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.

Batteries and Fuel Cells: Understanding differences and opportunities

Batteries & Fuel Cells

Energy systems across the globe are undergoing a fundamental transformation. As we continue to decrease dependence on fossil fuels, the world is demanding more diverse power solutions for our transportation needs. 

Cummins is proud to be at the forefront of this transportation evolution, working with freight and bus manufacturers and operators to design and deliver scalable, zero-emission electric transportation using both cutting edge battery and hydrogen fuel cell technologies. These technologies are well-positioned to make a real change in the transportation market, but the interplay between batteries and fuel cells is often misunderstood. Read on to learn how batteries and fuel cells are better together. 


Although fuel cell systems and batteries are seen by some as competing technologies, they actually work together to bring more options to the transportation and power landscape. 

At this point, battery electric vehicles are a technology that many of us know and love. From electric package delivery vans to all-electric excavators, there are already a number of fully electric powertrain applications that are growing in popularity.  

Although fuel cell systems and batteries are seen by some as competing technologies, they actually work together to bring more options to the transportation and power landscape.

Fuel cell power systems are designed to enhance and build upon the battery and electric drive platforms that continue to grow in prominence across the globe. While each system has its own advantages, combining the emerging technologies of batteries and fuel cell can help us reduce overall carbon and increase adoption of sustainable power without compromising performance. 

Fuel cell systems enhance the performance of batteries, allowing them to address distance and refueling time issues that have prohibited the adoption of battery electric vehicles for some applications. No matter how the engine and power source is configured, the battery system is and will always remain an essential piece of an electrified power solution. To this end, batteries will not be replaced by fuel cells — just enhanced by them. 

Drawing from over 100 years of experience in innovating powertrains, Cummins recognizes that diverse transportation markets need diverse solutions. To help foster the transition to cleaner power, Cummins is proud to provide a variety of diverse alternative power solutions. 

When considering which system is right for our customers, Cummins carefully considers range, weight, downtime, performance requirements, customer economics, and related infrastructure to provide the best options for the market — whether it’s fuel cell, battery electric or a more traditional form of power, we draw from our experience and expertise to work with customers and understand their needs. 

Fuel Cells & Electrified Power Infographic


Comparing a battery and a fuel cell may be confusing as both can be used as sources of power, but in different ways. In battery electric vehicles, batteries store and deliver energy to the powertrain. A fuel cell electric vehicle generates electricity using hydrogen as fuel, and also delivers energy to the powertrain. The fuel cell can also charge the battery. The hydrogen itself acts as an energy carrier and storage device, much like a battery. However, most fuel cells configurations have limited ability to manage the powertrain energy demand in a dynamic fashion like batteries can. It’s the battery system that provides the quick response required to match the load demand from the powertrain.  

Fuel cells still provide a necessary enhancement to improve many of the performance and operational gaps we see in battery electric vehicles. Also, fuel cells have the potential to better utilize renewable energy on a large scale and increase the adoption of sustainable power sources faster. 


In application, the largest difference between electric fuel cell and battery technology is found in their suitability for medium to heavy duty transport. When it comes to battery electric vehicles, maximum allowable axle weights constrain the number of battery packs that can be installed before compromising road weight limits and payload capacity. That’s why Cummins is continuously working to make our battery electric powertrain lighter and more efficient. 

Long distances and heavy payloads require larger and heavier batteries, and larger and heavier batteries lead to diminishing performance and efficiency. In some cases, operational requirements and patterns can be effectively served by battery electric vehicles before they hit the level of diminishing efficiency, where routes and payloads are not limiting factors — such as package delivery vehicles with shorter city routes and frequent stops. 

Ultimately, it’s not a matter of which technology is better — but rather which is more suitable to a customer’s conditions and needs.Fuel cell electric vehicles, on the other hand, can travel farther and carry more weight than their battery electric counterparts, making them more suitable for longer hauls and heavier loads. Fuel cell electric vehicles have a much higher energy density by weight, allowing them to overcome the range and weight challenges associated with battery electric vehicles. Hydrogen tanks are also more compact and lighter than an array of fully charged batteries. Plus, adding more hydrogen tanks typically costs less than adding more batteries. 

Operationally, another consideration between the technologies is the impact on vehicle downtime and overall utilization. Fuel cell electric vehicles can be refueled within minutes. This results in significantly less downtime than other alternative power solutions, allowing fuel cell vehicles to be on the road just as much as conventional vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine. 

Battery electric vehicles tend to be more useful when they can be recharged easily and have utilization patterns that allow for recharging downtime, such as a daily route that begins and ends at the same place, along with a designated charging depot. 

