Take a deeper dive into the power of hydrogen technology

Deep dive into hydrogen - web hero image

As the simplest and most abundant element known to us, the element hydrogen is considered the basic building block of the universe. On Earth, hydrogen is most commonly found in combination with oxygen in the form of water, covering 71% of the earth's surface and an essential element for all forms of life on earth. 

Versatile and environmentally friendly when produced from renewable energy, hydrogen produces no emissions, and is proving to be a key element in our global efforts to decarbonize electricity, heating, transport and industrial processes. Hydrogen can be safely stored or transported. It can be blended or used to create hydrocarbon fuels. With continued innovation over decades, hydrogen has become an important part of the world’s current alternative power landscape. Cummins uses fuel cell and hydrogen technologies to power a variety of applications, including transit buses, semi-trucks, delivery trucks and passenger trains to name a few. But what exactly are hydrogen fuel cells and how do they work?

Hydrogen fuel cells start in space

Hydrogen Fuel Cells - Cummins Powered Vehicles
TOP LEFT-Hydrogen Fuel Cell Heavy-Duty Truck; TOP RIGHT-ASKO trucks powered by Cummins’ hydrogen fuel cell; BOTTOM LEFT-Alstom passenger train powered by Cummins hydrogen fuel cells; BOTTOM RIGHT: Cummins Hydrogen Fuel Cell Transit Bus

Decades ago, hydrogen was used as a fuel in the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space program, so it is not surprising that, today, hydrogen is used to provide power for systems as large as power supply stations and as small as laptop computers (yes, really!). However, the latest hydrogen technologies also enable the supply of sufficient energy for demanding applications like passenger trains and utility power stations, which demonstrate the many possibilities of using hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen fuel cells are seen as a viable alternative technology for automotive, heavy mobility and energy supply industries, complementing battery electric solutions. With water as the only by-product, fuel cells work as an environmentally-friendly power solution.

Hydrogen plus oxygen equals electric energy

Hydrogen Fuel Cell DiagramHydrogen fuel cells are an alternative source of power for a variety of applications. Simply explained, a fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy of joining hydrogen molecules with oxygen molecules from the ambient air into electrical energy. The by-product of this reaction is heat and water, which exits the system in the form of water vapor. If you need a refresher, read our top five things you should know about hydrogen fuel cells.

Looking at the process and the architecture of fuel cells in more detail, each single cell consists of four parts: the anode, the cathode, the electrolyte and the gas diffusion layers. Similar to how batteries work, the anode is the negative and a cathode is the positive electrode. In the fuel cell’s case, the anode is fed with pressurized hydrogen and the cathode with air which contains oxygen. The anode and cathode are separated by a special electrolyte membrane in the core of the cell. A catalyst on both the anode and cathode facilitates the splitting of the molecules and enables the reaction of oxygen and hydrogen. As only the hydrogen protons are capable of passing through the membrane, and the electrons are forced to flow from the anode through the load externally, joining up again on the cathode side. This specific type of fuel cell is called a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell.

The gas diffusion layers facilitate the transport and even spread of the reactants over the entire active area surface. When the hydrogen hits the catalyst, it splits into protons and electrons. Whereas the hydrogen protons can pass the membrane, the electrons are forced to travel through an external circuit before combining with the hydrogen protons and O2 on the other side to form water. The gas diffusion layer helps to remove the water which is formed on the cathode side from the system.

Hydrogen fuel cells powering our applications

In Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) powertrains, the electricity generated by the flow of electrons in the fuel cell can be used to drive an electric motor, generate mechanical power, drive accessories and charge high-voltage battery packs. By stacking multiple fuel cells together, the electric voltage can be increased, and by feeding more air and hydrogen to the cells or by increasing the active surface area of the cells, more current and therefore more power for the application is achieved. The stack is embedded in a module, together with balance of plant (BoP) subsystems, comprising fuel, air and water management, coolant control hardware and software. The fuel cell module can then be integrated into a complete electric power system with suitable cooling units such as radiators, along with power electronics, hydrogen storage tanks and hybrid batteries that can be used in a wide range of applications.

With more than 2,000 fuel cell systems in operation worldwide since 2001, Cummins has proven that fuel cells are a viable solution for powering a wide range of applications, many of which have demanding requirements. In addition to diesel, natural gas and battery electric technologies, Cummins is proud to offer our customers the power of choice and ultimately, the best in class technology for their needs.

Learn more about Cummins’ vision and strategy for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.
 

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Cummins: Making a splash with these hydrogen headlines

Cummins Hydrogen Day news roundup
Fresh on the heels of our virtual Hydrogen Day event, we've compiled a roundup of some of the latest headlines making waves in the hydrogen fuel cell space

As a company focused on serving its customers and all its stakeholders, Cummins rarely seeks the spotlight.

