Natural gas engines: Questions answered

When it comes to natural gas engines, there are a range of frequently asked questions about the cost, practicality, and feasibility of integrating natural gas into commercial fleets. There are certainly preparations that need to be considered, but the learning curve to implement natural gas engines is not as steep as people may think, especially in comparison to the benefits of natural gas in transportation applications.

In this article we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to adding natural gas engines to your commercial vehicle fleet.

Can a diesel engine run on natural gas?

The short answer is no. If you fueled a diesel engine with natural gas it simply wouldn’t start. Diesel engines can’t run on natural gas because natural gas combustion requires spark plugs. Diesel engines cause fuel to ignite through compression. To self-ignite, natural gas would need to be compressed at a ratio far greater than what internal combustion engines can apply.

However, there are specially modified engines which can run on either diesel or natural gas. Vehicles with this type of engine, which are known as bi-fuel or dual fuel engines, feature two fuel systems and can switch between one fuel and another as needed. For example, if their compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinder runs out and there is no CNG station nearby, operators can simply flip a switch and keep driving on diesel. There are also engines which use diesel and natural gas at the same time. In these engines, diesel provides ignition and natural gas provides power. Such engines are especially popular in stationary oil and gas drilling applications. If natural gas is being extracted, it can be used to fuel the engines. If no natural gas is available, the engines can revert to using diesel. The Cummins QSK 50 engine, for example, is a popular dual fuel engine commonly used in oil and gas applications.

Can a natural gas engine run on renewable natural gas?

Absolutely! The option to run on renewable natural gas (RNG) is a big reason fleets switch to natural gas vehicles. While virgin natural gas has many sustainability benefits, including 13% – 17% lower well-to-wheel greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 27% lower CO2 emissions than petroleum. But the environmental benefits really shine when using RNG made with biogas.

For fuels beyond RNG, you can learn more on how natural gas compares to LPG, LNG, and diesel here.

What are the environmental benefits of RNG?

Depending on the energy source, the carbon intensity of renewable natural gas can be neutral or even sub-zero. How is that even possible, you might ask?

It’s because the main elements of RNG come from biogas, which is the fermentation of organic waste in places like landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, or industrial agriculture waste digesters. Biogas like methane is captured during this treatment process, preventing it from ever being emitted into the atmosphere. This carbon intensity score factors into the total well-to-wheel emissions calculation of the vehicle.

Refined biogas is functionally indistinguishable from fossil natural gas and can be used as a natural gas substitute. If interested, learn more about the production and processing of biogas, natural gas, and other low carbon fuels.

Is it cheaper to run natural gas engines?

Most of the time, yes. Natural gas vehicles require less maintenance than diesel vehicles equipped with post combustion exhaust treatment systems. They also result in significantly lower fuel costs. In the United States, the average retail fuel price has been significantly lower than the average retail price of both gasoline and diesel for more than 20 years. Retail natural gas prices are also more stable than the price of other fossil fuels.

Payback on a natural gas vehicle is dependent on several factors, including the specific application, duty-cycle, number of miles driven per year and the cost of fuel compared to diesel. But by most metrics, natural gas delivers a lower total cost of operation than diesel.

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Click to view infographic

Do natural gas engines start better than diesel engines in cold weather?

No engine is completely immune to cold-weather challenges. Some issues are common to most vehicles, including those using an internal combustion engine. One issue natural gas engines sometimes experience in freezing weather is a loss of power by the battery. There are also potential issues specific to the use of natural gas. For example, the O-rings in the fueling receptacle can become frozen, preventing the fuel nozzle from coupling correctly with the receptacle.

There are two cold weather difficulties that diesel drivers face, which natural gas drivers will never experience. The first is, unlike diesel, natural gas does not turn to gel when it is cold. Regardless of temperature, natural gas is entirely gaseous when it enters the engine. Methane, the main constituent of natural gas, has a boiling point of -258°F, or -161 °C.