The continued cost evolution of infrastructure will also play an important role in the selection of the right powertrain. High power charging solutions, such as megawatt level charging, have the potential to not only reduce the charging time from hours to minutes, but also reduce the amount of on-board battery storage needed to effectively carry out a mission. Real-time or dynamic inductive charging may also contribute to reducing the onboard battery storage requirements. Battery electric vehicles would then be able to recharge themselves while in operation.  

Additionally, continued growth in the availability and distribution of hydrogen will reduce the challenges associated with hydrogen fuel costs, as well as ensuring the long-term availability of Lithium and Platinum, critical elements in batteries and hydrogen fuel cells respectively. Recycling and developing second life opportunities of these systems is also essential. 


Ultimately, it’s not a matter of which technology is better — but rather which is more suitable to a customer’s conditions and needs. Battery electric solutions can effectively serve many transportation sectors. Where they fall short, fuel cells can help accommodate.  

Cummins provides both technology options, giving our customers the power of choice backed by a century of expertise in the transportation market. Our future of transportation will be electrified, and Cummins is leading that change with a diverse portfolio of options. 

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.

Norway’s Largest Grocery Wholesaler Gives Hydrogen a Spin

ASKO truck
Electric Scania trucks powered by Cummins’ hydrogen fuel cell modules

Four electric Scania trucks powered by Cummins’ hydrogen fuel cell modules are beginning operation in Trondheim, Norway as part of a first-of-its-kind pilot with ASKO, Norway’s largest grocery wholesaler. Focused on resource efficiency, low emissions and sustainable development for its extensive distribution network, ASKO has entered a new phase with the trucks being put on the road as part of their fleet. 
And it marks a new phase for Cummins too. This successful integration is one of many supported by Cummins’ new HyPM™ HD Fuel Cell Power Modules line up. With the acquisition of Hydrogenics, Cummins is now able to provide a full product line of hydrogen fuel cell modules with a track record of being successfully integrated into numerous heavy and medium duty trucks, buses, trains, planes and boats worldwide.  
“We are excited to see these trucks begin operation and are proud to provide marketing-leading solutions to ASKO and Scania that support their operational and sustainability goals.” said Amy Adams, Vice President - Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technologies at Cummins. “Our fuel cell power modules are well suited to address Norway’s climate and terrain conditions, and we look forward to obtaining valuable insights from their performance as part of ASKO’s fleet.” 
When ASKO began exploring alternative fuel and powertrain solutions for its truck fleet in 2017, hydrogen stood out as an appealing zero-emissions option for long haul electrified transport and early tests showed that the technology worked quite well in colder climates. The 27-ton trucks’ internal combustion engines have been replaced with an electric engine, which is powered by fuel cells fed with hydrogen and managed with rechargeable batteries. The lightweight hydrogen storage system, weighing in at 33 kilograms, provides the trucks with an impressive 400-500 km range using a single 90 KW High Density Fuel Cell Power Module.  
“We are happy to have the most competent partners contracted for this project, including Scania for the electric truck, and Cummins/Hydrogenics for the integrated fuel cell and tank system,” said Jørn Arvid Endresen, Chief Executive Officer of ASKO Mid Norway. 
This pilot is the first of its kind for ASKO and will serve as the basis for further learning and development for the fleet and operations. In addition, it is putting ASKO on the path to reducing energy consumption by 20 percent, becoming a self-sufficient provider of clean energy, using 100 percent renewable fuel.  
Learn more about hydrogen-based fuel cell solutions, which emit no pollutants from the tailpipe – just water! 

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.

Hydrogen: From Firsts to Fruition

Cummins Hydrogen Firsts

The following was authored by Amy Adams, Vice President - Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Technologies at Cummins Inc.

Since 1919, Cummins has turned challenges into opportunities. We’re always looking for new solutions to power a more prosperous world — but the world has changed a lot since Cummins first opened for business. That’s why we’re living out our brand promise of innovation and dependability by expanding into new power sources.

Just as Cummins transformed diesel into a reliable, everyday power source 100 years ago, we now recognize hydrogen’s potential to transform mobility and fueling infrastructure to make fuel cells accessible on a large scale. We’re excited to have recently welcomed fuel cell and hydrogen production leader Hydrogenics as the newest addition to Cummins.

Hydrogenics’ talents, expertise and track record of delivering innovative hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen generation solutions made them stand out from other companies in the space. And because there are so many similarities between Hydrogenics and Cummins we knew we could form the perfect team.

