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Nikola Motors – Outlook speaks for the company

Nikola Motors – Outlook speaks for the company

The press conference in February 2024 on the fourth quarter results and the entire year 2023 and, above all, the outlook for the current fiscal year support my very optimistic assessment of this start-up. Of the 42 built Tre FCEVs, 35 were delivered in the fourth quarter. Seven are currently being tested by fleet operators. The battery-electric trucks, Tre EVs, after the problems with the batteries and their replacement in the course of the year, will return to their buyers by the end of the second quarter.

Nikola can immediately sell every built Tre FCEV, because the demand is there, but there are now not yet enough parts from suppliers. In 2024, 300 to 350 are to be sold. Strong is the position with the coupons called (California) HVIP vouchers, from which Nikola can sell almost all (99 percent, 355 out of 360) for hydrogen-powered vehicles. We’re talking about up to 408,000 USD subsidization per FC truck. With the BEVs, there were 95 vouchers by the end of January 2024.

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Focusing on California and Canada in the initial phase is smart in view of the support programs there. In parallel, Nikola is working via its subsidiary HYLA on important locations (including port facilities in California such as LA or in Orlando, Florida) to initially supply the necessary hydrogen with the help of mobile H2 refueling stations (significantly less regulatory work than with fixed locations), to then set up fixed H2 refueling stations depending on experience and demand.

On top of that is the partnership with FirstElement Fuel, a company that already operates locations at important hubs (ports such as Orlando) and supplies 100 to 200 trucks per day with the necessary hydrogen there. Sufficient hydrogen is available in any case, according to a take from the press conference. That already includes the Tre FCEVs to be delivered and their H2 requirements. Currently in development are nine locations of their own HYLA program in addition to those of FirstElement Fuel. Altogether, over 60 H2 refueling stations will emerge there in the future.

All important positions filled – with top talent

The CFO position has now also been filled: Thomas B. Okray is the new chief financial officer. He can boast an impressive CV: Okray was CFO at companies like Eaton, but also in a leading position in the logistics division (fulfillment) at Amazon and 14 years in top positions at GM – also as CFO.

With Jonathan Pertchik, Nikola is bringing in a managing director that already been successful as CEO at TravelCenters of America. The company was acquired by BP and is one of the largest truck stop operators in the USA. Here someday, hydrogen refueling stations from Nikola could be positioned – comparable to Pilot Flying J – if it came to a cooperation (an idea).

Ole Höfelmann will be, via the subsidiary HYLA, president of Nikola Energy. Before, he was responsible for the company’s global infrastructure activities. In his career, he has held numerous management positions for 30 years at Air Liquide, among other things as CEO of Air Liquide Spain with 3,000 employees. In addition, he worked at Plug Power as head of the electrolysis division. Furthermore, he is a board member of various associations such as the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

Carla Tully completes the executive board. She has held leadership positions in Fortune 150 companies, among other things as co-founder of Earthrise Energy (over 1.5 GW of renewable energy), was on the board of the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum and in management positions at MAP Energy (2.4 billion USD market cap) and AES Corp. Nikola can thus draw on extensive expertise in the areas of M&A, private equity and CSR. Therefore, Nikola is optimally equipped for the future in all leadership positions.

Truck in use – Customers very satisfied

Several customer reports on long-distance journeys with hydrogen-powered trucks are very positive: Coyote Container drove from the Port of Oakland to Long Beach, then to Iowa and Ontario and back to the Port of Portland – 866 miles (1,393 km) on just one tank of H2. MTA Trucks drove 519 km (322 mi) from Edmonton to Calgary and back. The tank was still 40 percent full at the end of the route – at minus ten degrees Celsius. Other examples refer to trips of over 1,000 miles in one day with a full load.

Special potential with the Badger?

Yes, you read correctly: In 2023, Ember acquired the market rights (IP, design) and prototype for this strong-looking SUV named Badger from Nikola. Nikola sold these items as part of an equity swap (exchange via contribution in kind) to Ember and received 30 percent of the company in return. No capital will flow from Nikola, as it is concentrating on the e-truck. Certain is that the Badger, as an FC/battery SUV, could give serious competition to the Cybertruck of Tesla, should it come onto the market in time. Whether Ember and other OEMs and partners will actually implement this project is, however, still unclear.

