Five key questions about the next frontier: Hydrogen fuel cells

Five questions about hydrogen answered

You have questions about fuel cell technology and we have answers. 

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Fuel cell technologies have grabbed headlines lately, and rightly so. If sourced from renewable means, an element such as hydrogen can be a zero-emission, extremely efficient fuel source capable of powering anything from vehicles to data centers. So, what are fuel cells and how do they work? Here are the answers to five key questions in honor of National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. 

What are fuel cells? 

A fuel cell utilizes the chemical energy of hydrogen, natural gas or other hydrocarbon fuels to generate electricity. Unlike a battery, a fuel cell system does not store energy. Instead, it relies on a constant supply of fuel and oxygen in the same way that an internal combustion engine relies on a constant supply of gasoline or diesel and oxygen. A Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell (PEM or PEMFC), also known as a hydrogen fuel cell, uses hydrogen exclusively as the fuel.

In the case of hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), hydrogen is typically compressed and stored in tanks that are attached to the vehicle. Fuel cells are used to complement electric batteries as part of an FCEV powertrain, enabling several operating strategies for the user that offer flexibility in choice of energy (hydrogen, battery or an optimized  combination) based on price of the desired fuel source – electricity or hydrogen, and tailored to each application.

How do hydrogen fuel cells work? 

The basic structure of a fuel cell consists of two electrodes (a negative and a positive) separated by an electrolyte. Each fuel cell is only a few millimeters thick and hundreds of them are stacked together to build a fuel cell stack. 

Cummins - Hydrogen Fuel Cell - How does it work?

The supply of fuel, which is hydrogen in the case of hydrogen fuel cells, comes from a tank attached to the vehicle. The fuel is fed into the anode (the negative electrode) while oxygen from the atmosphere is introduced to the cathode (the positive electrode). Different fuel cell types exist and they each use a different process to create electricity, but for the most part a catalyst is introduced between the electrodes, which causes electrons to travel through an external circuit which is how electricity is created. 

In FCEV powertrains, the electricity produced from the fuel cell can be used to power an electric motor to produce mechanical power, to power accessories and to charge the high voltage battery packs as needed. In the case of a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, the byproduct of this chemical reaction is water and heat. 

What are the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology?

Today, compared to electric batteries, fuel cell powertrains would have a higher energy density and are quicker to refuel, making them more suitable for applications with longer daily ranges that cannot be accomplished by batteries alone. 

Analyses indicate, for example, that PEM fuel cells could be a viable solution for medium to long haul trucks, while battery only vehicles may be more suitable for short haul vehicles. Currently, the battery capacity needed for the range requirements of long-haul, and the resulting weight from the batteries, is prohibitive for trucks that need to reserve that weight for their load. Because fuel cells have higher energy density and lessen the battery capacity needed, it can create significant improvements in tractor weight while still providing adequate range. And when vehicles do need to refuel, for the near future hydrogen refueling is much quicker compared to recharging batteries despite evolving recharging technologies. Fuel cells also offer great flexibility due to their modular design: fuel cell systems and storage tanks can be tailored to meet the needs of different applications across different markets. 

Lastly, and very importantly, hydrogen can be sourced from water using a process called electrolysis, which uses electricity to separate a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. Thus, fuel cells can be a decarbonized source of energy. 

What are the current challenges to hydrogen fuel cell adoption?

Fuel cell technology is very promising, but like battery electric vehicles, there are many factors that influence adoption. Emissions regulations, financial incentives, technology development, infrastructure and total cost of ownership (TCO) will all be key in driving the adoption of fuel cell-powered vehicles. 

Currently, fuel cell technology is still developing which means there is limited real-world testing and limited investment in infrastructure, like hydrogen fueling stations. Customers are also faced with a higher upfront vehicle cost with payback largely dependent on the price of fuel. Fuel cell electric vehicles do offer flexibility allowing customers the option to refuel with hydrogen or recharge with electricity depending on which provides the best value, but long-term savings on those operating costs will be directly connected to the price of hydrogen. While some experts project hydrogen prices to fall, the initial investment for operators is likely to remain quite high compared to other technologies in the near-term.

In addition to financial factors, these systems, as compared to the incumbent fossil fuel solutions are also presently challenged by increased weight, reduced power density, and increased refueling time. While the latter is currently superior to battery charging solutions, it is still a challenge when compared to traditional liquid fuel refill times for similar amounts of fuel energy. The industry continues to work actively to address these challenges.

