Cummins' electrolyzers can produce hydrogen from water using renewable electricity. The plants...

Cummins' electrolyzers can produce hydrogen from water using renewable electricity. The plants can be scaled to produce anywhere from hundreds to thousands of kilograms of hydrogen per day.

Photo: Cummins

Cummins has laid out its path forward into the hydrogen economy with plans to decarbonize transportation and other industrial sectors it serves while enabling growth of renewable energy. The ambitions agenda that will see Cummins achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 was shared by members of Cummins' leadership team during an online conference for the investment community held on Monday — Cummins Hydrogen Day.

"As the world transitions to a low carbon future, Cummins has the financial strength to invest in hydrogen and battery technologies as well as advanced diesel and natural gas powertrains," said Cummins' Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger.

Linebarger emphasized Cummins' long history of achievement with its diesel and natural gas engine technologies, and components, then added, "Over the past five years, the company has developed and acquired significant capabilities in electrified powertrains, battery design and assembly, battery management, fuel cells, and hydrogen generation."

The key to Cummins' goals will be the transition from so-called gray hydrogen to green hydrogen. Almost all of the approximately 70 million tonnes of hydrogen produced today is gray hydrogen, which is generally produced by steam methane reforming, utilizing significant amounts of power through the use of natural gas. "This produces over 830 million tons of CO2 a year, which equates to more emissions than all of Germany," Linebarger pointed out.  

Green hydrogen, on the other hand, uses electrolysis to turn hydro-electric, wind, or solar power into hydrogen with zero CO2 emissions. While only 1% of hydrogen produced today is green, Linebarger said the future lies with hydrogen produced by electrolyzers powered by renewable sources. Cummins already produces electrolyzers, and forecasts revenue from their production to be at least $400 million in 2025.

"The production of green hydrogen and the adoption of fuel cell technologies in markets that are served by fossil fuels today will be critical to lowering greenhouse gas emissions globally and also will enable Cummins to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050," said Linebarger. "We will continue to bring hydrogen fuel cell products to market and we have many products already in the field, including in on-highway trucks, rail, marine and other applications, as well as hundreds of electrolyzers."

Cummins is building a 5-megawatt PEM electrolyzer at the Wells Dam on the Columbia River in...

Cummins is building a 5-megawatt PEM electrolyzer at the Wells Dam on the Columbia River in Douglas County, Washington. The electrolyzer is powered by clean hydroelectricity.

Photo: Cummins

Fuel Comes First

There is still work to be done before economical sources of hydrogen can be deployed to supply heavy trucks and passenger cars. Cummins sees the transition from gray to green hydrogen as the way to cost-effectively build out the infrastructure to supply non-industrial demand for hydrogen, including transportation.

To replace the gray hydrogen used today with green hydrogen, the world would need roughly 3.2 terawatt hours of renewable power, resulting in over 350,000 megawatts of electrolyzer build out. With demand like that, power generation companies will be able to fully utilize renewable electricity during peak production. The electrolyzer technology provides a means to address one of the largest dilemmas in the renewable energy industry, which is how to store the energy when it’s not in demand.

Cummins is currently building a 5-megawatt PEM electrolyzer to manufacture commercial hydrogen using electrolysis to harvest hydrogen from water from the Wells Dam on the Columbia River in Douglas County, Washington. The electrolyzer is powered by clean hydroelectricity, so the production of hydrogen does not generate any carbon emissions. It's expected to be operational in 2021.

Additionally, Cummins is in the process of commissioning a 20-megawatt electrolyzer for Air Liquide in Bécancour, Quebec, located about 90 miles east of Montreal. When operational, it will produce about 3,000 tons of green hydrogen per year, powered by the province's vast hydroelectric resources and using water from the St. Lawrence River.

Those are but two examples of hydrogen production coming online in the near future here in North America.

"Other green hydrogen production targets are materializing, such as Germany, which plans to spend $9 billion on hydrogen infrastructure this decade with five gigawatts of electrolyzer capacity by 2030," said Linebarger. "Fuel cell vehicle and hydrogen production targets are currently being developed on other countries as well, such as China and Korea."

Cummins also produces a line of containerized alkaline electrolyzers used for on-site hydrogen generation at industrial sites, manufacturing plants, and hydrogen fueling stations. These plants typically produce between 100 to 750 kilograms of hydrogen a day at relatively low cost with an energy efficiency of 55-70%, Cummins says. The company has more than 500 such installations scattered around the globe. 