Psychologically, however, it is a strong sign that Nikola is indirectly in the boat here. It will be interesting to see. Because the Badger once served as the basis for a cooperation with GM and resulted in a two-digit billion valuation of Nikola Motors at the stock exchange. There were 6,000 pre-orders at the time. Just think of it as a nice side topic, but it could be very exciting when things get concrete here and well-known names such as Magna, Dana, GM and many others pick up the ball. Consider this: The design of such a car too, which you already have, also costs a lot of capital – not to mention that the start of production requires a lot of capital, even if there are companies (OEMs) that could ramp up existing production capacities very quickly. Then, the Badger would be on the market in just a few years. Anything is conceivable.

Summary

With over 460 million USD in free capital (unrestricted cash), the company is initially well positioned. Cost-cutting measures, optimization and normal scaling effects in production (the more trucks are built and sold, the lower the unit price and the closer the break-even point becomes) will characterize the year as a whole, where the capital use on a quarterly basis is to noticeably sink. And 400 to 450 trucks of both types are the initial sales target for 2024, with expected turnover at 150 to 170 million USD. It should be noted, however, that order intake could end up significantly higher, even if it doesn’t affect turnover until 2025.

Nikola is still in the start-up phase. Theoretically, 2,400 trucks per year could already be produced if all supplier parts were available. As far as the share price is concerned, CEO Stephen Girsky repeated himself, Solomon-like, when he said – to the effect – that the stock market itself will be the best judge if the forecasts made come true. Bound to that is my expectation that we will soon see prices of over 1 USD (or significantly more) again when what is forecasted happens. A reverse split (share consolidation) as a measure to raise the share price over 1 USD is then naturally superfluous. (With a price of under 1 USD, it can theoretically come to a delisting of the NASDAQ on July 7 after a 180-day period that however can be extended.)

The price behavior of the share at this time will still be dominated by short sellers and naked short sellers that massively bet against the company and the share price. Mid-February, 217.6 million shares were sold short. This short interest could with good news lead to short covering (in the extreme case to a squeeze) – is my personal view, and only that.

On the other side, institutional investors like Norges Bank (who holds 10.25 percent in Nikola), Blackrock, Vanguard and others are buying, which can be seen as a good sign and should. Against the company founder Trevor Milton Nikola has already won in court, and it is now working on an enforcement title. After all, it entails 165 million USD. Milton still holds over 51 million shares, which could possibly be collected as a partial payment – no guarantees.

The share price is now being driven primarily by incoming orders for e-trucks. Out of the current test series with fleet operators could result – is my expectation – also many a large order.

Nikola is to be seen as a start-up. This is a new, disruptive market at the beginning of a long-term trend. Until the transition to the profit zone (2025/26), a lot of capital still needs to be invested (logical losses), but the stock exchange will gladly make it available if the forecasts come true and anticipate it in the share price development. The investment bank Baird recently announced a target price of 2 USD. Other investment banks may follow. The volatility of the share will remain very high. Daily fluctuations of five or even more than ten percent are normal. Not for investors with weak nerves.

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.

Author: Sven Jösting, written March 15th, 2024

FuelCell Energy – Carbon capture as a growth story?

FuelCell Energy – Carbon capture as a growth story?

FuelCell Energy has with SOFC fuel cell power plants built its own capacities for clean energy totaling 62.8 MW (previous year: 43.7 MW). The company’s own high-temperature fuel cell serves as the basis for use in electrolysis, where the company has recognized great potential for itself. Along with that are various research projects, among others in Canada, and the company relies on specially developed carbon capture technology that is designed to avoid emissions and generate emissions-free energy at the same time. So far, so good. But you can’t avoid thinking of competitors such as Bloom Energy, Sunfire and Ceres Power (indirectly also Weichai Power and Bosch), which pursue similar visions and technological approaches to FuelCell Energy.

What all this means in terms of order and implementation potential is unfortunately not yet clear to me. The figures so far are sobering: The first quarter (fiscal year 31.01.24) brought a loss of 44.4 million USD. Turnover fell in the quarter to 16.7 million USD. Of liquidity, the company has no lack: 348.4 million USD was in the bank January 31, 2024. However, there has been a constant outflow of capital for years, aided by constant share placements on the stock exchange via an ATM program. Projects such as that with Exxon in Holland sound promising, but say very little about the potential. In South Korea, former partner Posco, via its subsidiary Korea Fuel Cells, forfeited the option of further orders in supplement to a previous project. Not a good sign.

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Joint venture with ExxonMobil

At first glance, it sounds promising: FuelCell Energy and ExxonMobil have agreed to build a production plant for carbon capture in Rotterdam. It entails the avoidance of CO2 emissions or the storage and making usable, without generating a carbon footprint. CCS stands for carbon capture and storage. After successful deployment directly in the neighborhood of important industries, the project that is based on the technology of FuelCell Energy could be deployed at all production sites of ExxonMobil where CO2 emissions are generated. The process is to generate heat as a by-product and enable the production of green hydrogen.

