Five key questions about the sustainability of electric vehicle batteries

You have questions about electric vehicle batteries, we have answers.

As demand for both commercial and private electric vehicles grow, so too will the need to develop sustainable solutions for dealing with the lithium-ion batteries they use.

Here are five key questions to consider.

What are the options when electric vehicle batteries reach the end of their useful life?

A: As things stand today - and as seen in the infographic below - there are three basic options: dispose, recycle, or reuse. Recycling lithium, however, can be tricky. It is a highly reactive element. Recycling plants capable of handling lithium-ion batteries are in the early stages of development.

With the negative environmental implications of disposal, reuse is quickly becoming the most viable option from both an environmental and economic standpoint. 

A new term is developing for this option: second-life batteries. 

Cummins Second Life Batteries - Infographic
As seen in the infographic above, there are three potential options for a battery after it has reached the end of its original use.

What are second-life batteries?

A: Lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicle applications operate under extremely demanding conditions and will eventually degrade to a point where their total usable capacity and other performance requirements no longer meet the standards placed upon them. 

While no longer enough for use in electric vehicles, these batteries still contain a lot of energy. They may contain 70% to 80% of their initial capacity, which means there’s still a lot of energy that could be used in other ways. 

Second-life batteries are electric vehicle batteries that have been repurposed, or given a second-life, for use in another less demanding application such as stationary energy storage. 

Why are second-life battery solutions important for electric vehicle manufacturers?

A: Fortunately, there’s a little time as the electronic vehicle industry ramps up. But as the metaphorical stockpile of partially used batteries continues to grow, manufacturers will be expected to have solutions in place that are both environmentally and economically sustainable. 

Second-life batteries are an environmentally responsible solution because they extract additional usable energy that would otherwise go to waste. This solution also delays the recycling process, allowing procedures to be developed and improved. 

Second-life batteries are an economically sustainable solution because they create an entirely new revenue stream for manufacturers. When their batteries are no longer suitable for use in an electric vehicle, manufacturers can remanufacture them to suit less-demanding applications, then resell them. This additional link in the automotive value chain is expected to be worth billions of dollars within the next few decades. 

What does this look like in the real world? 

A: The most common application for second-life batteries is stationary energy storage. This is because the application demands relatively low current and energy density from the battery pack compared to the automotive applications they were initially designed for. 

Stationary energy storage is important because it allows energy to be captured for future use. As the world continues to prioritize the shift to renewable and diversified energy sources, the ability to store energy can make those sources more robust and less dependent on traditional energy sources to fill any voids in the grid. 
So, what could this look like long-term and at scale? Over the next few decades, the amount of second-life batteries in use as stationary energy storage will result in the ability to store several terawatt-hours of energy.

What’s Cummins doing to help?

A: Cummins recently announced a multi-year partnership with the University of California San Diego, and its battery validation lab to analyze viable business and technical approaches to effectively reuse and repurpose electric vehicle batteries.

Under the agreement, the college will perform accelerated testing, real-world application testing, and develop an outdoor second-life demonstration system comprised of Cummins’ Goodwood battery modules. The batteries, once fully developed, will be used in both school and transit buses. 

The collaboration will enable Cummins to acquire valuable data on the aging of its battery modules, test integration solutions for second-life battery systems, and validate stationary energy storage system performance under energy storage applications for the grid.

This collaboration marks one of the first testing programs devoted exclusively to the testing of commercial batteries for second-life battery applications. 

Cummins is determined to work with the electronic vehicle manufacturers who use its products to ensure lithium batteries can be handled in both environmentally and economically sustainable ways. 

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.

Making a splash at NACV

Cummins hydrogen fuel cell truck
Cummins unveiled a heavy-duty demonstration truck with fuel cell and battery electric power at the 2019 North American Commercial Vehicle Show.

Drip. Drip. Drip. It may just be tiny droplets of water dribbling out of Cummins’ latest innovation, but it is making a big splash this week at the North American Commercial Vehicle Show (NACV) in Atlanta. Building upon a long history of innovation and delivering industry-leading solutions, Cummins is displaying the newest development in the powertrain of choice: hydrogen fuel cell power. 

Unveiling in a Big Way

After many months of behind the scenes work, which is really the culmination of more than 20 years of research and development around fuel cell technologies, Cummins has unveiled a heavy-duty truck with fuel cell and battery electric power. The zero-emissions class 8, 6x4 day cab tractor is a technology demonstrator suitable for vocational applications, including regional haul, urban delivery operations, port drayage and terminal container handling. 

