Cummins takes leadership role in promising fuel cell technology

A Cummins employee works on the cathode screen printing process, towards the end of the solid oxide fuel cell manufacturing line at the company's facility in Malta, New York (U.S.).

Cummins is quickly becoming the leader in a power technology for commercial and industrial uses that could be an important bridge to a carbon-neutral future and beyond.

Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) can convert a higher percentage of a fossil fuel’s energy into power than combustion-based processes and can also use low- and no-carbon fuels such as hydrogen to generate power.

The ability to do both, while producing far fewer heat-trapping gases and emissions than an internal combustion engine or a coal-burning power plant, is getting the technology plenty of attention recently. 

“We need every tool we can get to address the world’s climate challenges and other environmental issues,” said Thad Ewald, Vice President of Corporate Strategy at Cummins. “Solid oxide fuel cells give our customers another way to achieve their environmental sustainability goals.”

Cummins has been awarded two federal grants totaling $4.6 million to advance the commercialization of SOFC technology through separate projects demonstrating both the technology’s ability to convert fossil fuels into energy, and its potential to generate hydrogen and convert it into the ultra-clean energy that will power the future.

SOFCs use a ceramic electrolyte to convert the energy in a fuel to power through a series of electrochemical reactions. With a continuous supply of fuel and oxygen, the fuel cells can be linked or stacked together to power a variety of applications.   

They are viewed as especially promising for stationary applications. Unlike traditional sources of electricity, they don’t need to consume extra fuel to compensate for energy lost over long transmission lines.

Advocates, in fact, envision a day in the near future when SOFCs regularly power major energy users like data centers, effectively removing them from an increasingly over-burdened electrical grid.

THE POTENTIAL BRIDGE    

SOFC testing center
A Cummins employee works at a solid oxide fuel cell test station used for quality assurance and to validate stack performance at the company’s facilities in Malta, New York (U.S.). 

A $2.6 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant will help Cummins build a 20 kilowatt (kW) small-scale SOFC power system at the University of Connecticut, fueled by natural gas but able to use multiple fuels.

The system will run 5,000 hours to demonstrate its durability.

That’s not a big enough SOFC system to power a data center but systems can be aggregated together to provide energy resiliency, security and availability, sufficient for not only data centers but other commercial and industrial applications and microgrids, too.

Cummins’ proposal calls for developing a system that would be available at a price point below $1,000/kW, with the flexibility and robustness for use in smaller and larger systems. The proposal says testing will begin in 2021. 

THE PROMISE OF HYDROGEN

A second project funded with the help of a $2 million DOE grant will look at the cost, performance and reliability of a reversible fuel cell or R-SOFC.

It can run as a traditional SOFC or as a solid oxide electrolyzer cell (SOEC) that can split steam to separate hydrogen and oxygen.

This increases Cummins’ already market leading portfolio of electrolyzers to generate hydrogen, including Proton Exchange Membrane and alkaline technologies. The DOE grant proposal calls for building on a Cummins proprietary thermal spray technology to develop an advanced metal substrate or surface resulting in a 50% cost reduction by using less metal and cutting processing costs. 

Cummins is quickly emerging as the leader in SOFCs for commercial and industrial power. The company’s novel spray technology, for example, enables Cummins to achieve larger cells, higher power densities, increased reliability and lower costs.

The company’s industry leading cell and stack size reduces system costs and complexity while providing a modular building block suitable for a variety of applications. Cummins also uses commodity stainless steel in its cells rather than more expensive and brittle ceramics used by some competitors.  

Cummins' work on SOFCs is consistent with PLANET 2050, the company's environmental sustainability strategy adopted in 2019 to address climate change and other environmental issues. The strategy includes science-based goals aligned with the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century.

Want to learn more about Cummins investments in SOFCs and other fuel cell technologies? Join company leaders including Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger at 10:30 a.m. (EST) Nov. 16 for Cummins’ Hydrogen Day. Click here to register. 
 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]

 

Community recycling days draw big crowds, and tons of stuff

Volunteers clear a truck of electronic equipment at the Columbus Engine Plant’s Community Recycling Day.