Unfortunately, there is no indication of the exact investment volume (invest on the part of FuelCell Energy) and the order volume that can be derived from this. In any case, the project is financially supported by the EU via the Emissions Trading System Innovation Fund. ExxonMobil and FuelCell Energy have already been working on the associated technologies for some time, so this specific project represents another important milestone.

The cash cushion is safeguarding the share price well. The stock exchange will rediscover FuelCell Energy when it can be shown how technologies such as carbon capture and SOEC can generate orders and earn money. That will take some time. The share is always suitable for trading, as good news quickly leads to major price swings.

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.

Author: Sven Jösting, written March 15th, 2024

Starting points for a comprehensive hydrogen ramp-up

Starting points for a comprehensive hydrogen ramp-up

Industry congress GAT 2023 in Cologne

To establish a functioning hydrogen economy, the entire value chain must be addressed. It is important to keep in view the market and regulatory aspects as well as the technical aspects (standardization). At the event GAT 2023 in September in Cologne, it could be seen how intensively the industry is working on the implementation. Exciting here are, among other things, the conversion plans of the gas grid operators towards climate-neutral gases. The second phase of the GTP also shows the great interest on the part of municipalities and the industrial sector.

Dr. Kirsten Westphal made clear how the German association for energy and water economy (Bundesverband der Energie- und Wasserwirtschaft, BDEW) see the heating market of the future: “Instead of natural gas, in the future especially hydrogen and its derivatives will be employed,” said the member of top management at the event in Cologne. The hydrogen will come from domestic production as well as a considerable portion from imports. The BDEW is not worried that it will come to a deficit situation. “The studies show that sufficient quantities of hydrogen will be able to be made available,” stated Westphal.

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However, the ramp-up of hydrogen production requires the right framework conditions. Regarding this, the BDEW representative counts in addition to the acceleration and strengthening of the expansion of renewable energies in Germany also the quick notification of IPCEI projects (Important Projects of Common European Interest) for hydrogen production by the EU, which will then actually occur at the end of the year (see p. 20), as well as other supplementary funding programs to reach the electrolysis capacity target of 10 GW in year 2030.

On the import side, Westphal is calling on politicians to present an import strategy in the short term. Furthermore, the financing of import projects should also be flanked by measures such as Hermes cover (export credit guarantees) or capital subsidies.

Establishment of a functioning H2 trading market

One aspect of particular importance, however, is to embed the ramp-up of hydrogen production in the development of a market. In each of the various phases in this, different political instruments are needed: to begin, more steering and support; later, a growing market and less support. The visualized goal is a functioning trading market in which hydrogen volumes are efficiently distributed according to market-based mechanisms.

But what characterizes the image of the targeted steady-state hydrogen market? In Cologne, the BDEW expert named a whole bundle of criteria:

  • Production and trade of hydrogen and its derivatives in Germany, the EU and globally in sufficient quantities
  • The combination of long-term contracts (particularly at import level) with competitive prices that reflect current market conditions as well as increasing spot deliveries
  • The trading of guarantees of origin, certificates and commodities on a uniform, standardized European market that includes an international connection
  • Competition for access to end customers as well as transparent price signals and sufficient market liquidity on the supplier side
  • A fully functional and comprehensive network infrastructure. Non-discriminatory grid access for all competitive players on the hydrogen market. H2 grid access is essentially based on the entry-exit system.
  • Climate-neutral hydrogen is used wherever there is demand. Demand is based on the market price.
  • Storage options ensure security of supply for hydrogen and derivatives and open up various ways to make the hydrogen market flexible. There is decentralized generation and purchase as well as central storage.

In all these projects are, according to Westphal, a transparent and reliable standardization as well as certification needed, to also create acceptance for hydrogen and its derivatives, which also needs a stable regulatory framework.

Standardization of particular importance

The establishing of standards is also the means of choice from the view of Dr. Thomas Gößmann. According to the Thyssengas chairman, it should be borne in mind that the approval offices have had little contact with the topic of hydrogen until now and therefore have no experience in most cases.

For Germany as an export country, the agreement on international standards is of particular importance, stated Oda Keppler, ministerial director at the German ministry for education and research (BMBF), at GAT. This applies, among other things, for the quality criteria for the product hydrogen, as otherwise the international trading of it could not be done.

For the success of the hydrogen economy, it is crucial, according to Gößmann, to involve the people. “If the country of engineers succeeds in taking the people with it, then we will also succeed,” the Thyssengas chairman is certain. It is also important not to focus too much on the color principle of the hydrogen. This is hardly comprehensible for many people anyway. “We are colorblind. We’re setting up the highway. It doesn’t matter to us who drives on it,” said the grid operator.

