Just two weeks after its former founder was indicted for alleged fraud, Nikola has been awarded a $2 million grant by the Department of Energy (DOE) for its work on hydrogen powered semi trucks. 

The documents indicting Nikola founder Trevor Milton were released on Thursday, July 29th. Nikola announced its grant award on Thursday, August 12th. 

According to The Verge, the grant was awarded by the DOE’s  Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy transportation office as part of its Hydrogen and Fuel Cells R&D program. This program is aimed at proving that hydrogen is a reliable and sustainable zero-emissions power source, and intends for Nikola to use the money to research autonomous refueling technologies for hydrogen refilling stations. 

Despite its recent financial award, it is important to note that Nikola has spent much of 2020 attempting to recover from former founder and chairman Milton’s involvement “in a fraudulent scheme to deceive retail investors about Nikola’s products, technical advancements, and commercial prospects for his own personal benefit in violation of the federal securities laws.” In fact, a report released in September of 2020 by the Hindenburg Research firm called Nikola an “intricate fraud,” and made claims that the company had staged the now-famous video of the hydrogen truck being secretly rolled down a hill to simulate its actual functionality. 

Since then, Nikola has conducted its own internal investigation that determined Milton had indeed made numerous false claims about the current capabilities of the hydrogen semi trucks, so the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission opened investigations into the claims. Criminal and civil charges have since been filed against Milton as a result. 

 “If you want to have the leading electric vehicle manufacturer in the world… you’ll have to make multiple bets. And some of those bets will lead to losses,” new DOE loan program head Jigar Shah said. 

Currently, Nikola is losing around $100 million per quarter, and had around $630 million in the bank at the end of the second quarter of 2021. 

“Autonomous fueling is part of the industry’s effort to ensure fast, efficient, and safe fueling of a large onboard storage system to be less than 20 minutes for heavy-duty vehicles,” the company said in a statement. “This project is expected to address this goal by working to develop an autonomous fueling system that can rapidly refuel heavy-duty fuel-cell electric trucks, while minimizing labor and challenges relating to ergonomics and maintenance of equipment, as compared to an equivalent manual fueling process.”

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