Examples of natural gas engines on trucks and buses

Orange and grey Metro Local bus parked

Compared to traditional diesel engines, natural gas engines have several advantages. A few of the benefits of natural gas engines are that they cause less air pollution, are quieter and run on fuel that is cheaper and less volatile than diesel. On the other hand, operating natural gas vehicles requires a deliberate fuel strategy because there are few compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations in the wild.  

Because of these attributes, you can more frequently find examples of natural gas engines among heavy and medium-duty applications. Here are some leading natural gas engine applications. 

Vocational trucks with natural gas engines 

Natural gas engines are a great option for businesses operating vocational trucks. Examples of successful natural gas use cases include refuse trucks, dump trucks and terminal tractors (yard spotters). Natural gas engines can deliver torque and power ratings similar to diesel engines. Even very heavy vehicles, such as loaded concrete mixers and drayage trucks, can rely on a natural gas engine without any problems. 

Natural gas is an especially good fit for vocational vehicles that operate in an urban environment. There is no such thing as a silent garbage truck, but natural gas engines can make garbage trucks quieter—and less polluting. Waste collection businesses often report increased customer satisfaction as a result of switching to natural gas trucks, especially customers that have their trash collected early in the morning.  

Natural gas engines can also offer environmental benefits and help improve air quality. For example, the Port of Los Angeles –  one of the busiest ports in North America – sees very concentrated truck traffic. Every day, thousands of heavy trucks drop off and pick up containers. Their traffic contributes significantly  to air pollution in nearby communities, such as the neighborhoods along Interstate 710. Improving air quality is one of the reasons why Cummins worked with several hauling companies serving the Port of Los Angeles. The objective of the collaboration was to demonstrate that natural gas engines could be effective in drayage operations. One year into the program, twenty trucks had accumulated more than a million miles of trouble-free driving using Cummins’ ISX12N natural gas engines. 

Transit and school buses with natural gas engines 

Transit systems are among the biggest operators of natural gas vehicles. According to the US Department of Energy, nearly 30% of all transit buses in service in the United States in 2019 operated on natural gas. It’s easy to understand why. Transit buses tend to operate in cities and tend to return to a central depot at the end of the day where they can refuel each night. 

It can also be difficult for transit systems to adjust fares when the price of diesel is high. In some cases, transit systems are obliged to eliminate routes or reduce service to avoid financial difficulties. With natural gas, whose price is lower and more stable than the price of diesel, bus operators hedge their exposure to this kind of risk – another important financial benefit of natural gas engines

Natural gas buses are also popular with school districts for many of the same reasons. Reducing children’s exposure to air pollution around schools, however, is especially important. In the United States, a variety of state and federal grants are available to help school systems upgrade their bus fleets. 

Medium-duty trucks with natural gas engines 

Medium-duty trucks used in local and semi-local applications also constitute great use cases for natural gas engines. Urban delivery and last-mile delivery are typical examples. In both cases, vehicles can usually complete a day’s work without refueling. At the end of the day, they return to a “home base” where they can fill up their cylinders overnight using a time-fill CNG dispenser. In the United States, UPS, one of the leading national delivery companies, is moving ahead with plans to invest in more CNG vehicles. UPS said it would purchase more than 6,000 CNG trucks between 2020 and 2022.  

If these use cases are relevant to you, consider starting to think about when to switch to natural gas engines

Regional haul trucks with natural gas engines 

CNG vehicles can also be used for longer range transportation, so long as fuel stations are available along the way or at destinations. This can be the same case for trucks running fixed routes between distribution centers.  

If these examples resonate with your needs, don’t forget to also check our answers to frequently asked questions about natural gas engines. These answers cover topics such as cost, practicality and feasibility of integrating natural gas into commercial fleets.   

 


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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.

Hydrogen engine insights for fleet operators

Heavy duty trucks parked diagonally in a parking lot

If you manage a fleet of commercial vehicles, you have probably read or heard about hydrogen engines and hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cells have come a long way over the years, and they have a bright future. Hydrogen engines and hydrogen fuel cells each have their roles in decarbonizing the commercial transportation sector today and the decades ahead. When it comes to hydrogen engines, there are other important insights for fleets to consider in addition to reliability and durability. 

Hydrogen engines are a familiar technology 

Powering vehicles with hydrogen engines is as familiar as it gets—just pump hydrogen into a regular internal combustion engine.  

Well, almost regular.  

