just add to the safety profile of our job, which is vitally important to both our companies and us as drivers.

  20. Quite sure that math was already worked out on the front end by bean counter types and is reflected in the design and its capabilities. On another note, Jesus Christ, give up the godamn hydrogen dreams. NOT cost or energy effective unless the Hydrogen Gas Fairly magically delivers it into your possession, both free and processed.

  21. 1) Electricity is priced differently, depending on the type of customer, location, timing of consumption, etc. Large customers can pay 1/3 or less what a typical consumer pays. This applies more easily to hydrogen production, since hydrogen production might be at a different time and/or place and/or scale than hydrogen fueling. EV truck charging stations might qualify for some of this lower pricing by using stationary batteries to shape the timing of their electricity consumption.

    2) Low carbon hydrogen can be produced in multiple ways. From electricity, from biomass, from waste, from renewable natural gas, from a fossil fuel using CO2 capture and sequestration, maybe other options. In addition to this, there is some evidence that natural hydrogen deposit might be economically recoverable. And companies like Proton Technologies claim to be able to recover hydrogen from stranded “unrecoverable” oil deposits:

    3) That said, if I were going to invest in one approach, it would be EVs. Their trucks can do many jobs perfectly well today. Battery energy density is continuing to rapidly improve, so they may start in a niche and expand out to eat the entire market. For fleet owners with “return to base” operations, building their own overnight chargers is much simpler and more reliable than building a hydrogen fueling station or hoping a hydrogen station will be available and reliable.

  22. This article indicates that hydrogen is unlikely to ever be a competitively priced fuel for road transport. It appears likely that the fundamentals of hydrogen production will never be improved enough (a factor of 3 or more?) to make it a competitive road transport fuel.

  23. I watched the video, and one MAJOR factor that even stood out to a humanities geek like myself is that he only calculated cost per distance. What happened to cost per freight carried distance? The Tesla has such a heavy battery pack it takes up a third of the payload of the vehicle. Hydrogen is more expensive but much lighter, therefore more freight is carried.

  24. Nikola is Highly risky business. I´ll never put my money investing in such new technology that depends so strongly on other people no related to the company.

  25. 60 mph ~= 26.8 m/s
    80,000 lb ~= 36300 kg
    Thus a Tesla semi going from 0–60 mph in 20 s will gain ~13 MJ in those 20 seconds, so on average 650 kW power which is about 872 hp.

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