How is Cummins involved in hydrogen fuel cell technology?

Cummins hydrogen fuel cell technology is rooted in years of research, development, and strategic partnerships. In 2014, Cummins joined a pilot project to explore the development of the first hydrogen-fueled transportation system in Costa Rica. Then in 2018, the company joined the Hydrogen Council, a global coalition that explores and promotes hydrogen as a clean energy fuel source. 

In September of 2019, Cummins announced the acquisition of fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies provider Hydrogenics Corporation, headquartered in Mississauga, Canada. As one of the world’s premier fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies providers, Hydrogenics’ expertise and innovative approach represents another step forward as Cummins continues to provide a broad range of clean, fuel-efficient and high-performing products. The acquisition of Hydrogenics was shortly followed by an announcement that the company has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Hyundai Motor Company to jointly evaluate opportunities to develop and commercialize electric and fuel cell powertrains.  

From clean diesel, natural gas, battery electric and now fuel cells, Cummins is committed to innovating and delivering a variety of power solutions to meet the needs of customers. Continued development of hydrogen fuel cell technologies is part of Cummins commitment to deliver market-leading solutions that power customer success, now and for the next 100 years. 

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Cummins Inc.

Cummins, a global power technology leader, is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. The company’s products range from internal combustion, electric and hybrid integrated power solutions and components including filtration, aftertreatment, turbochargers, fuel systems, controls systems, air handling systems, automated transmissions, electric power generation systems, microgrid controls, batteries, electrolyzers and fuel cell products.

5 businesses that can benefit from selling Cummins generators

Cummins dealer discussing home generator

Ninety percent of American business are small- and medium-size. They are the true engines of our economy, employing millions of workers. With many of them looking for new ways to expand their services, generate income and grow their businesses, Cummins home standby and portable generators could be a new source of revenue. 

A Silver Lining in Dark Clouds

According to the Associated Press, power outages from severe weather have doubled over the past two decades, straining our country’s aging power grid. This has increased the frequency and duration of power outages. These frequent outages create a need for reliable backup power for households and other businesses. And for enterprising small- and medium-size businesses, satisfying this need with Cummins generators is a huge opportunity.   

Which businesses could benefit the most from becoming Cummins authorized dealers? Here are our top five:

1. General Contractors — When natural disasters such as ice storms, hurricanes, high winds, forest fires or earthquakes hit, lost power isn’t the only challenge customers face. There is often physical damage to property that must be repaired. When they are helping customers to rebuild, general contractors have an opportunity to estimate home or business’s energy needs and suggest adding a Cummins QuietConnect™ Home Standby Generator. If the customer agrees, the general contractor not only profits from the sale of the generator, but also the labor to install it.

2. Electricians — A good electrician is a trusted source of information. Not only are they experts with the flow of electrons, they often know their customer’s specific electrical setups. After a prolonged power outage, many are often asked “Is there anything you can do to keep my electricity on the next time the power goes out?” Electricians who sell and install Cummins QuietConnect Home Standby Generators can say, “Yes, yes there is.” Installing home standby generators can be another valuable service that electricians provide.

3. Heating & Cooling Contractors — During a power outage, one of the most critical systems knocked offline for home and business owners is their central heating and cooling system. Going without heat or cool air for a long period of time is not only uncomfortable, it can be dangerous if the temperatures are extreme outside. So, naturally, once power is restored, finding a way to keep the HVAC system on during the next power outage becomes top-of-mind. Since heating and cooling contractors are experts at installing large systems in homes and businesses, adding Cummins QuietConnect standby generators to homes and businesses is a natural way to add another profit center to their businesses.

4. Online Retailers — Up until now, we’ve been discussing standby generators. For businesses that don’t specialize in installing generators permanently into place, Cummins portable generators can be a moneymaker.  While portable generators can be used during power outages, they are better suited to smaller tasks due to their portability. This makes them ideal for camping, tailgating, construction worksites and more. With Cummins’ rugged and reliable reputation, our portable generators are ideal for retailers focused on these market segments.

5. Solar Panel Installers — Most home solar panels are connected directly to the power grid. So, when the power goes out, the solar panels stop providing power. For a backup source of electricity, solar panel installers can either install a solar battery backup, which gets charged by the solar panels, or a home standby generator. Typically, solar battery backups can only power a home for a few hours, so if an area is prone to weather-related outages, a home standby generator such as the Cummins QuietConnect is the better choice.