Community recycling days over the summer at two of Cummins Inc.’s larger U.S. plants collectively emptied more than 2,000 vehicles of an estimated 140 tons of electronics, batteries, tires, used paint, old lightbulbs and more.

The separate events at Cummins’ Jamestown Engine Plant (JEP) in Jamestown, New York, and the company’s Columbus Engine Plant (CEP) in Columbus, Indiana, also attracted plenty of people, some waiting as long as three hours for their chance to safely rid themselves of material they had been holding onto, sometimes for years.

“It was really good to be able to have the Community Recycling Day at CEP once again,” said CEP Plant Manager Kyle Lewandowski. “It has been a couple of years since this event was held due to COVID. It gives people within the community an outlet to dispose of things they have around the house that are typically difficult to get rid of safely. It also provides a lot of opportunities for people around the community to volunteer, and that’s what makes the event so fun and successful.”

PEOPLE CAME EARLY

The Jamestown event was held June 18, while the Columbus community recycling day took place Sept. 15. It was the first such event at CEP in two years because of COVID-19. JEP didn’t have its event in 2020 because of the pandemic but was able to conduct a recycling day in 2021.

Both events this year happened under sunny skies, lending a festive atmosphere to the efforts.

“We had people lining up at 5:30 a.m. and our event didn’t start until 9 (a.m.),” said Loren Chase, Health, Safety and Environment Leader at the Jamestown plant. “I don’t know if they got the time wrong or just enjoyed seeing the whole thing come to life.”

Taken together, the events involved nearly 200 volunteers, working in concert with partners capable of safely handling hard-to-recycle items like waste paints and electronics. The Columbus event also got a helping hand from more than 40 National Honor Society volunteers from Columbus East High School in addition to volunteers from Cummins.

Older television sets showed up at both events.
Yes, older TVs are still out there and they can be difficult to recycle. This one showed up at the recycling day at the Columbus Engine Plant.

SURPRISING ITEMS

Organizers said the days brought out some unexpected items.

“One of the things that got my attention and the attention of many of our volunteers was the number of old TVs we saw with the cathode-ray tubes,” said David Wehrkamp, Health, Safety and Environment Leader at the Columbus Engine Plant. “There were some of the big heavy ones with the wood paneling. I didn’t think people still had them, but they do.”

While perhaps amusing, the old TVs underscore the importance of events like the ones in Columbus and Jamestown. Older TVs with cathode-ray tubes typically hold lead, cadmium-based phosphorus, and other toxic chemicals that make them potentially dangerous and hard to recycle. Many places in the United States charge a fee for handling them, but the recycling and cleanup days at both plants took them at no-cost.

The same kind of thing can be true for waste oils, paints and other liquids as well as tires. While both events depend on volunteer labor, they also involve significant costs that both locations cover through various means. 

PURPOSEFUL EVENTS

Government leaders say community recycling days serve an important purpose as part of the three R’s of waste management – reduce, reuse and recycle – to limit what ends up at landfills, incinerators and other means of waste disposal.

The Jamestown Engine Plant Recycling Day drew big crowds in 2022.
Community members began lining up at 5:30 a.m. for the Jamestown Engine Plant's Recycling Day on June 18.

“There is value in all unwanted items we accumulate in our homes,” said Tracy “T.J.” Pierce, Solid Waste Analyst for the Chautauqua County Division of Solid Waste in Jamestown. “…The community cleanup days organized by Cummins provide our communities an awesome opportunity to remove unwanted items from people’s lives and accumulate them in one place where they can be efficiently sorted and delivered to the recycling industry to extract that value.” 

Given they provide people the chance to do the right thing and save money, it’s no wonder the JEP and CEP recycling days, each now more than a decade old, are extremely popular.

“We get people calling months ahead of time asking, ‘when is the cleanup day?’” said David Burlee, JEP’s Machining Director of Operations and the longtime leader of the Jamestown event until handing that responsibility to Chase this year. “It’s great to be part of something people feel so strongly about.” 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]

 

Cummins plant receives Indiana governor's environmental excellence award

Engineers Clarissa Arriaga and Ashwini Khandelwal led the no-paint initiative

Cummins Inc.'s Columbus Mid-Range Engine Plant (CMEP) has received a 2022 Indiana Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for a project resulting in the plant no longer painting 6.7-liter diesel engines with a clear coating before they leave the facility.