The other difficulty is caused by the diesel exhaust fluid, or DEF, in diesel vehicles. DEF largely consists of water and can easily freeze. Storing and handling DEF in cold weather can be challenging. Because natural gas burns cleanly and with minimal NOx (nitrogen oxides) formation, natural gas vehicles have no need for heavy-duty DEF-consuming NOx scrubbers. As a result, DEF and DEF-related problems are unknown to natural gas vehicle drivers.

Who makes natural gas engines?

Cummins Inc. and several other manufacturers of heavy and medium-duty engines have an extensive portfolio of natural gas engines suitable for a large variety of on-road, off-road and stationary applications. Most truck and bus makers have product lines featuring natural gas engines, so businesses interested in exploring natural gas options can usually do so with their preferred truck maker. Learn more about Cummins’ full line of natural gas engines.

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Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar

Puneet Singh Jhawar is the General Manager of the global natural gas business for Cummins Inc. In this role, he is responsible for the product vision, financial management and overall performance of the natural gas business. Over his 14-year career at Cummins, Jhawar has cultivated successful relationships with a number of Cummins’ largest customers. Jhawar has extensive global experience, with roles based in the Middle East, India, Europe and the US.

bus in movement

Natural gas engines from Cummins can offer considerable longevity and reliability when properly maintained – so much so they are lasting decades and counting. 

Between 2008 and 2009, more than 3,730 Cummins B Gas Plus natural gas engines were procured through OEM partners Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland and delivered to the National Capital Region of India. Deployed into the Delhi transport Corporation’s (DTC) transit bus fleet, nearly 15 years later, the engines remain in service. To date, the buses have travelled approximately 5.4 billion kilometers – yes, billion – over the last 15 years.

bus

These engines prove what Maged Tadros, General Manager of Cummins Global Bus Business likes to tell his customers: “Adopting Cummins natural gas engines into your fleets can help achieve several operational and economic benefits.”

As the lowest total emissions engine on the market for trucks and buses, Cummins natural gas engines run on an abundant, low-cost fuel, with a maintenance free three-way catalyst exhaust treatment system. 

The need for reliable transportation is essential. Over the past 15 years, the Cummins B Gas Plus natural gas engines have helped more than 150 million Indian residents get to where they need to be and will continue to do so for the years to come.

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Click to view infographic

“Cummins engines are sought after globally for their world-class reliability and durability,” explained Puneet Jhawar, General Manager – Natural Gas. “We have learned a lot from our experience in India, among other countries adopting natural gas engines, learnings that have influenced our next generation of engines.”

Last year, Cummins announced the B6.7 natural gas engine will be available in India. Built for school buses, shuttles, and medium-duty trucks, the B6.7N boasts up to 240 hp/560 lbs-ft torque.

As the most mature, proven, and least disruptive alternative power technology available today, natural gas engines offer range flexibility and deliver a similar power, performance, and driving experience as diesel engines. Cummins natural gas engines help fleets reduced their overall environmental impact without significantly increasing the cost of operation or sacrificing performance or uptime.

The power of Cummins’ natural gas engines was on display at the India Auto Expo in Greater Noida Uttar Pradesh, India this month.

Cummins Office Building

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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As we near the end of 2022, we are celebrating some of the accomplishments that made this an exciting and innovative year for New Power. In the last 12 months, we expanded our technologies, grew as a business and continued to blaze the trail toward a zero-emissions future. Join us as we reflect on five wins from our New Power business unit that helped make this year truly spectacular.

snow scene
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Welcome to our battery family, LFP

The newest member of our battery family is the lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery, which expands our support of electrified commercial vehicle applications. LFPs are faster charging and longer-life batteries, and are used in the medium duty truck and school bus markets. LFPs don’t require nickel or cobalt, making them more affordable and sustainable. With faster charging, higher power and a 10% longer life expectancy, Cummins LFP batteries are designed to meet the demands of continuous operation and have a lower total cost of ownership.

