Cargo transportation is a matter of cost per mile. The lower it is, the better the trucking solution. This is the idea that goes through the entire text Trevor Milton wrote on LinkedIn to explain why he thinks Nikola will offer a better solution than the Tesla Semi. For companies that deal with cargo transportation, his points will make a lot of sense.
Although it may seem that the text is a confrontation, the Nikola CEO reinforces many times that BEVs and FCEVs do not have to compete. Milton thinks they are complementary. It is just a matter of applying each of them to the application in which they can present more advantages.
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With that in mind, he admits BEVs are more efficient but more suitable for transportation distances up to 300 miles. FCEVs are better for long hauls, at least with the current technology available for batteries. And that advantage comes in two aspects.
The first one is that fuel cell trucks are naturally lighter. That allows them to carry more cargo than an equivalent battery truck. If they can transport more stuff, their cost per mile already has a headstart.
The second is that the hydrogen stations on highways can have a lower energy cost than the charging stations in cities. We have already mentioned that the price of supercharging makes it dangerously close to that of filling up a gas tank. According to Milton, that happens because Tesla is not able to charge less due to the contracts it has with utilities. Would that be one of the reasons for Tesla to become a utility in the UK?
Nikola can avoid that with "PPA (Power Purchase Agreements) on main federal transmission lines." The company has established these agreements for 20 years, making the price for hydrogen production fixed.
Milton says the current cost for 500 miles of range is $250 with green production of hydrogen. The Tesla Semi, with its 1.1 MWh battery pack, would require $297 to get a full charge at California prices. If these numbers are correct, the weight headstart that fuel cell trucks have becomes a huge advantage compared to a vehicle with a massive battery pack. But there's more to this equation.
As Milton points out, current Tesla battery packs have to be replaced after about 500,000 miles. The one-million km Tesla Model S already had three battery packs. With such a lifespan for these components, a truck being fast charged twice a day would last only three years. That is likely why Tesla needed a one-million-mile battery: not for its cars, but rather for its truck.
Supposing the Semi already presents them, it will still have a limited lifespan and a high cost. Milton estimates the price of the 1.1 MWh battery pack in $122,000. To have lower energy prices, Nikola's CEO says the chargers could buffer the grid with a similar battery pack, adding more $122,000 to the cost of the truck. Imagine replacing these battery packs every three years or, in case of the million-mile battery, every six years.
Fuel cells use hydrogen tanks that last 20 years, according to Milton. They would just demand "minimal rebuild costs after 20,000 hours" of about $5,000 to $10,000. That is equivalent to 2.3 years of continuous work.
These repairs are downtime for the trucks, but so is charging, even if it is possible to get to 80 percent of charge in one hour, for example. Considering these truck batteries are 11 times the biggest ones currently in electric cars, we would estimate more charging time than that. And time is money, especially with cargo transportation.
Battery packs would probably have longer lifespans if they could be charged slowly, as most Tesla owners know. So much so that many recommend only using the supercharging network for trips, never on a daily basis.
With that in mind, one could wonder if the Semi wouldn't benefit from swappable batteries. If there is any swapping machine able to cope with 6 tons of the components the Semi will carry, that could make sense, but would also add cost to the operation.
Milton adds a final concern to this list: having a grid able to cope with a fleet of battery trucks. If each of these vehicles demands 1.1 MWh, a company with 100 trucks would need at least 110 MW each time all of them required a charge. If you add a Megapack to the buffer grid – as Nikola's CEO suggested to lower energy costs – the energy demand may be even higher. Not precisely twice as much, as he suggested, but certainly more than that required solely for the trucks. In 2017, San Francisco had a 261 kWh usage, according to Statista.
As usual, Milton received a bunch of tweets from Tesla apologists who used passenger car information to try to confront his assessment. Instead of embarrassing themselves, they could have asked Tesla for more details on the Semi to refute Nikola's CEO arguments properly. They could also have considered that diesel is the one to beat in the quest for cleaner transportation, not a company that proposes hydrogen as an alternative to plugs.
Source: Trevor Milton on LinkedIn