The award was presented Wednesday (Sept. 21) during the state’s 25th Annual Pollution Prevention Conference in Indianapolis. The plant’s effort not only significantly reduces the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but also cuts the water, soap and chemicals used to clean the engines, as well as the energy used to dry engines after they are painted.

Cummins was one of six groups honored at the event, joining businesses, school systems, public private partnerships and other groups in receiving the award this year.

Reducing VOCs is one of the 2030 goals included in PLANET 2050, Cummins’ environmental sustainability strategy. The strategy establishes the goal of reducing VOCs from paint and coating operations by 50% over the next decade, in addition to goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), water use and waste production. Other goals include creating a lifecycle plan for every part and recycling 100% of packaging plastics.

Cummins employees gather after receiving the 2022 Indiana Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence in Indianapolis.
Cummins employees gather after the ceremony where the Columbus Mid-Range Engine Plant received a 2022 Indiana Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence in Indianapolis.

RESEARCH SETS THE STAGE

Plant Manager Nicole Wheeldon credits two engineers at CMEP with conducting a two-year validation investigation that determined the lack of clear coating, which consumed about 260 gallons of paint per week, would not make the engines more susceptible to corrosion.

Senior Industrial Engineer Clarissa Arriaga and Current Product Senior Engineer Ashwini Khandelwal found most engine parts were either already made of corrosive-resistant materials or had some kind of treatment prior to assembly. The benefit of painting was largely degraded by the time the Cummins engine was installed at the customer’s facility and then left that facility for the next stop on its journey.

The award is another chapter in the rich history of the plant, which was built in 1971 largely below ground level with parking on the roof to better integrate with the surrounding nature. Wildlife has been known to walk up and peer through CMEP’s windows.

Arriaga and Khandelwal are pleased they could contribute to creating a more sustainable product.

“In today’s world we need to do whatever we can to make our engines the cleanest technology possible,” Khandelwal said.

BENEFITS BEYOND THE ENVIRONMENT

But the two engineers, as well as Plant Manager Wheeldon, all emphasize the benefits extend beyond the environment. There is a cost-savings with no longer painting the engines for both the company and the customer. The change also frees up valuable space in the plant for other uses, and allows the employees in the painting operation to be re-assigned to other more important tasks.

The change, which went into effect in the fourth quarter of 2021, also eliminated something of a bottleneck in the plant when engines had to be cleaned, painted and dried.

“It was a win any way you look at it: environmentally, financially, productivity, and quality,” Arriaga said.

Little changes when end users open up the hood. They will continue to see a small vanity plate with the Cummins logo on top of the powerful 6.7-liter engine. 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]

 

Cummins believes climate legislation key to creating low-carbon future

Image of virtual roundtable discussion on Inflation Reduction Act

Cummins Inc. leaders say the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law this week by President Biden will play an important role in the company’s journey to a carbon free economy.

The legislation establishes key incentives for the development of both the technologies that will power the future and the infrastructure to support them.

“We think the comprehensive scope of the energy provisions (in the act) – from power generation, to transportation, to hydrogen production – are all important pieces of the decarbonization puzzle, and they’re important to ensure we have the well-to-wheels decarbonization in hard-to-abate sectors like those we serve,” Cummins President and CEO Jennifer Rumsey said at a roundtable discussion hosted by the White House earlier this month before final congressional approval of the legislation.

“We see a significant opportunity to increase U.S. manufacturing capacity and grow jobs in all of these different technologies that support our strategy – Destination Zero – to decarbonize our industry,” Rumsey said later in the virtual forum, which also included General Motors CEO Mary Barra and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.

THE LEGISLATION AND DESTINATION ZERO

The legislation includes incentives for development of low- and no-carbon technologies, including battery and fuel cell electric, as well as low- and no-carbon fuels like hydrogen that could be used in those new technologies. Hydrogen can also fuel traditional platforms, such as internal combustion engines, to reduce carbon.

