Powering more than fuel cells

We have an answer to which comes first: powertrain technology or the infrastructure that powers (or recharges) it? Electric trucks have been deployed in short distance applications and electric charging infrastructure has been deployed to support them. OEMs and fleets are driving the shift from electric vehicles to battery power, and this is likely to be true of hydrogen as well.

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Hydrogen is currently in the same precarious position that battery electric trucks were in about three years ago. The development of hydrogen powertrains is happening behind closed doors and is attracting growing interest from fleet customers. This is the start of the adoption cycle – a cycle that Cummins aims to speed up and shorten with its X15H hydrogen internal combustion engine, a 15-litre hydrogen power plant that is one of the most surprising additions to the fuelless X-Series from Cummins. wallet.

“As we work to decarbonize, we need solutions, and the hydrogen engine is a practical solution,” said Jim Nebergall, general manager, Cummins Hydrogen Engine Business. “It’s a carbon-free fuel that results in a huge reduction in greenhouse gases, but it’s also the cheapest carbon-free fuel technology on the market.”

Remember, we’re not talking about a fuel cell powertrain. This is an engine that shares many commonalities with the famous Cummins X15 diesel engine. Here are a few quick points that outline the similarities of the X15H to its diesel counterpart:

• Direct injection, spark ignition;

• Powers that overlap (at least in part) with the X15 diesel; and

• Common components for engine block, crank and mounting points (to name a few).

“It’s very familiar,” confirmed Nebergall. “Maintenance practices are very common. There aren’t many changes from the X15 to the X15H. We operate in a risk-averse market. We have a risk averse industry. The X15H does not carry many risks. Cummins can make an engine that runs on any fuel. Hydrogen happens to be a great carbon-free fuel that many customers are turning to as their end fuel. »

The “final fuel” – sounds great, but Nebergall knows there’s a long way to go for hydrogen. The first milestone on this road is finding the right app that will drive adoption. Cummins sets long-haul routes at 300 miles or more as its primary target. Obviously this addresses a need for decarbonization with battery electric trucks capping out around 250 miles of range, but there is another potential solution for this application. Natural gas is an obvious (and growing) competitor to challenge diesel in the near term, but still produces emissions (which can be offset if you use renewable natural gas, but that’s another story). Of course, a hydrogen engine also produces NOx emissions.

“But that will be far lower than the emissions produced by today’s diesel engines,” Nebergall said. “About 75% less. Very low NOx, but there will still be some NOx.

Nebergall was tight-lipped on specific emissions figures and how it might compare to the natural-gas-powered X15N, but promised more details would be shared once the engine was closer to launch.

The advantage of a hydrogen engine lies in the transition to a new fuel. While fleets would feel comfortable with the X15H’s similarities to the diesel X15, some of the X15H’s differences would help them navigate a hydrogen-focused future. Take the fuel storage system, for example.

“The on-board cylinder reservoirs for the X15H hydrogen fuel systems are exactly the same as for a fuel cell vehicle,” Nebergall said. “It’s a good thing for the OEM, because they now have the engineering work to do. This way they can integrate it once for the engine and it works with a fuel cell. »

Consider it a small step toward decarbonization, from an equipment standpoint, and a giant leap toward adopting a new fuel source for long-haul transportation. Yet this begs the question: is the hydrogen engine sticking around after the hydrogen fuel cell has found its way into the market?

Nebergall looked into his crystal ball:

“We don’t know what the future holds, but there are many environmental conditions for which we have designed motors to operate in extremely cold ambient temperatures or extreme operating environments where there is a lot of dust and of debris. For fuel cells, we need to see how they perform when it’s minus 40 degrees outside and water comes out of the tailpipe. With a motor, you don’t have to worry about that. There are differences. I don’t know if a single solution will ever be 100%. I think there is a place for both in the future.

In the short term, fleets have an increasing number of options to achieve their sustainability goals. Click below to read more stories from our Cummins series about Cummins and find out how they are breaking down their engine development strategy:

How Cummins sees the future of power (and what it means for its engine business)

The power density of diesel (and its decarbonization impact)

Natural Gas Engines in the Present: Potentially Ready for Growth

Kevin A. Perras