Under the Hood

The truck was designed and integrated by Cummins in Columbus, Ind. and includes a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell from Hydrogenics, a recent addition to the Cummins family. The truck was designed for 90 kW fuel cell and is scalable in 30 kW or 45 kW increments up to 180 kW and has 100 kWh lithium-ion battery capacity. The truck has a range of 150-250 miles between filling up, but that range can be extended with additional hydrogen tanks, increasing the tank storage pressure or installing additional fuel cells to optimize management of the vehicle load factor. 

Cummins hydrogen fuel cell truck
Cummins' hydrogen fuel cell truck, pictured here, was designed and integrated by Cummins in Columbus, Indiana. 

Many of the critical components of the powertrain, including the PEM fuel cell, system controller, powertrain controls, wire harnesses and junction boxes, among others, were designed and developed by Cummins. Cummins has also integrated third party components into the system. 

The Look 

Some might be surprised by the overall look of the fuel cell truck – it doesn’t feature any Cummins red! Instead, the exterior truck branding prominently showcases water. The meaning behind this is twofold. First, when the fuel cell is running, the exhaust consists of air and water. Liquid water flows out from an outlet hose behind the side panels on the driver’s side. Second, hydrogen can be sourced from water using a process called electrolysis to produce electrical energy. The use of water, along with the Jeopardy-style answer of “Hydrogen is how.” to the question of “How does it work?” helps to distinguish the hydrogen fuel cell technology that is unique to the vehicle.

The second thing you’ll notice about the truck is the OEM, or more accurately the lack thereof. The truck was not a collaboration with an OEM partner and was deliberately designed to be OEM agnostic. The goal was to allow all OEMs customers and end users to envision how Cummins fuel cell power can enable their success. 

Without looking under the hood, the truck might look like any other truck, and in fact, the goal is to provide the same dependable performance as every other Cummins-powered truck. So, even though we never intend to manufacture the truck itself instead focusing on innovating the powertrain, having an OEM-neutral vehicle that showcases the art of the possible through a modern, innovative “package” is important to the overall positioning of the technology. 

The Team Behind the Innovation

To say this was a team effort would be an understatement. The truck was designed and built at the Cummins Machine Integration Center (CMIC) in Columbus. The facility supports global vehicle integration efforts for multiple business segments for on- and off-highway equipment and features a dedicated EV Lab for electrification work. More than 30 engineers and technicians, including a few from Hydrogenics who jumped in post-acquisition, and numerous suppliers had a hand in taking this from simply a concept, to a truck that could be driven onto the tradeshow floor.

The truck is a example of the collaboration between system engineering, technology leadership teams within Electrified Power and Cummins research and technology group and the technical operations team at CMIC which supports Cummins Southern Indiana fleet of 450 vehicles. 

Cummins hydrogen fuel cell truck

Looking to the Next 100 Years

Cummins’ strategy is to provide our customers with a range of power options, from advanced diesel and natural gas internal combustion engines to battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell solutions. In the long-run, the customers we serve will likely need more than one type of power, depending on their specific markets, applications and use cases. 

To this end, Cummins has made several recent announcements around fuel cells like the acquisition of Hydrogenics, a memo of understanding with Hyundai Motor Company to collaborate on hydrogen fuel cell technology across commercial markets in North America and an investment in Loop Energy, a fuel cell electric range extender provider. Developing the hydrogen fuel cell truck as technology demonstrator is a critical step in gaining valuable insights that are critical to continue developing the right solutions for the market and preparing for next 100 years. 

So, the next time you hear a drip or step in a puddle, take a minute to think about the possibilities. 

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.

Five key questions about the next frontier: Hydrogen fuel cells

Five questions about hydrogen answered

You have questions about fuel cell technology and we have answers. 

Fuel cell technologies have grabbed headlines lately, and rightly so. If sourced from renewable means, an element such as hydrogen can be a zero-emission, extremely efficient fuel source capable of powering anything from vehicles to data centers. So, what are fuel cells and how do they work? Here are the answers to five key questions in honor of National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. 

What are fuel cells? 

