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  • Writer's pictureKees Koolen

Dakar Rally goes green with the Nicias rally truck

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Kees Koolen is the CEO of Koolen Industries, The Green Box and Project 2030.

He is also a very enthusiastic Dakar Rally driver.

Taking part in the mother of all desert races is an experience you will never forget. The wonder on the faces of new participants is fantastic to see, as is the enormous passion of Dakar drivers. And the exuberant atmosphere and competitive feeling are downright addictive. Since my first competition in 2009, I have had amazing adventures in the desert. And that, of course, leaves you wanting more. I am committed to helping the Dakar Rally to develop into a platform for sustainable energy and mobility solutions in the near future.

As CEO and founder of Koolen Industries, it is my big dream to drive a truck without emissions. The pursuit of a sustainable future is part of 'Project 2030' and a number of important milestones have now been reached. For example, during Dakar 2022 we took the first steps towards an emission-free future with our rally truck Nicias. V0 still runs on diesel, but ultimately the aim is for this vehicle to race completely emission-free in the challenging terrains of the Dakar Rally. The fact that Nicias will have an electric motor and batteries matches our vision of a clean and sustainable future planet. Well, future? 2030 is not that far away anymore.

The first electric miles

Nicias V1 will soon be making its first full electric miles. Of course, such a memorable moment is preceded by many tests. For example, we jam-packed the diesel-powered Nicias V0 truck with sensors to discover how well our own company's batteries withstand the dust, heat, vibrations and shocks of the Dakar Rally. Just try to imagine what it is like to drive full speed through sand, mud, rocks, dunes and mountains - the cars, motorcycles, buggies, quads and trucks have to endure everything. It is an incredibly tough sport, but fantastic to experience!

At the moment I am the only person in the world who has managed to complete the Dakar Rally in all vehicle categories: motorcycle, quad, ssv, car and truck. Nicias drives much better than any other vehicle I have experience with. Why? Because it helps me achieve my goals in the world!

The 45th edition of the Dakar Rally will take place in Saudi Arabia from December 31, 2022 to January 15, 2023. The Nicias V1 is now being assembled and tested. Earlier this summer, the battery pack passed the toughest safety tests of the FIA. This an important milestone as we would like to get to the finish in one piece! We have succeeded in making a tailor-made battery pack for the truck based on Super B NOMADAs. This is a safe, high-energy-density battery. In fact, the NOMADAs package withstood a 60G 3-way crash without a single security issue. No leak, vapor or electrical failure. A fantastic team effort by the engineers of KHAP technology and our own battery company, Super B in Hengelo. In my opinion, motorsport is the best testing ground for all kinds of sustainable technologies. By working on this today, we are gradually creating the emission-free truck of the future.

Our goal is to have a completely emission-free truck participate in the Dakar Rally in 2030, preferably even earlier. In principle, electric propulsion is much more energy-efficient than driving with a fossil fuel engine. After all, an electric engine produces much less heat and lends itself well to the use of braking energy. However, the energy density of the battery has to be increased considerably to make optimal use of this efficiency advantage.

Getting ready for 2023

At the moment we are not sure yet which Nicias truck will be on the starting line of Dakar 2023. We will probably compete with the same V0 vehicle as during Dakar 2022, which landed on the 13th position in the 'trucks' category. It would be really fantastic if we start the 2024 race with a fully electric V1 truck. Although our V1 is almost ready, we are not yet 100% sure of optimal performance under very difficult conditions. We simply don't want to take any risks in terms of safety and reliability. We apply the same philosophy here as we do for products we supply to our customers: safety and security are paramount. But due to all the safety tests, there is a delay in the development of the fully-electric V1. Patience is a virtue!

We are confidently looking to the future. Possibly the best next step for the V1 will be the Morocco Desert Challenge in April 2023. Then there will be more time to optimise the energy supply and powertrain of the truck. There can also be more on-site and off-road testing in the field of safety and reliability.

It is important that the range of the Nicias is sufficient. This is possible thanks to the use of a biodiesel range extender in the V1. A possible future option is the special range extender from Dutch Energy Solutions (DENS) from Helmond. It converts formic acid, a liquid compound of CO2 and hydrogen, into electricity using a fuel cell. A very interesting, promising and sustainable process.

An international collaboration

Both Super B and DENS are part of the more than 25 start-up and scale-up companies that come under the Koolen Industries group. Additionally, suppliers and expert parties from all over the world are involved in the development of Nicias. They come from eight different countries, namely the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, England, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic. Global collaboration is the only way to truly address our shared climate challenges and achieve zero-emission energy and transport. Nicias V1 is truly an example of international team performance. The whole world is working with us to create the first real emission-free racing truck of the T5 category.

Quality, reliability, teamwork and customer focus are the core of Koolen Industries. I founded this company in 2019 to accelerate the transition to clean and sustainable energy. To achieve this, we help cleantech entrepreneurs to build their businesses as effectively as possible. We also connect their sustainable energy technologies to create tailor-made, integrated solutions. Of course, they must fully respond to the needs of the customer. Nicias is a prime example of an integrated solution for clean energy and mobility. And we are proud of that!

No matter which version of the Nicias truck sits at the starting line in 2023, one thing is for certain, I will get behind the wheel myself. After all, the Dakar Rally is my greatest passion next to the work of Koolen Industries. I am very proud that our own companies produce important parts in the truck. The construction of the truck itself is in the hands of the Czech MM Technology of Martin Macík and KHAP technology with Arnaud Prati from Canada. These are experienced parties with whom we have great confidence. So we are looking forward to the Dakar Rally of 2023, whatever it may have in store for us.

With Nicias, we want to show the world that new and future-proof clean energy technologies are able to compete with fossil fuel technologies. In fact, faster than most people think, clean energy will emerge victorious. Because let's be honest: almost nowhere are the challenges as great (and as beautiful) as in Dakar!


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