Hydrogen engines do require some modifications to operate safely and efficiently. For example, the ignition system needs to be specifically designed for hydrogen to avoid issues, such as pre-ignition and engine knocking. But the overall engine and drivetrain architecture, and how the hydrogen engine works, remain nearly the same as their diesel counterparts. The one exception is the fuel system. Hydrogen is stored in gas cylinders specially designed to withstand very high pressures. Training is recommended to learn safe hydrogen handling practices during maintenance. 

Transparent semi with red engine inside

Hydrogen internal combustion engines (ICEs) can be extremely efficient and have a compelling total cost of operation compared to other zero-carbon fueled solutions. With Cummins spark ignited technology and fuel agnostic engine platforms, we can achieve brake thermal efficiency (BTE) that exceeds today’s natural gas engine efficiency. With further refinement, diesel-like efficiency may also be achievable. Efficiency can be further enhanced by combining hydrogen ICE in a hybrid powertrain and through the use of advanced features, such as Cummins’ ADEPT system. 

Hydrogen engines are an effective way to lower emissions and to decarbonize 

Crucially, hydrogen engine vehicles do not release any CO2 besides trace amounts that result from the combustion of lubricants. So long as they run on green hydrogen, their operation doesn’t cause any carbon emissions well-to-wheel. 

Operating near-zero emissions vehicles comes at a price, though. This is true of every low carbon technology. For certain applications, however, examples of hydrogen engines will likely be more prevalent, such as heavy-duty trucks. 

When are hydrogen engine vehicles right for your business? 

So let’s say your business needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions. When are hydrogen engine vehicles the right solution?  

First, you need a fueling strategy. Fleets whose vehicles “go home” to a central depot each night are good candidates. Hydrogen fueling points can be installed at the central depot. This type of refueling strategy will be familiar to many CNG vehicle operators.  

If your vehicles tend to drive back and forth between distribution centers that are within a few hundred miles of each other, a similar refueling system can work. 

If you operate long-haul trucks on fixed routes, hydrogen engines can also make sense so long as hydrogen fueling points are installed along the routes. Several companies and government entities are building hydrogen corridors for this very purpose. 

Medium and heavy-duty vehicles that drive more than two or three hundred miles per-day will be better off with a hydrogen engine than with battery electric technology today. Trucks use a lot of power, so electric trucks require large batteries. In theory, a larger battery can extend the range of an electric truck. But this comes at a price in terms of lost cargo space, increased charging downtime, and higher capital costs. Hydrogen engine vehicles, in contrast, can refuel in minutes and achieve similar ranges as diesel vehicles without trading payload capacity for range. 

Cummins is developing a set of hydrogen engines, including 6.7 and 15 liter engines. Once these engines are fully tested and validated, they will be made available to vehicle manufacturers. Cummins is working with Werner Enterprise, a major transportation and logistics company, to validate its new 15-liter natural gas and hydrogen engines. Hydrogen engines are nearly drop-in replacements to traditional engines, so a hydrogen engine version of your favorite truck may become available within the next few years. 


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Jim Nebergall

Jim Nebergall

Jim Nebergall is General Manager of the Hydrogen Engine Business at Cummins Inc. and leads the company’s global efforts in commercializing hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines. Hydrogen internal combustion engines are an important technology in the company’s accelerated path to decarbonization.    

Jim joined Cummins in 2002 and has held numerous leadership roles across the company. Most recently, Jim was the Director of Product Strategy and Management for the North American on-highway engine business. Jim is passionate about innovation and has dedicated his Cummins career to advancing technology that improves the environment. He pushed the boundaries of customer-focused innovation to position Cummins as the leading powertrain supplier of choice, managing a portfolio ranging from advanced diesel and natural gas to hybrid powertrains. 

Jim graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. In 2007, he completed his Master of Business Administration degree from Indiana University.

Hydrogen engine insights for truck and bus manufacturers

Transparent semi with red hydrogen engine inside

If you’re a truck or a bus manufacturer that already has a hydrogen fuel cell program, you should consider offering a line of vehicles with a hydrogen internal combustion engine (ICE) as an option for your customers.

Why? The reasons are simple. It is easier to swap out a diesel engine for a hydrogen engine than it is to design a vehicle around a different technology. Additionally, customers interested in purchasing fuel cell vehicles are likely to be interested in purchasing vehicles powered by hydrogen ICEs as a means to get started with hydrogen while fuel cell technology continues to advance. Familiarity with current engine technology, though, is at the core of both reasons. 