Green travel is on track: Our fuel cell systems are powering the world’s first 100%-hydrogen passenger train fleet

Holiday vacation plans? Visit us in Europe where we’re powering the world’s first fleet of hydrogen trains. The Alstom Coradia iLint trains are outfitted with Cummins fuel cell systems and run on the world’s first 100%-hydrogen-powered passenger train route. The trains convert hydrogen fuel into energy and turn existing, non-electrified infrastructure into zero-emission rail lines. These trains emit only steam and condensed water while in service and operate with low noise levels that improve both operator and passenger comfort.

The hydrogen fuel cell systems used in the trains are assembled at Cummins’ Hydrogen Fuel Cell Systems Production Center in Herten, Germany. The facility was fully operational in 2022, enabling accelerated adoption of hydrogen technologies across Europe and the globe.

North America? Check. Europe? Check. We’ve expanded our New Power footprint across the globe

This year, we drove the green hydrogen economy forward across the globe by supporting new infrastructure projects and advancing government decarbonization goals.

We have broken ground on our new gigawatt PEM electrolyzer manufacturing plant in Guadalajara, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. Construction is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2023. The 200,000 sq. ft. facility will have the capacity to produce 500MW per year, scalable to more than 1GW per year.

Our Oevel, Belgium electrolyzer manufacturing facility expanded its capacity to 1GW thanks to the Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) Hy2Tech program. IPCEI will help Cummins develop a new generation of PEM electrolyzer cell stacks to power large-scale hydrogen production systems. Operation began at our new Hydrogen Fuel Cell Systems Production Center in Herten, Germany this year, which further enables the adoption of hydrogen technologies across Europe. 

We expanded our Mississauga, Ontario, Canada campus by adding a third facility dedicated to hydrogen technology. The new facility accommodates the company’s growing staff, hydrogen production capacity and new product development, putting Cummins in a better position to support the developing hydrogen market in North America.

The wait is over - our electrified powertrains made their official debut

We unveiled the Meritor 17Xe ePowertrain integrated with a Cummins battery system. The 17Xe is designed for heavy-duty trucks with the capacity to support 44 tons of gross combined weight. The assembly also features Cummins’ new lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery pack. 

Our clean drivetrain options offer performance and packaging advantages for diverse applications across the globe.

Electrolyzers are stateside: We’re starting production in the U.S.

We announced that we'll begin producing electrolyzers in the U.S. for the first time at our Fridley, Minnesota facility. To drive the domestic green hydrogen economy forward, we'll start at 500 megawatts (MW) of manufacturing capacity annually, scalable to 1 gigawatt (GW) in the future. 

Cummins Office Building

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.

recipients holding trophies

Cummins Inc. (NYSE:CMI) announced the 2022 recipients of the company’s most prestigious technical award, the Julius Perr Innovation award. Now in its 23rd year, the award recognizes employees who demonstrated excellence in innovation and technology by developing significant intellectual property for our products.

This year’s recipients are Cummins employees Richard Ancimer, Krishna Kamasamudram, Ashok Kumar, Guoqiang Li, Tim Proctor, Michael Wilson, and Aleksey Yezerets. Acknowledgement also goes to Neal Currier, Ed Hodzen, and Vivek Sujan.

ABOUT THE INNOVATIONS

The first winning patents relate to the mitigation of sulfur accumulation on a selective reduction catalyst (SCR).

Ancimer, Currier, Kamasamudram, Kumar, and Yezerets developed methodologies to not only monitor this accumulation of sulfur but regenerate the catalysts faster, and at lower temperatures, through the synchronization of engine operating conditions during regeneration. Their work is employed on Cummins products, such as Euro IV/V/VI, EPA 2010, Tier IV, and in regions high sulfur fuel, and will likely continue playing a role in meeting future emission regulations.

Wilson developed a different approach targeted for the service channel in areas with high sulfur fuel, particularly the Euro V products in South America.  A key feature of his invention involves the deactivation of cylinders, and his work has been cited numerous times by non-Cummins patents.