A fuel cell utilizes the chemical energy of hydrogen, natural gas or other hydrocarbon fuels to generate electricity. Unlike a battery, a fuel cell system does not store energy. Instead, it relies on a constant supply of fuel and oxygen in the same way that an internal combustion engine relies on a constant supply of gasoline or diesel and oxygen. A Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell (PEM or PEMFC), also known as a hydrogen fuel cell, uses hydrogen exclusively as the fuel.

In the case of hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), hydrogen is typically compressed and stored in tanks that are attached to the vehicle. Fuel cells are used to complement electric batteries as part of an FCEV powertrain, enabling several operating strategies for the user that offer flexibility in choice of energy (hydrogen, battery or an optimized  combination) based on price of the desired fuel source – electricity or hydrogen, and tailored to each application.

How do hydrogen fuel cells work? 

The basic structure of a fuel cell consists of two electrodes (a negative and a positive) separated by an electrolyte. Each fuel cell is only a few millimeters thick and hundreds of them are stacked together to build a fuel cell stack. 

Cummins - Hydrogen Fuel Cell - How does it work?

The supply of fuel, which is hydrogen in the case of hydrogen fuel cells, comes from a tank attached to the vehicle. The fuel is fed into the anode (the negative electrode) while oxygen from the atmosphere is introduced to the cathode (the positive electrode). Different fuel cell types exist and they each use a different process to create electricity, but for the most part a catalyst is introduced between the electrodes, which causes electrons to travel through an external circuit which is how electricity is created. 

In FCEV powertrains, the electricity produced from the fuel cell can be used to power an electric motor to produce mechanical power, to power accessories and to charge the high voltage battery packs as needed. In the case of a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, the byproduct of this chemical reaction is water and heat. 

What are the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology?

Today, compared to electric batteries, fuel cell powertrains would have a higher energy density and are quicker to refuel, making them more suitable for applications with longer daily ranges that cannot be accomplished by batteries alone. 

Analyses indicate, for example, that PEM fuel cells could be a viable solution for medium to long haul trucks, while battery only vehicles may be more suitable for short haul vehicles. Currently, the battery capacity needed for the range requirements of long-haul, and the resulting weight from the batteries, is prohibitive for trucks that need to reserve that weight for their load. Because fuel cells have higher energy density and lessen the battery capacity needed, it can create significant improvements in tractor weight while still providing adequate range. And when vehicles do need to refuel, for the near future hydrogen refueling is much quicker compared to recharging batteries despite evolving recharging technologies. Fuel cells also offer great flexibility due to their modular design: fuel cell systems and storage tanks can be tailored to meet the needs of different applications across different markets. 

Lastly, and very importantly, hydrogen can be sourced from water using a process called electrolysis, which uses electricity to separate a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. Thus, fuel cells can be a decarbonized source of energy. 

What are the current challenges to hydrogen fuel cell adoption?

Fuel cell technology is very promising, but like battery electric vehicles, there are many factors that influence adoption. Emissions regulations, financial incentives, technology development, infrastructure and total cost of ownership (TCO) will all be key in driving the adoption of fuel cell-powered vehicles. 

Currently, fuel cell technology is still developing which means there is limited real-world testing and limited investment in infrastructure, like hydrogen fueling stations. Customers are also faced with a higher upfront vehicle cost with payback largely dependent on the price of fuel. Fuel cell electric vehicles do offer flexibility allowing customers the option to refuel with hydrogen or recharge with electricity depending on which provides the best value, but long-term savings on those operating costs will be directly connected to the price of hydrogen. While some experts project hydrogen prices to fall, the initial investment for operators is likely to remain quite high compared to other technologies in the near-term.

In addition to financial factors, these systems, as compared to the incumbent fossil fuel solutions are also presently challenged by increased weight, reduced power density, and increased refueling time. While the latter is currently superior to battery charging solutions, it is still a challenge when compared to traditional liquid fuel refill times for similar amounts of fuel energy. The industry continues to work actively to address these challenges.

How is Cummins involved in hydrogen fuel cell technology?

Cummins hydrogen fuel cell technology is rooted in years of research, development, and strategic partnerships. In 2014, Cummins joined a pilot project to explore the development of the first hydrogen-fueled transportation system in Costa Rica. Then in 2018, the company joined the Hydrogen Council, a global coalition that explores and promotes hydrogen as a clean energy fuel source. 

