Simanaitis Says

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HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS may make it easier for the trucking industry to meet ever-more-stringent emissions regulations. An electric-powered truck would make today’s diesel semis look like soot-spewing dinosaurs. However, technology continues to challenge long-haul applications of battery-electric trucks.


Nicola One fuel-cell big rig. Image from

On the other hand, this proposed hydrogen fuel-cell truck has a potential range of 1200 miles between fillups and zero emissions, even on a total well-to-wheel basis, that is, in everything from sourcing of the fuel to its propelling the truck.


Nicola Tesla, 1856–1943, Serbian-born American inventor, electrical engineer, is now twice-honored in mobility.

Nicola Motors is an electric truck startup firm with headquarters in Salt Lake City, its name honoring electrical wizard Nicola Tesla. Nicola’s initial plan was to use a natural-gas-fueled turbine generating electricity for the truck’s propulsion. However, a turbine, even fueled by natural gas, isn’t particularly clean. And a hydrogen fuel cell’s “emissions” are nothing more than heat and pure water.

The proposed Nicola One would operate with a custom-built fuel cell, envisioned as capable of giving a Class 8 big rig a range of 1200 miles between hydrogen fillups and fuel economy equivalent to 20 mpg.

Ah, but there’s a grabber: A conventional big rig’s 250 gal. of diesel consumed at its 5.5 mpg works out to 1375 miles. And there’s diesel fuel at every Interstate truck stop.

To counter this, Nicola has a vertical business model providing the fuel from a string of its own 56 solar-powered hydrogen farms located around the country. Each would perform electrolysis of water to generate the hydrogen.

All this may sound far-fetched, but Nicola says an initial batch of stations, three in California, four in Texas and one in New York, will be operational by the time its first trucks roll off the production line in 2020.


Experts reckon that aero improvements, such as these on the Nicola One, can drop a rig’s power requirements to overcome aero drag at 60 mph by more than 40 percent.[Correction: “to overcome aero drag” added per a kind truck colleague.]

What’s more, the attraction of 100-percent clean transport, from well to wheel, could make for a compelling message from the trucking industry.


A GM/U.S. Army teaser for another fuel-cell truck. Image from

On another front, the U.S. Army and GM are scheduled to unveil a prototype fuel-cell truck in October, 2016. It’ll be based on the Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup and likely will feature fuel-cell technology evolved from GM’s Project Driveway program of 100 Chevrolet Equinox SUVs in private hands over three years.


Above, the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado. Below, one of the Equinox fuel-cell vehicles.


The U.S. Army’s involvement is through its Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. The military has already identified potential benefits of a fuel-cell vehicle, including its electric-motor’s prodigious and instantaneous torque, the powertrain’s stealthy quiet operation and the vehicle’s capability of generating electricity and clean water in field conditions.

Skeptics continue to question the concept of fuel-cell transportation for the rest of us. However, others have recognized special niches such as these long-range trucking as well as military field operations.

Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Mobility for the 21st Century, by William J. Mitchell, Christopher E. Borroni-Bird and Lawrence D. Burns, 2010, argued that optimized mobility depends on the mission, with size and distance being crucial parameters.


Note the preferred propulsion of the bus and heavy truck. Incorporate the additional dimension of efficient off-grid power generation, and FCEVs (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles) continue to have a lot of future potential. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

3 comments on “FUEL-CELL TRUCKING

  1. William Jones
    September 2, 2016

    I think long term the hydrogen fuel cell is the answer. Tesla is obviously doing a great job making electric more gas like in terms of range. Not sure how powerful the gasoline lobby is which could hinder development of cleaner technologies.

  2. Sean Allan
    September 20, 2016

    Now if only someone would ask you to drive a fuel cell truck all they way to Alaska!

    • simanaitissays
      September 20, 2016

      I’d do it for the adventure (and for the Yukon Burger at Buckshot Betty’s).

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