ANAHEIM, Calif. — Financially struggling Nikola Corp. is getting up to $1 billion for 50 of its planned hydrogen fueling stations. Well-funded infrastructure developer Voltera Inc. agreed to build the stations under a five-year agreement
The stations are a critical piece to Nikola realizing its goal of building and fueling zero-emission fuel cell trucks. Nikola is targeting the fourth quarter to deliver its first production Tre fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).
The first of 50 stations focused on California should open in 2024, Voltera founding CEO Matt Horton told FreightWaves. Nikola and Voltera announced the agreement Tuesday at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo.
Voltera committing up to $1 billion in Hyla-branded stations
Voltera came out of stealth mode a year ago. It has access to billions from EQT Infrastructure, a Stockholm-based infrastructure investor with 77 billion euros ($86.7 billion) under management. Herndon, Virginia-based Voltera is a spinoff from data center company EdgeConneX, which is owned by EQT.
“The capital from EQT is open-ended,” Horton told FreightWaves in an August 2022 interview. “The commitments that they’re making to our program, even into the billions, is a very small piece of their overall investment program into infrastructure.”
Voltera is currently in 12 regional markets . It plans to operate a charging-as-a-service model covering the upfront capital costs and complexity of charging. That means buying the land, designing and constructing the charging sites, procuring the power in the necessary amounts, deploying and commissioning chargers, and running the facilities.
“We’ve been watching this for a long time,” Horton said in an interview Monday. “We’ve decided that we’re going to make a big play in the hydrogen space.”
The stations cost $15 million to $20 million each depending on hydrogen-fueling capacity. Voltera’s commitment could reach up to $1 billion over the five years.
“I’ve known the Nikola team since 2016. I’ve been watching them for a very long time,” Horton said. “Shortly after we got Voltera together, one of my first calls was to Nikola.”
Nikola bringing hydrogen-making partnerships to the deal
Nikola’s Hyla stations will be part of battery-electric charging depots that Voltera is establishing on land it buys and develops.
One of Nikola’s contributions to the agreement is leveraging partnerships formed with several hydrogen developers, including Plug Power, Chart Industries and Fortescue Future Industries.
“A lot of our capital is going into our trucks. The infrastructure side is very partner based,” Carey Mendes, president of Nikola Energy, told FreightWaves in an interview at the ACT Expo.
“Voltera’s expertise in building out zero-emission energy infrastructure will be a key enabler for Nikola’s first-to-market hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks and fueling infrastructure,” Mendes said in a news release. “Nikola and Voltera have a shared commitment to the rapid deployment of infrastructure which is key to enabling the transition to a zero-emission economy.”
The timing of Voltera’s hydrogen station buildout will extend beyond Nikola’s goal of 60 stations by 2026. Phoenix-based Nikola earlier announced plans for four hydrogen stations, including two with TravelCenters of America, the truck plaza and fuel distributor, in California’s freight-dense Inland Empire.
“I’m a big believer in an emerging ecosystem,” Mendes said. “There’ll be plenty of time for competition down the road. If our competitors come to our stations, we’d love to sell them hydrogen.”
Financial hurdles remain for Nikola
The station partnership with Voltera helps secure one aspect of Nikola’s ambitious plans to both develop zero-emission trucks and manage a hydrogen procurement and distribution business. But it is running low on cash and has debt payments to hedge fund Antara Capital due this year.
It is asking shareholders to approve a doubling of authorized shares in the company to 1.6 billion at the company’s annual meeting on June 7.
If approved, an undetermined number of those shares could be used to repay Antara, albeit at 11% interest on $200 million Nikola borrowed in 2022. If the vote fails, Nikola said it will keep trying to win approval but the company said it may not have enough cash to repay the interest and principal otherwise.
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