The Time is Now

With more people than ever looking for backup power generation, now’s a great time to expand your company’s offerings by becoming a Cummins authorized dealer. To learn more visit, cummins.com/partners/dealers.

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Cummins Inc.

Cummins, a global power technology leader, is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. The company’s products range from internal combustion, electric and hybrid integrated power solutions and components including filtration, aftertreatment, turbochargers, fuel systems, controls systems, air handling systems, automated transmissions, electric power generation systems, microgrid controls, batteries, electrolyzers and fuel cell products.

Ten ways to prepare for rolling blackouts

Cummins service disconnect box mounted on side of house

Heat waves that cause excessive demand for electricity…droughts that make hydropower less available…power grids near active wildfires shut down for safety…aging, overstressed power grids…high winds that snap powerlines…these are all reasons why some parts of the country may face planned power outages this year.  

If you live in an area prone to rolling blackouts, here are some tips to help you ready your family for them: 

  • Sign up for notifications from your local electricity utility — If this service is available from your local utility, it can give you a warning to start preparing before the power goes out. 
  • Download our Power Outage Ultimate Checklist — It provides in-depth information about what to do before, during and after an outage. It even shows you what to do for children, pets and family members with medical needs. You can download it here
  • Stockpile nonperishable food and water — Make sure you have a manual can opener, too. Plan to have enough for everyone so your family can stay hydrated and nourished during the blackout. 
  • Make or purchase ice and coolers — If you have enough warning, make or purchase ice so you can pack some of your perishable food in coolers to preserve it. (A refrigerator will only maintain its internal temperature for about four hours, a freezer for about 48 hours.) 
  • Buy flashlights and extra batteries — Blackouts can be, well, black. Flashlights can be used for safety if you need to move around at night but use them sparingly. Make sure you have enough for every family member.
  • Keep mobile phones charged and gas tanks full — Your phones and your vehicles are your lifelines to the outside world. If you have an EV, make sure it’s fully charged. 
  • Practice manually opening garage doors — If you need to drive somewhere, you first need to be able to get your car out of the garage. 
  • Plan for medications that require refrigeration — You may need to store them in a cooler like your refrigerated food until the power returns. 
  • Invest in a whole-home standby generator — For the ultimate peace of mind, consider one of the Cummins QuietConnect™ home standby generators. In the event of a power outage, your generator will automatically switch on and keep your home powered.  
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups — Place them in central locations on every floor so if any carbon monoxide gets in the home, you are immediately alerted. 

Rolling blackouts seem to be becoming more and more common. Fortunately, there are ways to plan ahead and keep them from completely disrupting your life. To see the different ways that Cummins can help your family keep the power on during these planned power outages, visit us at cummins.com/na/generators/home-standby/whole-house-and-portable or find a local dealer at cummins.com/na/generators/home-standby/find-a-dealer

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Cummins Inc.

Cummins, a global power technology leader, is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. The company’s products range from internal combustion, electric and hybrid integrated power solutions and components including filtration, aftertreatment, turbochargers, fuel systems, controls systems, air handling systems, automated transmissions, electric power generation systems, microgrid controls, batteries, electrolyzers and fuel cell products.

Cummins Turbo Technologies gears up to launch the 8th Generation Holset Series 400 Variable Geometry Turbocharger

8th generation HE400VGT

As emission regulations become more stringent, Cummins Turbo Technologies (CTT) is committed to helping customers reduce emissions and advance fuel economy through innovative new air handling technologies.

Built on 70 years of innovation and dependability, CTT and Holset have introduced a wide range of industry leading air handling technologies. In 2021, CTT launched the 7th generation 400 series Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT) to help engine manufacturers meet future emission standards and offer best in class fuel economy. At Cummins, innovation never stops as we continue to advance our current technologies, while developing new ones. With this philosophy in mind, CTT is now preparing to introduce the 8th generation HE400VGT. It is specifically engineered to have top of class performance, reliability and durability for the 10-15L heavy-duty truck market.  

CTT has made significant improvements in turbocharger performance with its latest generation of products. The 8th generation turbocharger will have 5 percent improved efficiency over the previous 7th generation turbo.

In addition to offering improved turbocharger efficiency, which helps customers in engine downsizing, the HE400VGT will have a better transient response, enhanced compressor side oil leak robustness and dual sourcing on key components for supply chain flexibility.

