Electrochemistry is for everyone

Let’s talk about electrochemistry.

It may not be rocket science, but it can sound pretty intimidating. Electrochemistry is the lifeblood of so much technology we use and depend on every day. Everything from a blood glucose sensor to water contamination detectors and even the galvanization of steel are brought to you by electrochemistry. Electrochemical reactions power everything that runs on a battery, too — whether it’s your smartphone or an electric vehicle.

Lithium-ion technology for electric vehicle batteries we use now were first developed from rechargeable batteries used in personal electronics. They’ve since evolved on a major scale and are now able to power huge machines, like on- and off-highway vehicles. 
If you’re interested in or involved in electrification, or just curious about why your everyday technology works, it’s important to understand how batteries work through electrochemistry.

Isn’t it ionic?

Battery packs that power large-scale technology are made up of individual battery cells. Every cell stores energy through chemicals. Each cell has two opposite terminals: the anode and the cathode. Surrounding the two terminals is the electrolyte: a conductive liquid that facilitates the flow of ions between the anode and the cathode.

For context, we’ll take a look at the science behind a lithium-ion battery. Most electric vehicles are powered by lithium-ion batteries. A lithium-ion battery stores positively charged lithium ions, in either the anode or cathode, depending on its charged state. When a lithium-ion battery is fully charged, it has most of its lithium ions stored in the (negative) anode.

To create electricity, the electrolyte helps positively charged lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode and electrons flow in the reverse direction through an external circuit. This produces electricity when the lithium ions interact with the terminals in a chemical reaction called a reduction-oxidation (redox) reaction. In a redox reaction, one atom gives up an electron and the other atom accepts it. 

The terminals are separated by a separator, which is made of a non-conductive polymer that is ionically conductive to allow Li-ions to pass through but is electrically insulative to prevent electrical short-circuits.

Electrochemistry information

We’ve got the power.

So, now we have electrical energy. But how do we harness it to power our phones, computers, vehicles and more?

First, the terminals are connected to an outside electron conductor, allowing electrons to flow from the anode to the cathode. Remember, this electron movement is electricity. The electricity passing through the conductor can then be intercepted and used to do many things. For example, in an electric motor, the motor is connected to the outside conductor, sitting between the anode and the cathode. The electricity powers the motor, and the electrons return to the cathode, completing the circuit.

The potential difference between a cell’s positive and negative ends (terminals) is also known as voltage. We also look at current, which the rate at which electrons flow through the circuit. The larger the voltage, and the greater the current, the more power the battery can deliver. Oftentimes, a larger device such as a car or truck, will use a battery with high voltage and high current to deliver the power to drive the wheels. With enough batteries, we can use electrochemistry to harness electricity needed to power devices of all shapes and sizes, from remote controls, to large off-highway excavators.

Electrified power is a promising solution for a number of challenges in transportation. Fully-electric vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions, creating cleaner air and a healthier environment. Electric vehicles also require less maintenance and can be equipped with advanced telematics and reporting capabilities. In its current state, electrified power has proven to be a promising solution for urban transit, delivery vehicles, passenger cars and more.

Thanks to advancements in battery technology, Cummins is making strides in the expansion of its electrified power offerings, which stand to benefit customers and the environment. By continuing to provide a world that’s always on with diverse power solutions such as electrified power, the company is helping create cleaner and more efficient roads, cities and systems — all thanks to the power of electrochemistry.

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.

The Future of Fleets: The four keys to electrification - Part 1

Electrified Power - Future of Fleets - Technological Maturity

When it comes to battery electric vehicles, there are four keys to adoption within the commercial vehicle sector. In Part 1 of our four-part blog series, we look at the first hurdle a new technology must overcome: Technological maturity.


The world’s power needs are changing. By the end of the 21st Century, we will not have the same reliance on fossil fuels. A growing number of fleets are looking to diversify how they power mobility and heavy industry.

Battery electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming viable across a broad range of applications, and the potential to transform commercial fleets is clear. What’s less understood is how we can plot a course for adoption of these technologies, bringing them into greater use in the commercial automotive sector, while maintaining productivity and prosperity.

In Cummins’ ‘Future of Fleets’ whitepaper preview series, we’ll look at the same four keys which made the internal combustion engine one of history’s most successful inventions – technological maturity, infrastructural capacity, economic reality, and regulatory surety – and outline how they must be considered as fleets diversify in the commercial vehicle sector.

Technological maturity 

The first hurdle that a technology must overcome if it’s going to be adopted for any given purpose is its ability to perform the task at hand. For the internal combustion engine, first developed in 1859, this meant providing at least as much energy output as a horse in an equivalent or smaller amount of space. Today, the physical ability of EVs to perform the task at hand needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

One technology has been the critical innovation which above all else has made modern EVs possible: the lithium-ion battery (Li-ion). Using batteries to provide power to a vehicle involves a key trade-off: movement over a large distance requires a lot of energy, but adding additional batteries also adds weight and volume, increasing the vehicle’s energy requirements even further. One of the key scientific challenges in creating batteries for vehicles, therefore, is maximizing the amount of energy they can hold in a given volume and weight; this is precisely what Li-ion batteries achieve.

As this progress continues, it will become possible to electrify more varied types of vehicles. Long-haul freight, for instance, demands a huge amount of stored energy, but adding additional battery units eats into the available storage space, making each journey less economically useful. By researching how we can store more power in a smaller space, we will enable new possibilities for electrification.

Technology is just one part of the electrification story, so stay tuned for more in part two of this blog series and download the full "Future of Fleets" whitepaper report below.

Download the report (PDF)

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.

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