Dr. Frank Reiners is certain that the hydrogen economy will only really take off when the entire value chain is populated. According to the member of the management board of Open Grid Europe, however, pipeline construction is of particular importance. Germany as a hub has a special role and responsibility here, as many gas pipelines come on land or come together here. “We cannot afford to do nothing,” stated Reiners in Cologne.


Prof. Gerald Linke, chairman of the DVGW, said at the opening of the industry event GAT in Cologne, “The backbone network must provide all regions in Germany with access to climate-neutral hydrogen.”

H2 core network for all regions

The German association for gas and water standards (Deutscher Verein des Gas- und Wasserfaches, DVGW) welcomes the federal government’s initiative, in an amendment to the energy industry act (Energiewirtschaftsgesetz), to establish a legal framework for the rapid approval and construction of a hydrogen core network. However, to the DVGW, this approach does not go far enough. “The backbone network must provide all regions in Germany with access to climate-neutral hydrogen, as otherwise an exiting of entire economy sectors is imminent, especially the small and medium enterprises,” said the DVGW chairman Prof. Gerald Linke at the industry event.

In a second step, transformation regulation for gas distribution grids is therefore also needed. Without an extensive conversion of the existing gas distribution infrastructure, it will not be possible to transform the connections of 1.8 million industrial and commercial customers toward climate neutrality, stressed Linke.

The basis for the transport to end customers has been laid out in the so-termed Gasnetzgebietstransformationsplan (gas grid area transformation plan, GTP) by the DVGW together with the initiative H2vorOrt. In the current second planning year, 241 gas distribution system operators have participated, a significant increase compared to the 180 companies in the previous year. Currently, the GTP covers pipelines with a total length of 415,000 km (258,000 mi) and reaches 381 of the total 401 regional districts of Germany.

The planning process with the GTP is deliberately designed to be open-ended and includes the conversion, decommissioning and partial new construction of pipelines. Considered are all new, climate-neutral gases, so in addition to hydrogen also for example biomethane. The aim of the GTP is to accelerate the transformation at the distribution grid level and, by the individual planning of the grid operators in coordination with the other stages of the supply chain, to create a coherent vision for the whole of Germany. As part of the GTP planning, the grid operators are analyzing on the basis of their specific situations on site the demands of their customers, the decentralized feed-in situation, the development of hydrogen availability by upstream network operators and the technical suitability of their networks for hydrogen.


For the first time in Germany, the conversion of a long-distance gas pipeline to transport hydrogen has begun at OGE Verdichterstation Emsbüren

Municipalities and industry are planning with hydrogen

Part of the GTP is also a survey of end customers by the respective network operators. This revealed a clear preference for the use of climate-neutral gases. Only five percent of the nearly 1,000 surveyed municipalities see no need in the long term for the use of climate-neutral gases. Of the nearly 2,000 major industrial customers who responded, more than three quarters are relying on hydrogen in the future. And 29 percent already see the use of hydrogen as an option by 2030, while a further 30 percent expect this in the coming decade.

Some current projects show that these visions are already currently being implemented. For example, mid-October at Verdichterstation Emsbüren, a compressor station of grid operator OGE in Niedersachsen, was the start of the conversion of the first long-distance pipeline to transport hydrogen (see Fig. 3). As part of the project GET H2 Nukleus, this is to establish the core for a nationwide hydrogen infrastructure. With the changeover, the participating network operators want to enable customers from industry and SMEs to connect to the hydrogen supply.

Most of the municipalities surveyed, according to the DVGW poll, are counting on climate-neutral gases in the long term

Another project started at the beginning of November in Energiepark Bad Lauchstädt with the start of the second phase of the conversion of a natural gas pipeline for the transport of hydrogen. For the technically seamless operation of the grid of the future of transmission system operator Ontras Gastransport, a pig launcher was placed in position. The following months will be preparation for putting into operation the hydrogen pipeline. For this, the construction of a transfer station as well as setting up a system for purifying and drying the gas are necessary. Once Energiepark Bad Lauchstädt is fully operational in year 2025, test transfers of hydrogen will follow, scientifically accompanied by DBI-GTI (DBI Gastechnologisches Institut gGmbH Freiberg), an independent laboratory of the DVGW.

Such projects help to increasingly address the locational advantages of the continent. At GAT in Cologne, Prof. Thomas Thiemann of Siemens Energy summed up the situation as follows: “With its large pipeline network and storage facilities, Europe has a huge asset compared to other areas. We must exploit this advantage.”


