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NatGas/Electric Semi Truck to Roll Out as Near-Zero Emission Model

Taking its name from the power system designer Nikola Tesla used for the now famous electric passenger cars, the natural gas-electric semi-truck Nikola One was rolled out earlier this month by a Salt Lake City-based maker of near-zero emission vehicles.

Nikola (pronounced "Neek-oh-la") Motor Co. (NMC) is taking orders for a compressed natural gas (CNG)-electric tractor-trailer truck that will have a range of 1,200 miles and won't require any plug-in time for recharging. Instead, an onboard CNG-power turbine produces nearly 400 kW of power to recharge a liquid-cooled 320 kWh, lithium-ion battery pack with more than 30,000 lithium cells.

Founded by CEO Trevor Milton, Nikola makes electric vehicles (EV), energy storage systems and EV drive-train components, including the onboard natural gas turbine. The Nikola One class-8 semi-truck and a zero emission 4x4 electric utility vehicle.

Milton has a history with natural gas use in transportation as he was previously CEO of dHybrid Systems, which focused on natural gas storage.

Nikola One semi-truck's turbine can run on a variety of fuels, but it will be equipped with CNG tanks in the factory to be powered by natural gas. The turbine power and regenerative braking will be the two methods of recharging the battery pack.

In announcing that it was taking orders for the new semi-trucks on May 9, NMC said the first 5,000 orders for the vehicles that will range from $350,000-415,000, depending on options, will receive free CNG fuel for their first million miles of operations.

The free fuel means the Nikola One buyers will get an allowance of 100,000 gallons of CNG from any of the company's fueling stations. "This will functionally reduce the cost of the truck by the amount the owners would have paid for diesel over the same 1 million miles, a NMC spokesperson said. "The current federal credit of 50 cents/gallon of CNG given to fueling stations is retained by NMC.

By the company's calculation, the free CNG essentially pays for the cost of the new clean semi-truck, using a $2.50/gal. cost for diesel and the assumption that 100,000 gallons of CNG is equivalent to about 166,666 gallons of diesel. The fuel cost savings over the million miles would be more than $416,000, according to NMC's calculation.

"The fuel will be delivered through Nikola's own gas wells and fueling stations in every state where trucks enter services," Milton said. "We will be the first manufacturer of class-8 trucks that is vertically integrated from the [natural gas] well to wheel."

Milton called the Nikola One "the truck of the future," and he predicts it will hold that title a long time.

Given a sleek, modern design, NMC officials said the Nikola One's heavy components sit at or below the frame rail, which lower's the truck’s center of gravity and improves it safety. "This was partially accomplished by removing the diesel engine and transmission and manufacturing the cab out of lighter, but stronger, carbon fiber panels," the NMC spokesperson said.

"The benefits of removing the diesel engine include a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a larger and more aerodynamic cab, and a significantly quieter and more comfortable ride."

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