But the recent focus on hydrogen  - and its place in helping decrease the negative impacts of climate change and decarbonizing the power sectors - has caught the attention of many journalists and thought leaders from around the world. And rightfully so. 

Is hydrogen the future? Only time will tell, but as we highlighted during our recent Hydrogen Day virtual event, we certainly think the future looks bright for hydrogen and its place in helping build a green economy

Here’s a roundup of some of the latest headlines making waves in the hydrogen fuel cell space.  

Diesel engine giant Cummins plans Hydrogen future with trains coming before trucks, Forbes 

Cummins is starting to ditch diesel for hydrogen, Fox Business

Why Jim Cramer is watching Cummins stock, TheStreet.com 

Cummins outlines the future of Hydrogen technologies, Transport Topics 

Cummins believes in the future of Hydrogen. Nikola stock is the one that jumped, Barron’s 

Cummins: New technologies on the horizon, H2View 

Cummins lays out vision for a hydrogen future, Truck News 

Cummins sees $400M in revenue from making hydrogen in 2025, Freightwaves 

Cummins drives ahead with hydrogen, International Construction 

Cummins outlines hydrogen plans, Just Auto

Cummins looks to the future, details hydrogen power development plans, Fleet Equipment Magazine

Cummins hydrogen power systems and electrolyzers aiming at trains first, Hydrogen Fuel News

Cummins details hydrogen power development plans, Engine Builder

Cummins reveals road map to Carbon-free Hydrogen economy, HDT Truckinginfo

katie zarich author bio photo

Katie Zarich

Katie Zarich is Manager of External Communications for Cummins Inc. She joined the Company in 2015 after more than a decade working in government and the nonprofit sector. [email protected]

Cummins celebrates first European Hydrogen Week with a look-back at hydrogen and fuel cell successes in Europe

Cummins celebrates first European Hydrogen Week with a look-back at hydrogen and fuel cell successes in Europe

Hydrogen will contribute significantly to the transition to clean technology in Europe, and across the world. In July, the European Commission announced its hydrogen strategy to explore the potential of clean hydrogen to help the process of decarbonising the EU economy in a cost-effective way, in line with the 2050 climate-neutrality goal, set out in the European Green Deal. To match the interest and importance of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the energy transition, this week the first European Hydrogen Week takes place. 

At Cummins, we are proud of our ability to innovate and scale hydrogen fuel cell technologies across a range of commercial markets. September marked the one-year anniversary of the acquisition of Hydrogenics, which expanded Cummins alternative power solutions to include fuel cell technologies and hydrogen production capabilities. In addition, just last week Cummins held its Hydrogen Day event, where it revealed the potential of a decarbonised future fuelled by hydrogen. As we look to the future, we see many new possibilities and opportunities to better serve our customers and our planet. 

To celebrate the first European Hydrogen Week, join us as we look-back at Cummins’ successes in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies in Europe. 

 

Cummins to open new fuel cell systems production facility in Germany, strengthening its commitment to hydrogen in EuropeNorway’s Largest Grocery Wholesaler Gives Hydrogen a SpinCummins Delivers Fuel Cells for Refuse Trucks in EuropeHenok's focus on quality makes him the perfect fit

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Three Cummins hydrogen production facilities that are helping build a green economy

Hydrogen elctrolyzer

To decrease the negative impacts of climate change and decarbonize the power sector, renewable technologies like wind and solar have emerged as key ingredients to providing a solution. But integrating these intermittent energy sources into the power grid can be challenging. This is where electrolyzers come. Hydrogen makes other forms of renewable energy more viable by providing efficient and portable storage of electricity. Electrolyzers enable the production of hydrogen, which can be used by industrial clients or stored and used to power applications, including trains, buses, trucks and more, and Cummins has hundreds operational in the field.  

Take wind turbines as an example. Electrolyzers can economically convert wind energy to hydrogen and oxygen in a process called water electrolysis. Water electrolysis produces no harmful emissions — only oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen is produced when electricity prices are low which is typically the case when wind energy is abundant. Then, the hydrogen can be stored or transported  to customers. Hydrogen’s potential for storing and transporting energy makes it a key enabler of a global transition to renewable energy. 

