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.

Cummins PEM electrolyzer will supply hydrogen in Denmark, Europe, demonstrating strong hydrogen capabilities

Cummins PEM electrolyzer will supply hydrogen in Denmark, Europe

Cummins and its partners announced that HyBalance, one of Europe’s most advanced hydrogen production facilities, will continue producing hydrogen for customers across Europe. HyBalance was established in 2018 as a pilot, and the pilot was completed in September of 2020, demonstrating strong results.

“Hybalance is a leading example to other customers and communities that the future of power can be dependable using our water electrolysis capabilities,” said Amy Adams, Vice President Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies at Cummins Inc. “As the first-of-its kind, the facility demonstrated that PEM electrolysis technology is highly dynamic and flexible in terms of power fluctuations, and is able to balance the electrical grid to better utilize renewable energy. This is a tremendous step forward in Cummins’ capabilities and continues to build our reputation as a hydrogen technology leader across multiple applications.”  HyBalance PEM

HyBalance was funded by Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking and the Danish EUDP program, and led by Air Liquide, Cummins (through its Hydrogenics Business), Centrica Energy Trading, LBST and Hydrogen Valley.

Located in Denmark, the HyBalance proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer supplies hydrogen to customers of Air Liquide, a world leader in gases, technologies and services for Industry and Health, and Air Liquide operates the site. The project demonstrated that producing hydrogen to store energy at a large scale – including electricity from renewable sources – is technically and economically viable. In addition, the facility has validated the PEM electrolysis technology as highly dynamic, able to cope with fast power ramps up and down. Since 2018, the 1.2-megawatt PEM electrolyzer has produced 120 tons of hydrogen, enabling 24/7 delivery of 60 tons of hydrogen to an industrial customer and demonstrating its ability to balance the electricity grid. The remaining 60 tons have been delivered to other customers, including hydrogen stations for fuel cell taxis in Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen. 

Hydrogen makes other forms of renewable energy more viable by providing efficient and portable storage of electricity. Sourcing power from wind turbines, the PEM electrolyzer can economically convert wind energy to hydrogen and oxygen in a process called water electrolysis. Hydrogen is produced when electricity prices are low which is typically the case when wind energy is abundant. Then, the hydrogen can be stored or transported easily to customers. 

“Air Liquide is proud to have contributed to the success of the HyBalance project. Clean hydrogen being a major key lever for a carbon neutral world, the plant will keep delivering low-carbon hydrogen to customers,” Pierre-Étienne Franc, Vice-President for Hydrogen Energy, Air Liquide. “The facility is already a model for larger scale PEM electrolyzers around the world including another Air Liquide plant located in Bécancour, Québec with a 20 MW electrolyzer, to start soon.”

Electrolyzers enable the production of hydrogen, which can be used by industrial clients or stored and used to power applications, including trains, buses, trucks and more. Cummins has hundreds operational in the field. Water electrolysis produces no harmful emissions — only oxygen and hydrogen. And when hydrogen is used to power a fuel cell electric vehicle, only pure water is released. 

Denmark is on the cutting edge of clean power. In 2019, 47% of electricity consumed in Denmark came from wind power, compared to just 6.6% in the U.S. By converting electricity into hydrogen, the HyBalance project helps balance the grid and allows excess electricity to be stored and used at a later time in the industrial sector or as clean fuel for transportation. The facility in Denmark is capable of supplying a fleet of more than 1,000 fuel cell electric vehicles.

In September 2019, Cummins acquired the Hydrogenics Corporation, which provided Cummins with PEM fuel cells as well as alkaline and PEM electrolyzers used to generate hydrogen. Cummins continues to demonstrate the technical and economic viability of producing and storing hydrogen at scale, and this first-of-its-kind electrolyzer marks an exciting success for both Cummins and hydrogen fuel cell technology at large. The HyBalance project has paved the way for PEM electrolyzers around the world, including the world’s largest PEM electrolyzer—Cummins 20-megawatt PEM electrolyzer located in Bécancour, Québec. The PEM electrolyzer, which is being built in partnership with Air Liquide, will be the largest of its kind in the world with an annual hydrogen output of approximately 3,000 tons.

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.

Cummins: Making a splash with these hydrogen headlines

Cummins Hydrogen Day news roundup
Fresh on the heels of our virtual Hydrogen Day event, we've compiled a roundup of some of the latest headlines making waves in the hydrogen fuel cell space

As a company focused on serving its customers and all its stakeholders, Cummins rarely seeks the spotlight.

But the recent focus on hydrogen  - and its place in helping decrease the negative impacts of climate change and decarbonizing the power sectors - has caught the attention of many journalists and thought leaders from around the world. And rightfully so. 

Is hydrogen the future? Only time will tell, but as we highlighted during our recent Hydrogen Day virtual event, we certainly think the future looks bright for hydrogen and its place in helping build a green economy

Here’s a roundup of some of the latest headlines making waves in the hydrogen fuel cell space.  

