Cummins sees a bright future in fuel cell technology for itself and within the trucking industry.
The trucking and construction industries have both faced increased pressure in recent years to reduce their carbon footprints. With advancing technologies in green power generation these industries will see big changes in the coming years.
Unlike diesel engines, hydrogen-based electric equipment utilizes energy produced through chemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen for a power source, with no emissions of toxic gases.
Fuel cells can use hydrogen directly, or can obtain hydrogen from another fuel source, like natural gas or liquid methanol, which is renewable and can be transported more easily than hydrogen. Fuel cells never need to be charged and don’t run down.
In contrast to lithium batteries, which have have faced challenges to increasing their capacity, hydrogen fuel cells have proven much easier to expand, making them a good fit for use in large forklifts or excavators as well as large trucks.
“We believe the transportation sector will be a major user of fuel cells, and we would like to work with trucking partners on developing that,” said CEO Tom Linebarger recently. “I think this transition will occur over a significant amount of time, but we are investing now. We have announced a number of partnerships, and I think those partnerships reflect where the action is today.” *
Cummins has launched a pilot program with Navistar International Corp. (the successor to International Harvester) and Werner Enterprises. Navistar has been pushing innovation in the industry by investing in a variety of cutting edge technologies. They recently also announced the development of Level 4 autonomous heavy-duty trucks. Navistar has stated that it sees the greatest promise for electric vehicles in the medium-duty segment.
In addition to pilot testing programs in the US for fuel cell and other new technologies, Cummins recently announced plans for a new production site in Germany.
Amy Davis, president of new power business at Cummins noted that obstacles to wide-spread adoption of fuel cell technology for trucking include basic infrastructure to provide hydrogen gas or other types of fuel sources, and government incentives. She projects that buses will be a likely early target, and predicts the trucking industry will trail with no more than 2.5% of heavy trucks having fuel cells by 2030. *
“It’s a much longer adoption rate, which is largely driven by the huge diversity in duty cycles and applications in heavy-duty trucks and the infrastructure needs there,” Davis said. “There are still a lot of other segments that are interesting and that will be adopting at that sort of longer rate.” *
In the larger context of construction, hydrogen fuel cells offer even greater potential. Replacing diesel generators for temporary power (and heating) on job sites offers a chance to reduce emissions and noise. On remote sites where there is no infrastructure to tap into, fuel cells offer an efficient environmentally friendly solution. In urban environments they may offer a safer option than diesel generators in that there would be no need for storing and refueling diesel gas and noise would not be an issue for neighboring buildings.