Destination Zero, Cummins’ strategy for decarbonization, calls for developing and advancing low- and no-carbon platforms for those customers who are ready for them while also working to reduce carbon emissions from the company’s more traditional products.

Cummins has brought to market battery and fuel cell electric platforms as well as electrolyzers critical to producing low-carbon and green hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced when the electrolysis of water to split hydrogen and oxygen is accomplished using renewable forms of power.

The company is also bringing to market fuel-agnostic internal combustion engines offering a common architecture that can be optimized for different low-carbon fuels. 

Cummins has pledged to take a leadership role in addressing the world’s climate challenges. PLANET 2050, the company’s environmental sustainability strategy, includes goals timed to 2030 to reduce carbon emissions from company plants and facilities in addition to its products.

Cummins’ first update on its progress toward those 2030 goals is included in the company’s 2021 Sustainability Progress Report posted in July. 

Image from the roundtable discussion on the climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act
An image from the White House virtual roundtable discussion of the climate provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act.

ADVOCATES FOR ACTION

Destination Zero charts a path to PLANET 2050’s aspiration to power customer success exclusively with net-zero emission technologies by the year 2050.

Cummins believes it can have a significant impact on the climate because of its size and the varied markets it serves. The company’s technology helps power the on-highway, off-highway, marine, rail, and construction markets to name just some. But Cummins has also said it cannot solve these challenges acting alone.

The company advocated for the Inflation Reduction Act in multiple ways including Cummins' membership in the CEO Climate Dialogue. The group is made up of 22 leading businesses and four environmental organizations pledging to work together for climate action. Members range from the Ford Motor Company to the Environmental Defense Fund.

“As climate risks have continued to intensify, so has the urgency to put in place policies that will help to reduce carbon emissions, put us on path to net-zero by 2050, accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy, bolster investment and innovation in clean energy technologies, create jobs, promote equity, and increase U.S. economic competitiveness,” the group said after the Inflation Reduction Act passed the U.S. House on Aug. 12.

“The Inflation Reduction Act makes significant progress toward meeting our climate goals,” the group added. “Combined with future action like the enactment of a price on carbon, these policies will create a strong and sustainable economy.”

ACCELERATING CUMMINS’ JOURNEY

Cummins’ leaders are ready to continue the company’s carbon reduction efforts under the provisions of the new legislation. 

“We are excited for the opportunity to bring some of these technologies here to the U.S., export these technologies globally, (and) increase American competitiveness,” Rumsey told the President at the forum. “…We see the Inflation Reduction Act as a key piece of accelerating our journey and really transitioning our applications to the technologies of the future like battery (and) fuel cell electric and green hydrogen.”

“Well, I think you can do it, I really do,” President Biden responded, “and I hope this (the Inflation Reduction Act) is as helpful as we think it is, because you’ve always been at the forefront before.” 
 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]

 

Cummins reports key progress toward 2030 environmental goals

Solar array at the Cummins Engine Plant at Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Cummins Inc. in 2021 made significant progress toward the company’s 2030 environmental goals, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from both its products and facilities, while cutting water use and waste production.

The global power technology leader also made progress in 2021 on its goal for reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paint and coating operations and completed foundational work toward its lifecycle planning goal to create a plan for every part to use less, use better and use again.

These findings are included in the company’s recently posted 2021 Sustainability Progress Report. The report includes the first update on the 2030 goals in PLANET 2050, Cummins’ environmental sustainability strategy. 

As part of PLANET 2050, the company established nine goals, ranging from reducing absolute GHG emissions from facilities and operations by 50% compared to a 2018 baseline, to producing net water benefits that exceed Cummins’ annual water use in all company regions around the world.

PLANET 2050 also includes the aspiration to power customer success exclusively using carbon neutral technologies that address air quality, near zero pollution in facilities and operations, and designing out waste in products and processes – all by 2050. 

Solar array at the Cummins Engine Plant in Rocky Mount , NC
The solar array at the engine plant in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, will increase the company's use of low carbon power.

GHG REDUCTIONS OFF TO GOOD START

Cummins has vowed to take a leadership role on climate action and the company is off to a good start on reducing GHGs. In 2021, Cummins cut GHG emissions from plants and facilities by 31% compared to a 2018 baseline.