Hydrogen internal combustion engines look and feel familiar 

For an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), current vehicles can be redesigned to host a hydrogen engine with minimal effort. Often no major changes to the driveline, transmission, brakes, or truck chassis are needed. The most intensive modification to the vehicle’s architecture in the redesign phase may be the addition of a hydrogen fuel system. But Cummins is helping to make these modifications as frictionless as possible through a joint venture with NPROXX, a leader in hydrogen storage systems. By offering end-to-end hydrogen systems, Cummins enables OEMs to design hydrogen engine vehicles easily. This same approach is also relevant to fleet operators interested in hydrogen engines. 

Hydrogen engines get the job done and help to decarbonize 

The end-customer experience of owning and operating a hydrogen ICE vehicle is comparable to owning and operating a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicle. 

Vehicles with a hydrogen engine have the power to get the toughest jobs done. Drivers will find that hydrogen engines deliver the same performance as natural gas engines and, for that matter, performance that’s even comparable to a diesel engine. Maintenance managers will find that most mechanics qualified to work on a traditional gasoline or diesel engine can maintain a hydrogen engine. Customers who have set up CNG fueling points on their premises may also discover that operating a hydrogen fueling point isn’t much different. 

Hydrogen is also a carbon-free fuel, enabling hydrogen ICE owners to start meeting their decarbonization goals sooner. Hydrogen engines can help reduce the overall commercial transportation emissions generated by vehicle fleets, reducing a company’s overall carbon footprint. 

Hydrogen engines pave the way for fuel cell vehicles 

So, how do your fuel cell program and hydrogen engines complement each other? Hydrogen engines and hydrogen fuel cells are not an either-or choice. On the contrary, the adoption of hydrogen engines is likely to help drive broader adoption of fuel cells.  

Considering Cummins will be in scale hydrogen engine production in 2027, you can expect to see more customers operating trucks with hydrogen engines in the coming years.  

Inevitably, as more hydrogen vehicles begin to hit the road, the benefits of hydrogen engines for hydrogen infrastructure will become more apparent. Your customers will find it easier and cheaper to procure hydrogen. They will also be more comfortable overall with using hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen storage technology will also be more mature and used at greater scale. These will eventually make the adoption of fuel cell vehicles easier too. 

If you are interested in learning more, don’t forget to check answers to frequently asked questions around hydrogen engines.   


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Jim Nebergall

Jim Nebergall

Jim Nebergall is General Manager of the Hydrogen Engine Business at Cummins Inc. and leads the company’s global efforts in commercializing hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines. Hydrogen internal combustion engines are an important technology in the company’s accelerated path to decarbonization.    

Jim joined Cummins in 2002 and has held numerous leadership roles across the company. Most recently, Jim was the Director of Product Strategy and Management for the North American on-highway engine business. Jim is passionate about innovation and has dedicated his Cummins career to advancing technology that improves the environment. He pushed the boundaries of customer-focused innovation to position Cummins as the leading powertrain supplier of choice, managing a portfolio ranging from advanced diesel and natural gas to hybrid powertrains. 

Jim graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering. In 2007, he completed his Master of Business Administration degree from Indiana University.

When to switch to natural gas engines

Red, yellow and white buses driving down a highway

Natural gas engines can be a great option for commercial vehicles. They’re quieter than diesel engines, they reduce air pollution, and they can help fleets save a lot of money on operating costs, especially when it comes to fuel. So why don’t more fleets switch to natural gas engines?  

Compressed Natural Gas, or CNG engines are a great option for a wide range of fleets and commercial vehicle applications, but not all.  

Are natural gas engines a good fit for your business or mission profile? We'll lay out some of the key benefits of natural gas engines, and some of the drawbacks, to help you decide where natural gas is a viable option for your fleet. 

Mission profile and Infrastructure while switching to natural gas engines 

Given the current state of natural gas refueling infrastructure availability, fleets seeing the most success with CNG today are those that return to base each night. These are fleets that can complete their routes on a single tank of fuel, return to base and refuel “behind the fence.” 

At the end of their shift, drivers park their vehicle in a designated space. They connect a fueling nozzle to the vehicle and go home. The next day, the tank is full. Transit buses, refuse trucks, urban delivery trucks, and regional haul semi-trucks are all good examples of vehicles that can effectively refuel at a central depot. The behind the fence refueling system works well for these applications. 