Diesel engine giant Cummins plans Hydrogen future with trains coming before trucks, Forbes 

Cummins is starting to ditch diesel for hydrogen, Fox Business

Why Jim Cramer is watching Cummins stock, TheStreet.com 

Cummins outlines the future of Hydrogen technologies, Transport Topics 

Cummins believes in the future of Hydrogen. Nikola stock is the one that jumped, Barron’s 

Cummins: New technologies on the horizon, H2View 

Cummins lays out vision for a hydrogen future, Truck News 

Cummins sees $400M in revenue from making hydrogen in 2025, Freightwaves 

Cummins drives ahead with hydrogen, International Construction 

Cummins outlines hydrogen plans, Just Auto

Cummins looks to the future, details hydrogen power development plans, Fleet Equipment Magazine

Cummins hydrogen power systems and electrolyzers aiming at trains first, Hydrogen Fuel News

Cummins details hydrogen power development plans, Engine Builder

Cummins reveals road map to Carbon-free Hydrogen economy, HDT Truckinginfo

katie zarich author bio photo

Katie Zarich

Katie Zarich is Manager of External Communications for Cummins Inc. She joined the Company in 2015 after more than a decade working in government and the nonprofit sector. katie.zarich@cummins.com

Cummins celebrates first European Hydrogen Week with a look-back at hydrogen and fuel cell successes in Europe

Cummins celebrates first European Hydrogen Week with a look-back at hydrogen and fuel cell successes in Europe

Hydrogen will contribute significantly to the transition to clean technology in Europe, and across the world. In July, the European Commission announced its hydrogen strategy to explore the potential of clean hydrogen to help the process of decarbonising the EU economy in a cost-effective way, in line with the 2050 climate-neutrality goal, set out in the European Green Deal. To match the interest and importance of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in the energy transition, this week the first European Hydrogen Week takes place. 

At Cummins, we are proud of our ability to innovate and scale hydrogen fuel cell technologies across a range of commercial markets. September marked the one-year anniversary of the acquisition of Hydrogenics, which expanded Cummins alternative power solutions to include fuel cell technologies and hydrogen production capabilities. In addition, just last week Cummins held its Hydrogen Day event, where it revealed the potential of a decarbonised future fuelled by hydrogen. As we look to the future, we see many new possibilities and opportunities to better serve our customers and our planet. 

To celebrate the first European Hydrogen Week, join us as we look-back at Cummins’ successes in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies in Europe. 

 

Cummins to open new fuel cell systems production facility in Germany, strengthening its commitment to hydrogen in EuropeNorway’s Largest Grocery Wholesaler Gives Hydrogen a SpinCummins Delivers Fuel Cells for Refuse Trucks in EuropeHenok's focus on quality makes him the perfect fit

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.

Three Cummins hydrogen production facilities that are helping build a green economy

Hydrogen elctrolyzer

To decrease the negative impacts of climate change and decarbonize the power sector, renewable technologies like wind and solar have emerged as key ingredients to providing a solution. But integrating these intermittent energy sources into the power grid can be challenging. This is where electrolyzers come. Hydrogen makes other forms of renewable energy more viable by providing efficient and portable storage of electricity. Electrolyzers enable the production of hydrogen, which can be used by industrial clients or stored and used to power applications, including trains, buses, trucks and more, and Cummins has hundreds operational in the field.  

Take wind turbines as an example. Electrolyzers can economically convert wind energy to hydrogen and oxygen in a process called water electrolysis. Water electrolysis produces no harmful emissions — only oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen is produced when electricity prices are low which is typically the case when wind energy is abundant. Then, the hydrogen can be stored or transported  to customers. Hydrogen’s potential for storing and transporting energy makes it a key enabler of a global transition to renewable energy. 

Cummins made a bold entry into the hydrogen economy in September 2019 with the acquisition of Hydrogenics, a global hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzer technology manufacturer, and Cummins continues to make quick progress in innovating new products and applications in the hydrogen space, including three electrolyzers that are making an impact:  

HyBalance – Denmark: Supplying clean hydrogen to 1,000 fuel cell vehicles  

HyLYZER PEM ElectrolyzerCummins, along with its partners, established this 1.2-megawatt proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer site more than two years ago in Denmark. The site supplies clean hydrogen to customers of Air Liquide, a world leader in gases, technologies and services for Industry and Health, with Air Liquide operating the site. The PEM electrolyzer in Denmark is capable of supplying a fleet of more than 100 fuel cell electric vehicles per day and could contribute up to 0.5 percent of the transport sector greenhouse gas reduction targets in Denmark. 

Douglas County – U.S.A.: Enabling utilities to store excess energy 

Expected to be operational in 2021, this 5-megawatt PEM electrolyzer located in Douglas County in Washington state (U.S.A) will be the largest, as well as first of its kind in use by a public utility, in the United States. The new renewable hydrogen facility allows the Douglas County Public Utility District (PUD) to manufacture commercial hydrogen using electrolysis to harvest hydrogen from water from Wells Dam on the Columbia River. Cummins’ PEM electrolyzers, like Douglas County PUD’s electrolyzer, enables utilities to store the excess energy that they would typically sell off to the market at a financial loss, or not harness at all, and instead store that energy to sell into a new green hydrogen market. Additionally, it creates a way for utilities to engage in new market opportunities outside of their typical service area, removing growth barriers often faced in the industry. This project is made possible by legislation passed in Washington state in 2019, which authorized public utility districts to make and sell hydrogen. 

Becancour – Canada: Building the largest PEM electrolysis plant in the world 

Cummins is in the final stages of commissioning the largest PEM electrolysis plant in the world in Becancour, Canada for Air Liquide. The 20-megawatt facility will have an annual hydrogen output of approximately 3,000 tons. The electrolyzer will use renewable hydroelectricity to generate decarbonized, and green, hydrogen. The facility is planned to be operational in the coming months.   

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.

Redirecting to
cummins.com

The information you are looking for is on
cummins.com

We are launching that site for you now.

Thank you.