Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. This odorless, colorless, non-metallic gas makes up 74% of the universe. Putting it in a car's tank for using as a fuel is a swell idea, right? Well, let's find out, because that's what Nikola is doing. By the way, it's a company, not the 19th century engineer. He is still releasing hydrogen in the grave.
Nikola was formed by Trevor Milton, a college dropout with big dreams. And the name isn't the only thing that they share with Tesla. They also plan to make cheap, efficient electric vehicles, but instead of using lithium-ion batteries, theirs will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Hydrogen fuel cells are a somewhat controversial energy source. Some think it's the fuel of the future with virtually endless potential, to others it's deeply flawed and will crash and burn soon, literally, considering hydrogen is extremely flammable.
The reason that hydrogen hasn't gained worldwide popularity is that it has some very difficult obstacles on its way. A general rule of thumb in our universe is, what seems really simple, probably isn't. The case is the same with hydrogen. As it turns out, turning hydrogen into electricity that vehicles can use is pretty problematic. First of all, electrolysis, the process of turning hydrogen into electricity is very energy intensive. Though hydrogen is far more efficient than batteries while driving, producing it isn't. For instance, we get about 35 watts energy equivalent of hydrogen if we put in 100 watts, compared to lithium-ion battery's far higher 85 watts.
Another big issue is transporting hydrogen. It has to be transported in trucks with cooling systems for keeping it in a liquid state, so that it can't evaporate, or through pipelines. Both these options are incredibly costly, whereas electricity has a premade transportation network for it, our electricity grids. Building a supercharger for BEVs (Battery electric vehicle) is similar to building a large-scale charging outlet. On the other hand, building a hydrogen refueling station is that much harder. As Elon Musk said, hydrogen fuel is incredibly dumb, and mind-bogglingly stupid. He even went as far as calling them fool cells.
Despite its challenging issues, hydrogen fuel boasts some big advantages over batteries. A hydrogen powered vehicle has almost doubled the range of a conventional BEV. It takes about 5 minutes to refuel a hydrogen powered car, while batteries take hours to recharge. On the other hand, though, you can charge a BEV overnight at home, which isn't possible for hydrogen, if you don't have your own hydrogen supply, which isn't too easy to get. Hydrogen has no emissions except water vapor, which is pretty innocent. It is perfect for regions without electricity supply. Hydrogen fuel cells are long-lasting and require little maintenance. Also, it is pretty abundant, as I mentioned before.
Nikola became a topic of discussion last year in November when Anheuser Busch used one of their semis to transport their beer, their first zero emission trip. Nikola's stock reached a record high position in June, 2020, when its price surpassed Tesla, the behemoth in the electric vehicle industry. But though Nikola has boasted big things, they have little to show for it, except two prototype trucks.
The Hindenburg Researcher claimed to have debunked one of their videos, which shows one of Nikola's trucks running by its own power, when in reality, it's just rolling downhill. Hindenburg claims that Nikola has copied designs of other companies and faked their product presentation. Following this, their stock decreased by 25% in just two days. Still, Milton is confident that they will recover. He told Bloomberg that Nikola's critics deprive imagination.
Whatever the truth may be, Nikola and hydrogen fuel in general has a long way to go. No one can predict exactly its future. Nikola may go on to dethrone Tesla, or turn out to be a scam. We just have to wait. In a nutshell, in this race, batteries started with a big head start.