Completion of solar projects in India played a key role as did the company’s continued support for an expansion of a northern Indiana (U.S.) windfarm that sends enough renewable power to the grid to roughly offset all of the power Cummins uses statewide from traditional power sources. 

The second year of the pandemic also may have played a role but not to the extent that it did in 2020 when most facilities at some point closed for a period of time to help guard against the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Cummins continued working with customers to reduce Scope 3 GHG emissions from its products in the field and ended 2021 on pace to reach its 2030 goal of cutting those emissions by 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) compared to a baseline year of 2014.

The company reached a cumulative emission reduction of 26.8 million metric tons of CO2 by the end of 2021 by various means, such as working with customers on engine settings to improve fuel economy.

Finally, the company achieved some important initial steps toward the complex 2030 goal of reducing Scope 3 absolute lifetime GHG emissions from newly sold products by 25%. Calculating lifetime emissions requires a number of assumptions and projections.

It is perhaps no surprise that those calculations showed emissions were essentially flat between 2021 and the baseline year of 2018, given it will take a few years before planned changes in product design and fuels yield significant results. Cummins in 2021 developed Destination Zero, the company's strategy to achieve product decarbonization.

PROGRESS ON VOCs, WATER AND WASTE

Cummins is also off to a good start in achieving its goals to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from paint and coating operations and reduce both the company’s water use as well as its waste generation.

On VOCs, Cummins’ 2030 goal is to reduce emissions by 50% compared to 2018. In pandemic-altered 2020, the company recorded a 51% reduction compared to its baseline year. Despite operations returning much closer to normal levels in 2021, the reduction in VOC emissions did not change all that much, ending the year at a 45% reduction compared to 2018.

Meanwhile, Cummins recorded a 12.7% reduction in water use in facilities and operations compared to 2018 as it strives for its 2030 goal of a 30% reduction in absolute water consumption from its baseline year. There is still a long way to go, but the company made significant progress.

On waste generation, Cummins’ 2030 goal is to generate 25% less waste in facilities and operations as a percent of revenue compared to a 2018 baseline. In 2021, the company achieved a 4.1% reduction in waste as a percentage of revenue, up from 2.6% in 2020. That also represents a decent first step but, as with water, much work remains to be done. 

BUILDING STRONG FOUNDATIONS

On two other goals, Cummins achieved critical steps that will pay off closer to 2030. To create a circular lifecycle plan for every part, Cummins in 2021 recorded two important steps – the creation of a Circular Lifecycle Design Standard and an Optimization Center with the tools that will be needed to meet that standard.

Cummins India employees work on a water project
Cummins employees work on a project in India to help a community develop a more sustainable water supply.

Design standards serve as a roadmap of sorts for engineers as they put together parts designs. The Circular Lifecycle Design Standard includes steps like review by Cummins’ Materials Science function to ensure a part uses the most appropriate materials and processing.

The Optimization Center includes tools like high-powered software so engineers can determine where strength and durability are important in a design and where a part can use a little less material without compromising performance. 

Cummins also has a 2030 goal to produce net water benefits that exceed company annual water consumption in all regions Cummins serves. In 2021, the company established Cummins Water Works to address the global water crisis.

The program, which partners with leading water experts around the world to invest and engage in high-impact water projects, is initially focusing on four of the most water-stressed countries: Brazil, India, Mexico and the United States.

Finally, Cummins has established the 2030 goal of reusing or responsibly recycling 100% of packaging plastics and eliminating single-use plastics at dining facilities and employee events. Work on this goal is still in the planning phase with details expected to be released in the company’s 2022 Sustainability Progress Report.

The company’s 2030 goals pick up where Cummins’ 2020 environmental goals left off. While 2030 might seem like a long time away, the Cummins environmental team knows from experience the end of the decade is fast approaching.
 

blair claflin director of sustainability communications

Blair Claflin

Blair Claflin is the Director of Sustainability Communications for Cummins Inc. Blair joined the Company in 2008 as the Diversity Communications Director. Blair comes from a newspaper background. He worked previously for the Indianapolis Star (2002-2008) and for the Des Moines Register (1997-2002) prior to that. [email protected]

 

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