In September of 2019, Cummins announced the acquisition of fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies provider Hydrogenics Corporation, headquartered in Mississauga, Canada. As one of the world’s premier fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies providers, Hydrogenics’ expertise and innovative approach represents another step forward as Cummins continues to provide a broad range of clean, fuel-efficient and high-performing products. The acquisition of Hydrogenics was shortly followed by an announcement that the company has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Hyundai Motor Company to jointly evaluate opportunities to develop and commercialize electric and fuel cell powertrains.  

From clean diesel, natural gas, battery electric and now fuel cells, Cummins is committed to innovating and delivering a variety of power solutions to meet the needs of customers. Continued development of hydrogen fuel cell technologies is part of Cummins commitment to deliver market-leading solutions that power customer success, now and for the next 100 years. 

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.

Electric cities: Shifting into the future of electrified transportation

Cummins - Big Blue Bus - Electric transportation
In August 2017, the city of Santa Monica experienced the clean power and potential of the first-ever GILLIG battery electric bus, powered by Cummins.

When it comes to adopting electrified power solutions for transportation, these four cities are leading the way. 

Cities all throughout the world are embracing an electrified future — leading to cleaner air, quieter communities, and more efficient transportation everywhere. 

While electrification is a growing trend just about everywhere, there are a handful of standout cities across the world that have been adopting electrification in breakthrough ways, on a major scale. Let’s celebrate these electric cities for their innovative spirit — and for showing us all what the future of electrified transportation may look like.

Oslo, Norway

Norway has the highest rate of electric car ownership in the world. As of March 2019, electric vehicles (EVs) or hybrids accounted for half of all vehicle sales in Norway, and 57% of all vehicles in the city of Oslo. Norway has a variety of incentives including lower taxes and fees for those driving EVs or hybrids. These regulations make going electric financially feasible for many Oslo residents.

By 2023, Oslo plans to have a city-wide zero-emission taxi system up and running, and they’re already making it simple to charge taxis in the city. To do this, Oslo is installing the world’s first wireless charging system through induction plates. This way, taxis can charge while waiting in a slow-moving line to pick up passengers — making for a much more efficient taxi system, with a greater daily range.  

Shenzhen, China

Every single city bus in Shenzhen is fully electric. That’s 16,000 buses. More than 400,000 electric buses are currently in operation throughout China, and the country is planning to add at least 200,000 more by 2025. 

In China, the government supports electrification enthusiastically through policy and funding. Public transport companies using electric vehicles receive significant subsidies, which makes electrification more accessible for cities of all sizes. With continued government support of electrification, it’s very possible that many other Chinese cities will soon follow Shenzhen’s lead and convert to 100% transit electrification.

San Francisco, United States of America 

Most of the United States has been slower to adopt electrification than the rest of the world. But the state of California is one of America’s leading electric states, and has recently mandated that from 2029 forward, mass transit agencies will only be able to buy electric buses.

While 2029 may seem far away, it’s important to give transit agencies the time they need to adopt fully-electric fleets with the right planning in place. The ten-year mandate will allow these agencies to find and order reliable electric buses and implement necessary infrastructure to ensure they run smoothly in their unique city environments. 

The city of San Francisco is one of the top electrified cities in America. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, San Francisco has more electric vehicles than anywhere else in the country and more electric vehicle promotion efforts, like policies and subsidies, than any other U.S. city.

Santiago, Chile

To install a city-wide electric bus fleet, there’s a lot more to do than just order a fleet of buses. Charging infrastructure is a key part of the electrification equation. In Santiago, Chile, planners tested charging technology and adjusted the electrical grid long before any buses came to town to create the best possible transport strategy for the city. 

The ultimate plan for Santiago’s transport sector is to have a low-emission system with 6,000 electric buses up and running by 2040.

In Chile, you might say that electric vehicle infrastructure is growing from the ground up. Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper and the world’s second-largest producer of lithium, which are both essential materials used in electric vehicle batteries. 

With an abundance of important battery materials, public policy encouraging EV adoption, and a robust public transit plan for 2040, the city of Santiago and the nation of Chile are helping lead the global electrification movement. 

For many urban transportation systems worldwide, the future is electric. Cities across the world are leading the way in electrified transportation, powering a greener, more efficient tomorrow.

Cummins - Electric Cities - Infographic
Click the image to view a hi-res version of our Electric Cities infographic.


 

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.

Charging Infrastructure: Laying the Groundwork for the Future of Electrification

Power comes in many forms. For electric vehicles (EVs), it’s electricity. It sounds simple enough but transitioning a fleet to electrified power takes careful planning and a number of considerations in terms of infrastructure.