Cummins made a bold entry into the hydrogen economy in September 2019 with the acquisition of Hydrogenics, a global hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzer technology manufacturer, and Cummins continues to make quick progress in innovating new products and applications in the hydrogen space, including three electrolyzers that are making an impact:  

HyBalance – Denmark: Supplying clean hydrogen to 1,000 fuel cell vehicles  

HyLYZER PEM ElectrolyzerCummins, along with its partners, established this 1.2-megawatt proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer site more than two years ago in Denmark. The site supplies clean hydrogen to customers of Air Liquide, a world leader in gases, technologies and services for Industry and Health, with Air Liquide operating the site. The PEM electrolyzer in Denmark is capable of supplying a fleet of more than 100 fuel cell electric vehicles per day and could contribute up to 0.5 percent of the transport sector greenhouse gas reduction targets in Denmark. 

Douglas County – U.S.A.: Enabling utilities to store excess energy 

Expected to be operational in 2021, this 5-megawatt PEM electrolyzer located in Douglas County in Washington state (U.S.A) will be the largest, as well as first of its kind in use by a public utility, in the United States. The new renewable hydrogen facility allows the Douglas County Public Utility District (PUD) to manufacture commercial hydrogen using electrolysis to harvest hydrogen from water from Wells Dam on the Columbia River. Cummins’ PEM electrolyzers, like Douglas County PUD’s electrolyzer, enables utilities to store the excess energy that they would typically sell off to the market at a financial loss, or not harness at all, and instead store that energy to sell into a new green hydrogen market. Additionally, it creates a way for utilities to engage in new market opportunities outside of their typical service area, removing growth barriers often faced in the industry. This project is made possible by legislation passed in Washington state in 2019, which authorized public utility districts to make and sell hydrogen. 

Becancour – Canada: Building the largest PEM electrolysis plant in the world 

Cummins is in the final stages of commissioning the largest PEM electrolysis plant in the world in Becancour, Canada for Air Liquide. The 20-megawatt facility will have an annual hydrogen output of approximately 3,000 tons. The electrolyzer will use renewable hydroelectricity to generate decarbonized, and green, hydrogen. The facility is planned to be operational in the coming months.   

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

Electrolyzers 101: What they are, how they work and where they fit in a green economy

Cummins electrolyzers - Hero image

As Cummins looks to the future, we see a shift in the energy market. With that change comes new possibilities and opportunities beyond our traditional product set. To better serve our customers and our planet, Cummins is innovating new, sustainable forms of power and bringing a wide range of new possibilities to the New Power product portfolio, providing a way to produce clean hydrogen to power hydrogen fuel cells, supply industrial processes or produce green chemicals like fertilizers, renewable natural gas and methanol. 

Cummins offers a variety of hydrogen-based technologies, including electrolyzer systems, and recently announced it will provide its 5-megawatt PEM electrolyzer to convert surplus hydro power to clean hydrogen for the Douglas County Public Utility District in Washington state (USA). But what exactly is an electrolyzer, how does it work and where does it fit in our green economy? 

What is an electrolyzer and how does it work?

Electrolysis - ElectrolyzerAn electrolyzer is a system that uses electricity to break water into hydrogen and oxygen in a process called electrolysis. Through electrolysis, the electrolyzer system creates hydrogen gas. The oxygen that’s left over is released into the atmosphere or can be captured or stored to supply other industrial processes or even medical gases in some cases.

The hydrogen gas can either be stored as a compressed gas or liquefied, and since hydrogen is an energy carrier it can be used to power any hydrogen fuel cell electric application — whether it’s trains, buses, trucks, or data centers. 

In its most basic form, an electrolyzer contains a cathode (negative charge), an anode (positive charge) and a membrane. The entire system also contains pumps, vents, storage tanks, a power supply, separator and other components. Water electrolysis is an electrochemical reaction which takes place within the cell stacks. Electricity is applied to the anode and cathode across the proton exchange membrane (PEM) and causes the water (H20) to split into its component molecules, hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2).

Are there different kinds of electrolyzers? 

Yes, they range in size and function. These electrolyzers can be scaled to meet a variety of input and output ranges, ranging in size from small industrial plants installed in shipping containers to large-scale centralized production facilities that can deliver the hydrogen by trucks or be connected to pipelines.

There are three main types of electrolyzers: proton echange membrane (PEM), alkaline and solid oxide. These different electrolyzers function in slightly different ways depending on the electrolyte material involved. Both alkaline and PEM electrolyzers can deliver on-site and on-demand hydrogen, pressurized hydrogen without a compressor and 99.999% pure, dry and carbon-free hydrogen.