For second winning technology, Hodzen, Li, Proctor, and Sujan invented the SmartTorque2 (ST2) feature, which is part of the award-winning Eaton Cummins SmartAdvantageTM  Powertrain. This feature automatically senses a variety of factors, such as grade and weight, and selects the optimum torque for performance and fuel economy. The invention was first in production in 2013 and has been a standard offering of the X15 product since 2017.

ABOUT THE AWARDS

This award was created to honor Dr. Julius Perr, who retired from Cummins in 1997 as Vice President - Fuel Systems.  Dr. Perr, who passed away in 2005, joined Cummins in 1958 after fleeing Communist Hungary.  He made Columbus, Indiana (USA) home and began a 41-year career as a Cummins engineer and leader.  In his lifetime, he was named the inventor or co-inventor of 186 granted patents and remains an inspiration to many in our industry.

2022 CEREMONY

The Julius Perr Innovation Awards Ceremony was held in-person with senior Technical Leaders, members of the Perr family, the 2022 Perr Award winners and their guests on October 18, 2022. Four winners, Krishna Kamasamudram, Ashok Kumar, Guoqiang Li and Michael Wilson, were able to attend in person to receive their awards. The other three winners were unable to attend, but their award and special recognition have been provided to them separately.

REVIEW COMMITTEE 

Members of a selection committee, made up of leaders from across all business units, meet yearly to evaluate patents that have created significant value for our products. In 2022, over 1,100 patents were reviewed for consideration before selecting the final patent award recipients. Since 2000, only 84 patents have been selected for this prestigious award with each invention adding value to our brand promise of innovation and dependability.

Congratulations again to the 2022 recipients on the honor of winning the 2022 Julius Perr Innovation Award.

Cummins Office Building

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.

illustration of home with generator

This article was authored by Chuck McClaugherty, Bear Electric, a Cummins Authorized Dealer.

Smart phones, smart TVs, virtual assistants, smart thermostats, smart locks and doorbells. Our homes are now filled with smart devices. Unfortunately, most of them become useless without power to run or recharge. This is why homeowners should consider installing one smart device above all other: a home standby generator. 

As a Cummins Authorized Dealer, I install a lot of Cummins QuietConnect™ home standby generators throughout Oregon. With increasingly severe weather, rolling blackouts, and aging power grids, I can tell you without a doubt a backup generator is a worthwhile investment. 

The best part of owning one of these smart devices? You don’t have to tell it when to turn on and off. It does it automatically. 

In a nutshell, here’s the process:

When we install a Cummins home standby generator, we also install a Cummins automatic transfer switch. This transfer switch constantly monitors the electric utility power coming into the home. If it detects a break in service, it will automatically disconnect the home from the electric utility line in a split second and turn on the Cummins generator to power the home instead. The generator is fed either by a natural gas line or by a propane tank.

While the Cummins generator is powering the home, the transfer switch will continue to monitor the electric utility line. Once it detects that power has been restored, it’ll automatically disconnect the generator from the home’s electrical system and reconnect the electric utility.

You don’t have to do anything. Nada. Zilch. The generator and the transfer switch do all the work. In some cases, you may not even realize there’s a power outage until you look out the window and see all your neighbor’s houses are dark.

Just as critical as having a Cummins Authorized Dealer professionally install your backup generator and transfer switch is making sure you choose the right size generator for your home. If it’s too small, the load won’t be able to power everything in the house. If it’s too big, you’ll consume extra natural gas or propane when you use it.

The easiest way to make sure you select the right size generator is to have your dealer do it for you. But if you want to get a feel for how much generator you’re going to need, Cummins has an excellent blog post on calculating the generator wattage you need or you can use the generator size calculator at Cummins.com.

We live in a world full of smart devices. Make sure you can keep yours up and running during power outages with a Cummins QuietConnect home standby generator. To find a dealer near you, use the Cummins dealer locator. Or, if you live in Oregon, just contact me at (503) 678-3417 or [email protected] 

Cummins Office Building

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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