It’s easy to get excited about electrified transportation, but an EV ecosystem goes far beyond just placing an order for new vehicles and dropping a few chargers around town. Large-scale charging systems require robust infrastructure planning in tandem with your community or organization’s overall electrification strategy.

Here are five considerations you should make during infrastructure planning, and how to navigate some of the many decisions you’ll face along the way.

Feasibility

While an electrified transportation system is a powerful and effective solution for many cities around the world, fully electrified transit might not be the best choice for every community or every mission just yet.

Technology and infrastructure are advancing rapidly, but some localities may not yet have compatible grid power or electrical infrastructure to support large-scale EV adoption immediately. Even if the grid has enough power to support the electrification at the aggregate level, there can be local limitations and power may not be available at the location it is needed.

Similarly, the duty cycle of the mission can provide additional challenges. Consider conducting a feasibility study to see what the limitations will be, if any, should your town, city, or organization pursue electrified transportation. It can be helpful to get a third-party reality check to make sure your electrified ambitions are achievable with your community’s resources.

Even if there are challenges on the path of large-scale electrification, you’ll likely be able to start making infrastructure improvements and create a long-term plan to get your community to where it needs to be to support electrified transportation with some of the following considerations. 

Hardware

One of the first considerations in building out an electrified transportation system is your charging infrastructure — the nuts and bolts delivering power to your EV fleet. This includes the substation, power box, and charging unit. There are a lot of options currently out in the market, and a trusted advisor can help you navigate the many choices you’ll have for chargers and other hardware needed.

By examining your fleet, your city’s layout, existing infrastructure, and power availability, you’ll begin the process of deciding what chargers work best for your electrification strategy. But it goes beyond just selecting what chargers to buy — you’ll need to determine where they’ll be located, whether vehicles should charge fast or slow, what time vehicles will be charged, and more.

All of these decisions must be taken into consideration when selecting your fleet of EVs as well. Because of the complicated nature of planning, it’s helpful to bring on a full-service partner with experience strategizing all elements of your electrification journey — from chargers to vehicles and beyond.

Electric power charging infrastructure - Cummins Inc.

Routes

Route planning is another key aspect of infrastructure consideration for adopting an electric fleet. Not only do you need to decide if and where chargers will be placed along routes (as opposed to only in a charging depot), but where your electric vehicles will drive.

Though EV range is rapidly improving, transit authorities and city planners must accommodate for the potentially limited range of EVs compared to that of vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine (ICE). But this can rapidly become a chicken-and-the-egg situation: Should you purchase your fleet based on your route requirements, or should you adjust your route requirements based on your chosen vehicles?

Oftentimes, it’s a bit of both. That’s why route planning can be so complicated, and often requires an outside expert familiar with many vehicle models and their performance. It’s important to select a trusted manufacturer with a proven history of reliability, so your fleet can perform at its projected range and keep planned routes on track.

Grid power

A locality’s grid power puts the E in EV. To power an electric fleet, you need sufficient and reliable electricity. When planning your electrification infrastructure, evaluate the grid power and determine what kind of chargers and the quantity of EVs they can support — and when and where. The grid power your fleet will need will depend on the size of the battery in the vehicle, the energy requirement for the next day’s mission, and the available time for the charging event. 

Charging times can have a major impact on the overall cost of charging and will influence infrastructure design route planning as well. It may work best to charge your entire fleet overnight in a depot, or your grid power may better support staggered charging throughout the day, either in a depot or on route. Additionally, alternative charging strategies such as the use of microgrids can help reduce the amount of grid power required, and therefore the cost — though they also come with higher initial costs. 

Strategic planning

One of the most complicated aspects of planning for the transition to electrified power is that many of these decisions must happen in tandem with one another. Electrification isn’t a linear process, and it’s important to find a trusted partner well versed in all areas of consideration, as planning and implementation both are lengthy investments in terms of time and finances.

Cummins is working to explore electrification advisory services in the near future, so we can meet the growing needs of those interested in exploring electrification. From feasibility to planning, and all the way to purchasing and installing chargers, we’re looking forward to helping our customers and communities navigate all aspects of the journey to electrification.

As a supplier of diverse powertrain systems, Cummins looks forward to helping customers best plan for a future that includes electrified power. Over the past 100 years, we’ve partnered with customers around the world to find the power solutions that work for them.

 
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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