There are set-up costs associated with establishing refueling capacity onsite, but most natural gas fuel suppliers offer options to install fuel pumps with no money paid upfront. The cost is baked into the fuel contract, which can be as long as a three-year term. This provides stable fuel costs over the life of the contract and the savings are significant compared to the high cost of diesel fuel, which is much more volatile. 

For heavy, or long-haul trucks, refueling is more difficult. They rely on public refueling stations along major interstates. Currently the number of public CNG pumps is dwarfed by the number of diesel pumps, but Cummins and several transportation industry partners are making strides to change that. The company recently announced a plan to collaborate with Love’s Travel Stops and Trillium to enhance low and zero carbon fuel and powertrain solutions.  

Cummins also recently announced plans to develop a 15-liter natural gas engine, the X15N, designed for class 8 long-haul applications. News of the X15N is already generating significant interest and excitement in the North American heavy-duty truck market. So much so it was named one of the Top 20 New Products of 2022 by Heavy Duty Trucking (HDT). 

These investments in new products and refueling infrastructure will make integrating natural gas vehicles easier for long-haul fleets.  

Maintenance and safety considerations for natural gas engines 

In addition to considering refueling needs, there are unique maintenance needs that should be considered.  

CNG systems have three main hazards: high pressure, fire and asphyxiation. High pressure is the primary concern because the nominal fill pressure of the CNG stored in fuel tanks is 3,600 psi. To address high-pressure concerns, the high-pressure CNG fuel system components other than CNG cylinders are designed to withstand four times their rated pressure, which allows them to withstand at least 14,400 psi without bursting. 

CNG cylinders are built to meet rigorous federal standards and are constructed from much sturdier materials than gasoline or diesel fuel storage tanks. All CNG fuel cylinders must be manufactured to withstand 2.25 times their fill pressure. This means that all CNG cylinders have a minimum burst pressure of 8,100 psi which is far above the fuel delivery pressures of CNG fueling stations. 

To protect CNG cylinders from rupture in the event of fire or over pressurization, pressure relief devices (PRDs) are installed which are designed to open at a specified temperature or pressure, relieving the cylinder of its pressurized contents. Each cylinder is equipped with at least one of these mandatory safety devices—and many cylinders have two or more PRDs. 

Not every maintenance facility can be used for CNG vehicle maintenance. Facilities that support vehicles using liquid fuels incorporate several safety features that differ from the safety requirements needed to service natural gas trucks.  

For example, indoor facilities that service diesel trucks have ventilation systems designed to capture fuel vapors near ground level because liquid fuel vapors are heavier than air. The components of natural gas are lighter than air and rise to the ceiling. That means CNG maintenance facilities require sensors and ventilation systems at ceiling level to alert technicians is potentially dangerous. The shops must also be certified by a fire marshal for proper ventilation, which is uncommon when compared to other traditional shops. In addition to proper ventilation, CNG service facilities need to have methane detectors.  

It’s critical that CNG vehicles are serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance intervals. This includes making sure oil changes are performed on time, using a schedule based on operating hours. It is also important to use the proper engine oil. Cummins natural gas engines use a different oil specification compared to their diesel counterparts. In 2018, Cummins announced a new oil specification — Cummins Engineering Standard (CES) 20092—that allows for longer drain intervals. 

If you’re thinking about setting up a natural gas fueling point or about maintaining natural gas vehicles on your premises, it’s a good idea to estimate the cost of these modifications. When they are low, the economic benefits of natural gas engine powered vehicles can surpass these switching costs. 

Role of natural gas engines in reaching environmental goals 

Switching to natural gas engines is one of the best ways for commercial vehicle fleets to reduce their emissions of NOx, particulate matter and VOC – in addition to recognizing other environmental sustainability benefits of natural gas engines

Reducing emissions, however, does not have the same air quality benefits for every vehicle. Trucks used on lightly traveled roads in sparsely populated areas may not have a significant impact on air quality locally. They’re also unlikely to cause a significant degradation. If the same truck was on drayage duty between the port of Los Angeles and logistics centers in the area, its emissions would be more likely to contribute to local air quality concerns. 

This is why companies that operate vocational vehicles in urban areas may want to consider using natural gas engines. Switching to natural gas benefits the communities in which these businesses operate. Their customers, who often belong to those communities, stand to benefit the most from better air quality. 

