United States: More R&D Money Than Expected

Alternative stations in the United States

Nikola Motors, which is developing Class 8 semitrucks that use fuel cell range extenders, announced an order for 800 units from Budweiser while suing Tesla for USD 2 billion, alleging patent infringement. Nikola’s announcement got so much attention that FedEx Corp. put out a notice on the receipt of a fuel cell delivery van.

Nikola’s choice of name by itself (Nikola is Tesla’s first name) shows a sense of humor and an “in-your-face” attitude – the company certainly seems to be having fun. In effect, this battle is being waged for the heart and soul of the hydrogen vehicle marketplace.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s spectacularly engineered Wall Street success have endeared the company to the opinion leaders in California’s environmental community. In turn, this bromance has had an influence on prominent environmental organizations in the northeastern states, which tend to be skeptical of hydrogen anyway. But market forces are shifting, and it appears that heavier vehicles will present an opportunity for fuel cells to gain market share and command both respect from NGOs and financial and other support from governments.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy has updated its Alternative Fuels Data Center, which shows vehicle charging and fueling information, complete with an interactive map. At present, the number of green battery charging stations is overwhelming, but the downside is that it takes quite a while to “fill up.”


The department has also been scrambling to solve an unusual problem: more R&D money than expected in fiscal year 2019. Only a wildly optimistic enthusiast would have believed that the U.S. Congress would approve USD 104 million, more than USD 30 million more than either the House of Representatives or the Senate had set aside. The outcome is the result of friends in high places, namely the number one Senate Democrat.

There are still large gaps in DOE’s management structure, 18 months into the Trump administration. This suggests that the current approach, that is, having mostly career managers plus a few top-level executives, will continue through November 2018 midterms. This means uncertain times ahead – but bureaucracies are tough.


Written by Robert “Bob” Rose

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