Out of the surveyed industrial customers, 76 percent are interested in hydrogen

Study: Green hydrogen not more expensive than gas in the long term

End customer prices for green hydrogen in the medium and long term could be in the range of natural gas or the current subsidization threshold of natural gas of 12 euro-cents per kWh (Gaspreisbremse). That is what the study by Frontier Economics on behalf of the DVGW determined. If total costs are compared – so costs for acquisition, building renovation and operation, – then the cost for both single-family and multi-family houses with a gas boiler powered by hydrogen, depending on building type and efficiency class, lie at a similar level to an electrically run heat pump. In the study, the total costs of various energy carriers for households as well as for exemplary heat supply solutions were compared with each other.

For the cost comparison, indicative end customer prices based on production costs were used. In addition to the prices for gaseous energy sources, the DVGW study also compares the total costs that households may incur depending on the heat supply solution. Because if the goal is to meet the climate targets, heat generation for buildings in Germany must be fundamentally changed, according to the DVGW.

The aim of the investigation is, on the one hand, to put the end customer prices of green hydrogen in relation to alternative energy sources for households in the years 2035 and 2045. On the other hand, the analysis focuses on the total costs of different heat supply solutions for two selected building types in the efficiency classes B and D. Considered are green gas boilers based on biomethane and climate-neutral hydrogen as well as heat pumps.

Overall, the comparison shows that the cost ratios of the energy sources change over the period under review. While end customer prices for climate-neutral hydrogen in Germany are expected to remain above those for natural gas and biomethane until 2035, they could reach a comparable level by 2045.

Households in Germany would therefore have to pay between 12 and 17 euro-cents per kWh for hydrogen in 2035. The price of natural gas, on the other hand, taking rising CO2 prices into account, would be between 9 and 11 euro-cents per kWh, and that for biomethane just above, at around 10 to 13 euro-cents per kWh, depending on the biomass used in its production.

After 2035, end customer prices for hydrogen could fall and approach those of natural gas. The main drivers for this include the degression of costs for H2 production and rising CO2 prices in the context of emissions trading. In year 2045, according to the study, purchase prices for hydrogen could then lower to around 11 to 15 euro-cents per kWh.

Author: Michael Nallinger

FuelCell Energy: A turnaround at last?

FuelCell Energy: A turnaround at last?

Here, I am cautious. The company, in my opinion, does not yet offer any convincing prospects, expressed in terms of expected growth, orders and sales through the use of its technology, which was also supported by the share price drop to 1 USD. From this very low level, the price has now turned around, driven by the news. It looks as if a gradual rise in the share price is now imminent. FuelCell Energy reports a number of projects in Africa, the USA and Canada. Nigeria for example, plans to generate at least 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 (MoU with Oando Clean Energy).

FuelCell Energy speaks of projects, but so far without naming order values; however, it is clear that demand for FC technologies such as solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) is increasing. In Canada, a project with FuelCell Energy as technology partner was nominated for the Innovation Fund Award. Together with the companies Kinetrics and Bruce Power, the energy production of Ontario Power is to be expanded by hydrogen. And FuelCell Energy is about CO2-free hydrogen in commercial vehicles and about using electricity from nuclear power plants for hydrogen production (surplus electricity). Although this is only a pilot project, orders for high-temperature electrolyzers from FuelCell Energy are expected in the future.

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Summary: The company has a healthy balance sheet structure and sufficient equity for financing. Unfortunately, FuelCell Energy does not yet have a long-term strategy that we can understand as to how FC technology and IP are to be used profitably. Cooperations such as that with ExxonMobil and IBM in the field of carbon capture sound very exciting, but how is money to be earned with such? The share will go its way, especially as support programs (Inflation Reduction Act) and the need for safe, clean energy form the basis for this. An own electricity portfolio (own plants, energy sales via PPA) will form the basis of the company’s earnings in the long term. A perfect FC/H2 share for traders.

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.

Cellcentric overcomes major obstacle

Cellcentric overcomes major obstacle

A view of how the new cellcentric site should look. The design incorporates special green spaces, including on the factory roofs, © cellcentric

How the new cellcentric site should look –  green spaces, including on the factory roofs, © cellcentric

A positive result in a community poll has apparently cleared the way for cellcentric to press ahead with its plans to mass-produce fuel cells in the German town of Weilheim an der Teck. Cellcentric – a 50-50 joint venture by Daimler Truck and Volvo – is expected to start building its new factory in the course of the year. Preparations for the highly automated manufacturing facility have “already come a very long way,” H2-international was informed. (more…)

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