While Linebarger was speaking principally to investors on the potential capacity for the roll-out of electrolyzer projects, he noted that all that potential hydrogen capacity neatly resolves the chicken-and-egg question about where we'll get hydrogen to power our trucks, or whether we'll need fleets of trucks ready to be put into production before a supply can be cost-effectively developed.

"This demand level does not require the adoption of fuel cells within transportation markets, and the cost of green hydrogen will decline as the scale develops," he said. "This in turn will help enable the transition to fuel cells, given the lower cost and increased availability of hydrogen."

Cummins has been actively pursuing alternatives to diesel including battery-electric and...

Cummins has been actively pursuing alternatives to diesel including battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cells. Cummins now has a full line of hydrogen based technology to produce, store and utilize the zero-carbon energy source. 

Photo: Cummins

Trains, Buses and Trucks

In addition to producing green hydrogen, Cummins has been actively developing fuel cells with which to consume all that carbon-free energy. They have been at it more than 20 years.

"Cummins has invested in position to succeed as a leader in the world's energy transformation to the hydrogen economy," said Amy Adams, vice president of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. "We have a strong product portfolio of distinctive technology platforms for both electrolyzer systems to produce green hydrogen and fuel cell systems to power zero emission buses, trucks, and trains."

Cummins, with it's now wholly-owned subsidiary, Hydrogenics (acquired in June 2019), already has many fuel cell electric vehicles running in the field today. Two hydrogen fuel cell powered passenger trains were tested in Germany beginning in September 2018 and are now in full commercial service. With a range of up to 600 miles per hydrogen tank fueling and operating at speeds of about 85 miles per hour, the trains were specifically designed for use in non-electrified lines, where installing catenary over-hear powerlines would be prohibitively expensive. The return-to-base operation also simplifies the fueling logistics.

Municipal transit buses are also a good candidate for fuel cells, as they, like trains, require only single fueling points rather than a network of stations. Public transit is good pathway wider deployment, assisted by government subsidies pushed forward by public sentiment surrounding carbon emissions.

"All of these factors drive varied adoption rates with greater adoption in early years and applications such as trains and buses, with heavy duty trucks falling farther out on the curve," says Amy Davis, vice president & president, New Power. "It also means that we can leverage our electrolyzer sales to fund fuel cell technology investments and build scale across the supply chain. Lower priced and more widely available hydrogen will drive increased utilization of fuel cells over time. Because the cost of fuel cells and hydrogen is projected to remain above that of internal combustion engines for at least 10 years, we anticipate adoption of fuel cells to begin in markets where the cost of these items as a proportion of their total cost of ownership are the lowest."

Citing estimates from The Hydrogen Council, Davis said, "Fuel cell penetration in heavy duty trucks globally, will be 2.5% in 2030, while buses will reach 10% and 10% of trains currently powered by diesel engines will transition to fuel cells. Cummins already has fuel cells installed in all of these applications, positioning us well for partnerships and product differentiation."

On the truck side, Cummins has partnered with a European truck manufacturer and waste management fleet operators to deploy fuel cells in waste collection vehicles and sweepers in Europe. Each truck has 100% electric drive with a range of up to 340 miles, which is enough to run the collection route multiple times carrying 10 tons of waste. Cummins also supplies fuel cells to Norway's largest grocery supplier, Asko, integrated into four Scania electric trucks.

Here in the U.S., as part of the Department of Energy’s “H2@Scale” initiative, Cummins and Navistar announced earlier this month they will work together on the development of a class 8 truck powered by hydrogen fuel cells. 

The powertrain will be integrated into an International RH Series truck and uses two HyPM HD90 power modules, made up of HD45 fuel cell stacks (45 kW each) connected in series. The truck will be integrated into Werner Enterprises’ fleet of more than 7,700 tractors and operated in real-world local and/or regional delivery operation out of Fontana, CA for 12 months.

Storage Tanks Complete the Circuit

In June, Cummins and German hydrogen storage tank maker, Nproxx, announced a joint venture that will provide customers with hydrogen products for both on-highway and rail applications. Cummins said on the investors conference that the deal had officially closed.

Nproxx's advanced type-four carbon fiber pressure vessel creates a superior strength and stiffness to weight ratio, resulting in a potential 450-kilogram weight reduction, which leads to greatly improved fuel economy and expanded range, Adams said during the conference.

“Nproxx's leading hydrogen storage products are an exciting complement to our broad and differentiated hydrogen portfolio,” noted Davis in the accompanying press release. "Many companies aspire to shape tomorrow’s hydrogen economy, but very few have all of the elements required. We are excited to bring together Cummins’ 100 years of experience in launching new products, partnerships and customer support with Nproxx’s innovative hydrogen storage tank solutions."

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

View Bio