Key highlights of the Holset HE400VGT include a new bearing system and near zero clearances to enhance performance and transient response. These enhancements are achieved by tighter clearances on the compressor stage, lower radial movement on the turbine stage, improved surface finish and new aero designs.

Scheduled to be launched in 2024, this turbocharger incorporates a next generation smart electric actuator and speed sensor with the latest chipset to enhance performance and durability. The dual sourcing strategy helps mitigate any unforeseen electronics shortages that have recently plagued the industry.

Along with the performance enhancements, the latest generation turbocharger will offer best-in-class performance for on-highway heavy-duty trucks coupled with improved fuel economy at key vehicle running points.

“CTT has incorporated exciting new technologies in our latest HE400VGT to help engine customers meet strict emissions requirements and reduce their total cost of ownership,” said Matthew Franklin, Director – Product Management & Marketing. As customers establish their strategies for upcoming emission regulations, CTT continues to build on the success of previous turbocharger launches to deliver innovative products that meet the challenges of our customers’ engine development needs without compromising on performance. 

Want to learn more about CTT’s products and technical innovation? Sign up for our quarterly newsletter today.

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Cummins Inc.

Cummins, a global power technology leader, is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. The company’s products range from internal combustion, electric and hybrid integrated power solutions and components including filtration, aftertreatment, turbochargers, fuel systems, controls systems, air handling systems, automated transmissions, electric power generation systems, microgrid controls, batteries, electrolyzers and fuel cell products.

Rebuild masterstroke pays off for miners

belt buckle with text reading "Cummins 300th QSK60 MCRS Upgrade"

A masterstroke by Cummins engineers in Australia and the US has resulted in major cost reduction and environmental benefits for mining companies electing to rebuild their QSK60 engines under a special upgrade program.

The engineers focused on rebuild possibilities for the early generation QSK60, and how it could be upgraded to the latest diesel technology at overhaul time with no major change to the base 60-litre V16 design – a feat that eluded other engine manufacturers.

The key technology upgrade is to fuel injection, with the early unit injection system (HPI) replaced with the high-pressure modular common rail system (MCRS) that is now featured on all of Cummins’ latest generation high horsepower engines.

The 300th upgraded engine, rated at 2700 hp, recently rolled off the production line at the Cummins Master Rebuild Centre in Brisbane, highlighting yet another successful step in the evolution of the QSK60 and why it is the foremost high-horsepower diesel engine globally in mobile mining equipment.

“Reduced fuel consumption and longer life-to-overhaul are keys to lower total cost of ownership, and they were the initial aims behind the engineering of the upgrade program for the QSK60,” says Greg Field, mining business development manager for Cummins Asia Pacific.

“Innovation is at the core of Cummins’ long history, and it has certainly played its part in the QSK60 rebuild options we can offer our mining customers.”

The bottom line is impressive: Diesel particulate emissions are slashed by up to 63% through in-cylinder combustion technology with no aftertreatment. There’s also a plus for maintenance with less soot loading in the oil.

Fuel savings up to 5% are consistently reported in the field for significant greenhouse gas emissions reduction, while life-to-overhaul is extended by 10%, translating to fuel consumption of more than 4.0 million liters before rebuild is required.

Apart from the fuel system upgrade to MCRS, the QSK60 with single-stage turbocharging also features other Cummins innovations in combustion technology that were engineered for Tier 4 Final and Stage V emissions compliance, the most stringent off-highway emission standards in the world.

The rebuild upgrade package can be applied to the two variants of the QSK60 – one with single-stage turbocharging (known as ‘Advantage’) which can be rated from 1785 to 2700 hp, the other with two-stage turbocharging which can be rated at 2700, 2850 or 3000 hp.

The 300th upgraded QSK60 went to Boggabri Coal in the NSW Gunnedah Basin for installation in a Komatsu 930E haul truck. The engine has proved its worth in both coal and iron ore mining in Australia.

yellow QSK60 engine

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Cummins Inc.

Cummins, a global power technology leader, is a corporation of complementary business segments that design, manufacture, distribute and service a broad portfolio of power solutions. The company’s products range from internal combustion, electric and hybrid integrated power solutions and components including filtration, aftertreatment, turbochargers, fuel systems, controls systems, air handling systems, automated transmissions, electric power generation systems, microgrid controls, batteries, electrolyzers and fuel cell products.

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