The difference between the three main kinds of electrolyzers include:

Alkaline ElectrolyzerAlkaline Electrolyzers

  • Uses a liquid electrolyte solution such as potassium hydroxide (KOH) or sodium hydroxide (NAOH), and water. 
  • The hydrogen is produced in a “cell” which consists of an anode, cathode and membrane. The cells are typically assembled in series in a “cell stack” that produces more hydrogen and oxygen as the amount of cell increases. 
  • When current is applied on the cell stack, the hydroxide ions (OH-) move through the electrolyte from the cathode to the anode of each cell, with hydrogen gas bubbles generated on the cathode side of the electrolyzer and oxygen gas at the anode, as represented here.

 

Proton Exchange MembraneProton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Electrolyzers

  • PEM electrolyzers use a Proton Exchange Membrane which use a solid polymer electrolyte.
  • When current is applied on the cell stack, the water splits in hydrogen and oxygen and the hydrogen protons pass through the membrane to form H2 gas on the cathode side.

 

 

 

 

Solid Oxide ElectrolyzerSolid Oxide Electrolyzers (SOEC) 

  • Uses solid ceramic material as the electrolyte
  • Electrons from the external circuit combine with water at the cathode to form hydrogen gas and negatively charge ions. Oxygen then passes through the slid ceramic membrane and reacts at the anode to form oxygen gas and generate electrons for the external circuit
  • SOECs operate at a much higher temperature (above 500C) than alkaline and PEM electrolyzers (up to 80C) and have the potential to become much more efficient than PEM and alkaline.

 

How are electrolyzers commercialized based hydrogen production?

There are four main ways that electrolyzers can be commercialized:

  1. Power to mobility: Hydrogen can be used as fuel at refueling stations for fuel-cell electric vehicles such as buses, trains, and car.
  2. Power to Fuel: Be used in refineries to remove sulfur from fossil fuels. 
  3. Power to Industry: Be used directly as an industrial gas in the steel industry, flat glass plants, semi-conductor industry, etc.  It can also be injected directly into the natural gas grids for lower carbon heating and other natural gas applications.
  4. Power to Gas: Be used in the production of green chemicals such as methanol, fertilizers (ammonia) and any other liquid fuel, even jet fuel!  

Electrolyzer - Power to Industry

What’s so unique about hydrogen fuel cells?

The hydrogen produced from an electrolyzer is perfect for use with hydrogen fuel cells. Working much like a battery, fuel cells do not run down or need charging and produce electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied. You can learn more about batteries and fuel cells here. The fuel cells use the hydrogen to generate electricity with zero emissions at the point of use. That means no fossil fuels or harmful emissions come from the tailpipe.

Even better, when the electrolyzer system is powered by a renewable energy source, such as a hydropower from the Columbia River Dams, the hydrogen produced is considered renewable and CO2-free from well to wheel. Learn more about well to wheel emissions in all-electric and fuel cell applications.

Why is hydrogen such a good option for clean energy?

Hydrogen presents an opportunity for mass market change in the energy industry. Energy systems across the globe are undergoing a fundamental transformation to focus on lower emissions and less negative impact on the environment.

To decrease the negative impacts of climate change and decarbonize the power sector, renewable technologies like wind and solar have emerged as key ingredients to providing a solution. But integrating these intermittent energy sources into the power grid can be challenging.

Hydrogen can act as an energy storage medium to address these grid challenges, allowing renewable power to be more easily used outside the electric power grid. Hydrogen is a stable way to store and transport renewable electricity efficiently over long periods of time. That way, renewable electricity generated by wind and solar that isn’t being used right away can be used another time or in another place. Hydrogen’s potential for storing and transporting energy makes it a key enabler of a global transition to renewable energy.

What is Cummins doing with electrolyzers?

Cummins made a bold entry into the hydrogen economy in September 2019 with the acquisition of Hydrogenics, a global hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzer technology manufacturer. Cummins continues to make quick progress in innovating new products and applications in the hydrogen space, and currently, there are two different types of electrolyzers offered by Cummins:

  1. The HyLYZER® Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) Electrolyzer uses an ionically conductive solid polymer and is better suited for large-scale hydrogen production.
  2. The HySTAT® Alkaline Electrolyzer uses a liquid electrolyte and is well-suited for small- to medium-scale hydrogen production. 

Cummins is proud to be leading the charge in new hydrogen technology. With a century of experience in a multitude of power sources and drivetrains, we work with our customers to provide the right solution for the right customer at the right time. Whether it’s battery power, diesel, natural gas or fuel cells, your power is your choice.
 

Cummins Office Building

Cummins Inc.

Cummins is a global power leader that designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative fuel engines from 2.8 to 95 liters, diesel and alternative-fueled electrical generator sets from 2.5 to 3,500 kW, as well as related components and technology. Cummins serves its customers through its network of 600 company-owned and independent distributor facilities and more than 7,200 dealer locations in over 190 countries and territories.

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