Nicias featuring at the Dakar Business Event. How it helps us test energy transition technologies
Updated: Mar 31
Earlier this year, Nicias was featured at the 2022 Dakar Business Event. Kees Koolen, Dakar racing driver, CEO & founder of Koolen Industries, The Green Box, and Project 2030, shares his thoughts on the experience and the role of Project 2030 in the energy transition.
Let me introduce you to Nicias.
Nicias is a truck designed to compete in the gruelling Dakar rally and inspired by a fictional character - Nicias, the progenitor of the cloud giants.
Cloud giants are large and powerful creatures that are excellent strategists, can see well through fog and cloud, and are very creative. They favour highly risky activities that offer great rewards and derive joy from challenges, which they meet by applying their skills. Clearly, our Project 2030 team shares many of these qualities.
In January this year, Nicias helped me complete the Dakar rally, crossing vast deserts and rocky mountains in an environment where knowledge of and respect for the environment are vital.
Last June, Nicias featured in the 2022 Dakar Business Event organized at EVM19 by Sijbrand Booij and Gert-Jan van der Valk. The more than 120 guests enjoyed a ride on the EVM19 rally track, with supertalent Mitchel van den Brink as the driver. Martin Macík Jr. shared his experiences in building and racing trucks, and I was honored to give a keynote speech explaining my views on the energy transition and the link to our efforts in Project 2030.
Over the years, I have learnt the hard way that racing through a barren and hostile environment, where temperatures are extreme and where no error goes unpunished, is an excellent way to prepare you for whatever life throws at you.
As the only person in the world to have completed the Dakar rally on a motorcycle and a quad bike as well as in a car, a lightweight vehicle and a large truck, I discovered that Nicias is in many ways much better than all the previous vehicles I have raced, essentially because it is a vehicle that will help me achieve my goals in the real world.
As an individual, I feel confident in everyday situations that others consider tricky. All I have to do is recall how the Dakar challenges were generally more complex.
But this Dakar mission is about something greater. This time, we have entered the race as Project 2030, and our mission is truly about saving the world.
That might sound lofty, but the truth is stark. To reach the world's climate goals, we need to go faster and reach beyond the limits of our established norms.
That is what Project 2030 is about, and Nicias is the project’s most visible research vehicle.
Project 2030 is an ambitious clean energy initiative at the intersection of three connected ventures - Nicias, the clean energy conglomerate Koolen Industries, and The Green Box clean energy campus that aims to bring together academic research and entrepreneurialism.
Project 2030 aims to deliver holistic real-world solutions to challenges such as climate change and air pollution. We will investigate the improbable and focus on cleantech innovation.
Our ambition is to explore unchartered territories as we take on the biggest and most difficult challenges that arise as we transition to a clean energy future.
In this endeavour, Nicias is our pathfinder.
The Dakar rally provides a path that will help us begin our journey. Our ambitions are indeed lofty. Dakar is the runway that prepares us for flight.
But we are also both practical and pragmatic. Nicias is a research vehicle in its purest sense. It exists because it helps us test and compare clean energy solutions. We will install a variety of technologies in the truck, not because we expect it to be perfect right away but because we expect to learn from our experiences as we carry out tests in extreme situations.
We kicked off the project with the best equipment possible at the time of racing in 2022, but we already knew that better solutions would come along very soon.
One such solution is an electric motor that is currently in our workshop, ready to be installed to replace Nicias’ petrol-powered combustion engine.
It will be powered by a battery developed by Koolen Industries subsidiary Super B. We brought a single battery pack to the 2022 race for testing purposes. Next year, we will bring a full pack of batteries with a capacity of more than 150kWh to power the electric engine throughout the race.
This part of Nicias’s evolution is already underway. Installation has started to make sure we are ready for the 2023 race.
But that is not to say we have reached our final goal. Current automotive battery technology is not yet good enough to power a Dakar truck across great distances at high speed, so we will also need a range extender that charges the battery pack during the race.
As an interim solution, we are considering a biodiesel-powered combustion engine to extend the truck’s range. Such a diesel-electric hybrid solution will help us cut fuel consumption by 50% during the race, which is a big step in a year.
We will not stop there, however. In fact, we are already at advanced stages in our development of zero-emissions alternatives to the combustion engine. And, as both battery and battery charging are set to leap forwards with vast and rapid improvements to their efficiency and speed, we expect to also upgrade the battery pack along the way.
The innovations will be frequent and revolutionary, so prepare to be surprised.
Zero emissions drive trains are essential components of the energy transition, but they will make little real-world difference unless they are powered by clean energy made from renewables.
We are working on this too, of course. Project 2030 is backed by more than 25 clean energy companies that are part of Koolen Industries.
These include Koolen Industries Solar, which specialises in solar power generation, and companies such as Battolyser, Proton Ventures, and DENS which work on converting electricity to hydrogen, ammonia, and hydrozine.
We have companies working on energy distribution via mobile and flexible units, such as Green Battery, Smart Grid, and Skoon, and software companies that develop systems that control factors such as temperature or vibrations, and that help us build systems based around predictive maintenance rather than merely relying on repairs when something breaks.
The Green Box clean tech campus is also integral to our progress. Not only will we generate, manage and store clean energy there. We will also expand our test facilities to support Project 2030 and the Nicias race truck project, with our efforts extending into research, development, application, demonstration, and commercialisation of clean energy projects.
Real-world user applications will be important here. We are already engaged in solutions such as the development of hyperloop as an alternative to both high-speed rail and aeroplanes, as well as in areas such as smart mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
The Dakar spirit
With Project 2030, therefore, we are not merely transforming a truck from diesel to electricity, but also demonstrating our commitment to stay in and retain a lead in the energy transition race for years, indeed for decades. We are well equipped for this as we have both the required technological abilities and sufficient funds.
In short; we are in for the long haul.
We do this not because we think it is going to be easy, but because we know it is going to be difficult. We are perfectly content with leaving others to solve the quick and simple problems while we drill down into the truly complex.
Such challenges range from how to store energy on a vast scale to make it possible to totally switch from fossil fuels to renewables to how to transform heavy-duty industrial vehicles operating in places such as the African, Middle East, or South American deserts or in Arctic and Antarctic environments. We are taking on several such challenges simultaneously.
We are fully focused on the trickiest challenges posed by both governments and ordinary people eager to combat climate change and poor air quality, as well as by industries constantly searching for ways to decarbonise their operations.
The fact that it is challenging motivates us to keep going. The Dakar spirit runs deep through everything we do.