The US Department of Energy has awarded alt-power tech firm Nikola a $1.7 million grant to advance its research into fuel cell membrane electrode assembly (MEA) for use in commercial vehicles.

The joint grant was funded by the US Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Transportation Office under the recently announced FY19 Commercial Trucks and Off-Road Applications FOA.

Nikola is pursuing a new approach and unique MEA architecture to satisfy the high-power output and durability requirements of heavy-duty applications with its academic partners: Carnegie Mellon University Prof Shawn Litster, Northeastern University Prof Sanjeev Mukerjee, and Georgia Institute of Technology Prof Younan Xia.

In this project, Nikola said it will bring together advanced concepts in catalysts, ionomers, proton exchange membranes and gas diffusion layers within a robust MEA by using appropriate, scalable fabrication methods.

Nikola’s hydrogen station partner NEL Hydrogen of Oslo, Norway was also given a $2m award from the DoE. Nikola executives are serving as the technical lead on that project as well.

“This award provides an opportunity for the Nikola team to leverage expertise in academia and exceptional resources within the DoE Fuel Cell Consortium for Performance and Durability to accelerate a breakthrough that will benefit the entire hydrogen and fuel cell industry and community,” said Jesse Schneider, executive vice president, Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Technologies, Nikola.

Nikola said it currently has more than 14,000 class 8 trucks on order, which feature up to 1000 bhp and 2000 lb.ft of torque. 

Nikola recently announced a battery-electric vehicle option for the urban, short-haul trucking market. Its trucks will be manufactured in Coolidge, Arizona, and testing will begin on Arizona roads this year with full production expected in late 2022.