Regulations to consider while switching to natural gas engines 

Reducing emissions is a great way to generate goodwill among the community, but sometimes it’s also a matter of compliance. In some areas, strict emission standards apply to both the sale of new vehicles and to in-use vehicles. California, for example, enforces a set of rules applicable to heavy-duty diesel vehicles.  

As a result of these rules, starting in 2023, all drayage trucks using diesel engines will require a 2010 or newer engine. If your business is among those that will be replacing trucks or engines, you may want to consider switching to natural gas, because it can be a very cost-effective way to meet emissions standards and save money on fuel. 

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) have tighter emission regulations coming in 2024 and 2027. The Cummins X15N will be certified to not only meet these emission requirements, but to exceed them as well, ensuring compliance for years to come. 

In summary, natural gas engines can help fleets lower their total transportation emission and slower operating costs without major disruptions to their day-to-day operations or mission profile. Moreover, natural gas, as a fuel, has a key role to play in our renewable future.  

 

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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.

Natural gas in our renewable future

Open road in motion

Natural gas has been taking an increasingly central role in our energy supply over the past decades. In developed countries, the use of other fossil resources has stagnated or declined. In 2020, oil consumption in Organized for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries is essentially what it was in 1995, and coal use has declined by almost half. In contrast, the consumption of natural gas has increased by 20% over the same period. In non-OECD countries, natural gas use has nearly tripled.

The rise of natural gas has been driven by the demand emanating from several sectors of activity, but by none more than the power generation sector. All over the developed world, coal power plants are being replaced by power plants, where natural gas powers gas turbines or large reciprocating engines. Wherever solar and wind farms are being installed in large quantities, more natural gas-fired power plants are built to balance out the intermittent nature of renewable energy. As such, natural gas has become a central piece of the transition toward renewable power.

Environmental benefits of natural gas

The replacement of coal and oil by natural gas as the fuel of choice for firm power generation is the result of several factors. First, natural gas is a much cleaner fuel. The use of coal at a power plant can results in significant local and regional air pollution. Their ash ponds can turn into major environmental disasters. Natural gas power generation generates no ash, causes no emissions of soot, heavy metals, and minimal emissions of sulfur. Smaller natural gas power plants can often operate without neighboring communities even noticing their existence. Natural gas turbines and reciprocating engines are also far more efficient than traditional coal-fired power plants. In effect this means that electricity generation from natural gas is significantly less carbon-intensive than electricity generation from other fuels.

For transportation applications, environmental benefits of natural gas engines include reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria air emissions, and prevention of harmful spills.

Abundancy of natural gas

Second, natural gas is abundant in many parts of the world. For countries that have them, relying on domestic natural gas resources rather than importing oil or coal strengthens energy security and reduces costs. In the United States, the production of natural gas has experienced a spectacular growth over the past decades. Other countries, such as Egypt, Malaysia and the Philippines have similarly benefited from the discovery and exploitation of domestic natural gas deposits. For countries not blessed with such resources, importing natural gas is a way to limit their reliance on oil imports, which results in comparable benefits from an energy security standpoint.

For transportation applications, this abundancy results in economic benefits associated with natural gas engines in terms of fuel pricing and price stability.

Economic benefits of natural gas

Finally, natural gas is usually cheaper than petroleum fuels. In the United States, natural gas can be even more affordable than domestically mined coal. It is, in fact, so cheap, that may coal-fired power plants have converted their combustion systems to burn natural gas rather than coal.

Most of these benefits flow from the intrinsic properties of natural gas. As a result, they are also at play in other sectors, such as residential heating and, of course, transportation.

Today, you can already find many examples of natural gas engines in trucks and buses in the transportation sector. Meanwhile, natural gas still has more opportunities to displace petroleum fuels in the transportation sector just to the extent that it has replaced coal and oil in the power generation sector by leveraging all of its positive attributes such as cleanliness, abundance and affordability.

Because of these attributes, natural gas will be a key part of the transition towards CO2-free transportation. One day, power generation may become entirely decarbonized thanks to technologies such as solar panels, energy storage and electrolysis. Likewise, most cars, trucks, airplanes and boats may one day run on CO2-free fuels such as hydrogen and e-fuels manufactured domestically using renewable energy. In the meantime, natural gas engines are an essential part of the transition. Its use enables the deployment of fully CO2-free technologies and, at the same time, provides real and immediate environmental benefits.

 

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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.

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