When you hear the name Cummins, I can almost guarantee you think of diesel engines. After all, that’s what their entire business is built on.
But, what if I told you they’re venturing into the world of hydrogen engines and could eventually replace their massively successful and long line of diesel engines?
It sounds crazy. Why on earth would Cummins pursue hydrogen-powered engines when their entire business model is built on designing and producing diesel engines?
And yea, it does sound a little crazy, but it’s true. So, let’s dive into it.
Right off the bat, the question is why would Cummins decide to develop a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine.
Well, we’re seeing more and more and more money dumped into electric vehicle systems by the day, with many large companies like Ford putting millions of dollars into EV systems.
And we know from the EPA’s scheduled emissions restrictions, that life for gasoline and diesel-powered engines is going to get very difficult, if not outright impossible, in the near future. And keep in mind, that’s not to say that the free market is going to willingly choose electric over fossil fuel vehicles anytime soon due to pricing and range concerns, but rather that it’s being forced by a branch of the US government.
And because of that, we have seen electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles popping up left and right by just about every major automaker.
And while I will say that vehicle electrification is perfectly fine for individuals who travel mostly in cities and don’t use their vehicles for work, what about off-highway uses or heavy-duty uses?
Well, you might be thinking we have electric semi trucks coming soon, but there’s a huge amount of work to be done before said electric semis are useful for long-distance hauling of goods. The massive infrastructure isn’t there yet. That’s not to say that it won’t be or can’t be there. It’s just simply not yet.
Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that lithium mining is incredibly destructive, cobalt mining involves literal child labor in the Democratic Public of Congo in some of the worst conditions imaginable, and the power required to charge electric vehicles is still being supplied by fossil fuel power plants.
And that still doesn’t cover off-highway applications where electric simply isn’t a great option. for a vehicle.
If you wanted to use vehicles for an off-highway construction site, you’d likely need massive diesel generators out there to recharge the vehicles, which kind of defeats the entire purpose. Seriously, don’t underestimate the ridiculous amount of electricity required to power electric vehicles and machinery.
So, that brings us back to the internal combustion engine, but we know the EPA regulations will eventually force gas and diesel out of the market.
Making the Internal Combustion Engine Clean
So, if you want to keep the internal combustion engine in use, you have to switch the fuel source to something cleaner, which is exactly why Cummins has been putting money into hydrogen-powered engine solutions for on-the-road trucking, off-highway construction, and so on.
And with something like Cummins generator, then you could more easily have the electrical generation required to power off-highway construction with electric vehicles bringing materials in and out. Or just having electric construction equipment like an excavator and so on.
That doesn’t mean we will see electric excavators or anything like that become very popular anytime soon, but you get the point.
So that takes us to Cummins’ two new hydrogen-powered engines, which are actually based very much on two diesel engines that already exist in Cummins’ portfolio, which are the 6.7L that you can find in an application like the Ram 2500 and the 15L that you can find in applications like commercial trucks.
And even more interestingly, Cummins isn’t developing these as strictly hydrogen-fueled engines, but rather as fuel agnostic engines that can use be powered by either diesel or hydrogen, which then massively eases concerns regarding the lacking infrastructure required for a strictly hydrogen engine.
They’re doing this by sharing a common short-block between the existing diesel engines and the new hybrid fuel engines while using some new components from the head gasket up.
By sharing as many parts as they can with their existing diesel engines, it not only saves them time and money on the development, but it also makes it easier to one day convert existing 6.7L and 15L Cummins diesel engines over to the hybrid fuel system, at least in theory.
And on top of that, they’re not even stopping there! This new fuel-agnostic platform is also expanding to biogas fuel and HVO fuel, giving prospective buyers lots of options coming in the very near future. For now, though, the big news and attention mostly lie on hydrogen fuel engines, and well part of that is because they’re not exactly practical yet.
The Hurdles of Hydrogen-Powered Engines
And we’ve mentioned this in previous articles and videos before and saw literally thousands of comments saying that hydrogen-powered vehicles are superior to electric vehicles because hydrogen is “free to generate,” according to many people, but there’s just one problem: actually generating the hydrogen. It’s almost like free energy isn’t a real thing.
See, a lot of people will find YouTube articles and videos about hydrogen generators. How you can plug one into your car, and don’t get me wrong, that’s all very interesting. I’ve even built multiple small hydrogen generators myself, but building an onboard hydrogen generator that can power a 6.7L or 15L engine simply isn’t practical.
So, the other solution for using hydrogen as a fuel source is having storage tanks on board where liquid hydrogen can be pumped into the vehicle as a gas pump would, but the thing is, hydrogen isn’t a liquid, at least not unless cooled to -423F.
Now obviously, that in itself takes energy, and then the hydrogen won’t say in that liquid state as it heats back up, which then means you need to have massively pressurized holding tanks to keep it in that liquid state, which then means you cannot use your standard fuel tank; it has to be swapped out.
We’re not saying that a hydrogen-powered future is impossible, but simply that current technology is going to force the use of hydrogen fuel pumps since onboard generation isn’t practical for engines this large.
And if it takes electricity to generate hydrogen through electrolysis, why not just use that energy to drive a motor connected to the wheels in the first place?
That takes us right back to the start, but you get the point, there are hurdles that must be cleared for hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines to be adopted.
On the bright side, hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines actually use very similar components to compressed natural gas engines, which simplifies the development process even further.
And because the Cummins hydrogen engines are based on existing Cummins diesel engines, it almost entirely eliminates possible reliability issues, since existing Cummins diesel engines are very reliable.
Or at least as reliable as they can be given the emissions systems that must be equipped onboard.
That also means it bolts up to the existing transmission offered for the diesel counterparts, uses the same cooling system, and much more.
Will This Kill the Diesel Segment?
In a video put out by Cummins, you can see the 6.7L hydrogen engine outputs an impressive 216kw and 1200nm, which translates to 290hp and 885lb-ft of torque for us Americans who can’t use the metric system to save our lives.
And for Cummins, they believe that hydrogen-powered engines will be complementary to battery electric vehicles like buses and trucks, but that one powertrain type won’t completely replace the other.
There will be use cases for both, and that’s what Cummins is attempting to prepare for.
So, is the Cummins diesel segment dead? No, far from it. In fact, if Cummins can develop solutions to clean up their diesel engines even further, we could see diesel-powered engines stick around for a long, long time.
But, with the upcoming EPA regulations, Cummins is preparing the diversify their product line with hydrogen engines. And it’s also worth noting that Cummins isn’t doing this completely on their own.
Over in Japan, companies like Mazda, Yamaha, Toyota, and Kawasaki have all banded together to develop hydrogen solutions. All of these companies compete with each other in some way, yet they’re working together towards saving the internal combustion engine.
Cummins is also working with various other companies to further push this technology and make it a truly viable solution, because, again, battery electric vehicles are simply impractical for long-distance over-the-road trucking and off-highway construction, at least for now.
While all of this is very interesting and exciting, we likely won’t be seeing either the 6.7L or 15L hydrogen engines enter production for quite a while. As per Cummins, the 15L engine will enter full production in 2027, and the 6.7L should be as soon as 2023.
So what do you guys think? Do you think hydrogen Cummins engines will be the future of heavy-duty applications, or will electric find a way to take over? The next decade or so will see a massive amount of changes and innovations in the world of engines, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.