The Hydrogenics team possesses the same entrepreneurial spirit and roll-up-your-sleeves approach that lives at the core of how Cummins does business. We both also boast a number of “firsts” that helped our customers and industries achieve new milestones.

For Cummins, these milestones make up a colorful history that began with building race cars for several Indianapolis 500 races, including the first car powered by diesel to complete the race without stopping in 1931. For Hydrogenics, monumental firsts range from the first hydrogen-powered public train to the first 1MW PEM fuel cell power generation system installed in Korea for critical power. Explore more hydrogen firsts below.

Cummins Hydrogen First - Infographic
Click on the image to explore a number of hydrogen firsts in our Hydrogen Firsts infographic. 

Going forward, Cummins will continue to build upon Hydrogenics’ legacy through fuel cell and green hydrogen generation products. By applying our latest technology in real-world settings, we’ll accomplish even more “firsts” and a few “seconds” and “thirds” as we progress in the hydrogen economy. 

Amy Adams - Cummins Inc.

Amy Adams

Amy Adams is Vice President – Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Technologies at Cummins, a global power leader. She is at the forefront of advancing Cummins’ vision to bring a diverse portfolio of power solutions to customers, working across the value chain to build and grow the company’s fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies portfolio globally. As part of this, Amy oversees the company’s hydrogen investments and partnerships, including the recently acquired Hydrogenics business.

Franklin Chang Diaz – My View from the Top

Franklin Chang Diaz - Cummins Inc.
Pictured: Franklin Chang Diaz, former NASA astronaut and current chairman and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company and board member of Cummins Inc.

When seeing the Earth from space, you experience many conflicting emotions. At once, it’s a feeling of both power and helplessness. From the window of a spacecraft, you can see the beauty of the Earth, humanity’s spacecraft, our only home — but you can also see how it’s changed over time. 

Former astronauts like myself often return from space with a renewed instinct to protect our planet. That’s why, as a Cummins board member, I’m passionate about the company’s venture into hydrogen fuel cells. 

Watch: Learn more about Dr. Chang Diaz’s view from the top. 


In my 25 years as an astronaut, I traveled on seven missions to space. The time I spent watching and observing the Earth and its changes has had a profound effect on my sense of responsibility for helping the planet. To see home while being so far from home is the most beautiful thing — but it’s deceiving to see this beautiful planet and realize all the turmoil that’s happening on the surface. 

Over the course of two decades, I saw how the Earth has changed. I saw the cutting of the rain forest in the Amazon basin, fires raging in Africa and the contamination of our oceans and air. We are a species with no redundancy, so if something happens to our planet, we become a history that no one can tell. It’s quite a sobering thought. 

As the world looks to decarbonize, Cummins, as a global power leader, is stepping up to the plate and investing in clean forms of energy, including fuel cells and hydrogen production technologies. 

Hydrogen fuel cells have been used for decades in spacecraft. A shuttle in space is actually an electric vehicle, and that electricity is produced in a fuel cell by hydrogen and oxygen. As a byproduct, fuel cells also produce large quantities of pure and clean water. This is the water we drank in space – think of the possibilities! Now, that technology has matured and we’re ready to use it to power the things we do every day, like transit, shipping, package delivery, buildings, homes, and even construction. 

Even with the many applications Cummins is exploring, we’ve just barely scratched the surface of the possibilities we can achieve with this promising technology. I envision hydrogen being involved in all power and energy purposes on Earth, including cars, trains, ships, airplanes and spacecraft. It can be a means of energy storage in locations like the moon, in the mining of asteroids and on the surface of Mars. In stationary applications, it can power buildings and data centers. It’s not an overstatement to say that hydrogen as a power source will transform life on Earth as we know it. 

As a Cummins board member, part of my responsibilities includes thinking about the long-term future of the company. Where is the company going? Where is Cummins going to be after another 100 years? While it’s hard to tell the future, I believe we can help shape it, I know that Cummins is very well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity with hydrogen technologies, a global footprint today and a planetary footprint tomorrow. 

Franklin Chang Diaz - Cummins Inc.

Franklin Chang Diaz

Franklin Chang Díaz is on the board of directors at Cummins Inc. As a board member, he is focused on representing and protecting the interests of shareholders and positioning Cummins for the future. Prior to Cummins, Díaz spent 25 years working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), manning their shuttles and working to build the International Space Station. He also served as the director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center, part of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center, for 12 years. Díaz is currently the chairman and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company, a U.S. spaceflight engineering company based in Houston, Texas.

Redirecting to

The information you are looking for is on

We are launching that site for you now.

Thank you.