Scandal-plagued electric truck maker Nikola announced Thursday that it won a $2 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department to develop hydrogen refueling technologies.
The grant was formally awarded July 7 — three weeks before Nikola founder Trevor Milton was indicted on three counts of criminal fraud for lying about “nearly all aspects of the business” to boost the startup’s stock sales.
“Even before the indictment, the looming legal problems were well known as the company disclosed it had received subpoenas from both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission,” CNN noted.
Nikola said the grant was for advancing its research into autonomous refueling technologies for future hydrogen fueling stations. Some of the electric trucks Nikola is developing would be powered by heavy duty hydrogen fuel cells.
“This funding is essential to advance key hydrogen fueling technologies that can improve the overall efficiency of fuel-cell commercial vehicles, while maintaining the safety and reliability standards required,” Pablo Koziner, who leads Nikola’s hydrogen fueling business, said in a news release.
Milton was forced to resign as Nikola’s executive chairman in September 2020 after short-seller Hindenburg Research alleged the company was “an intricate fraud built on dozens of lies over the course of [Milton’s] career.” Nikola admitted in a filing earlier this year that an internal investigation showed Milton had deceived investors.
In response to the grant award, Hindenburg noted that Milton’s indictment quoted him as saying that “Nikola was producing hydrogen and was doing so at a reduced cost, when [he] knew that in fact no hydrogen was being produced at all by Nikola, at any cost.”
The short-seller added that it doubts “a $2 million grant will help transform that lie into a reality.”
According to The Verge, the grant comes at a time when the Energy Department “is getting ready to ramp up funding activity to help advance the United States’ development of clean energy technologies — a priority under President Biden.”
The department “makes funding awards based on a rigorous, merit-based review process that includes multiple technology experts reviewing applications,” it said Thursday.