Diesel engine giant pushes batteries and hydrogen at COP26 to fight climate crisis

Cummins Inc., a century-old manufacturer of diesel and other fossil-fueled truck engines, may not seem like the most likely participant at the COP26 United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, but the CEO Tom Linebarger was there this week to tell industry partners and customers the company is working to help them transition to low-carbon, carbon-free vehicles powered by batteries and hydrogen.

As battery-electric passenger models gain market share in the United States, Europe and China, attention is shifting to the electrification of larger, dirtier commercial vehicles, including semi-trucks, construction and mining vehicles, as well as trains, ships and airplanes. Currently, no type of electric powertrain can easily scale to handle both light and heavy vehicle classes, so there is a need to use both, says Linebarger. Forbes.

“If you whip one thing and destroy the other, it’s not a good plan to tackle the challenge of climate change,” he said from Glasgow. “Climate change is the existential crisis of our time. It is just not a good idea to discuss whether batteries are better than fuel cells.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose company has become synonymous with electric cars, is among the the most virulent critics to use hydrogen as a transport fuel, citing its inefficiency compared to batteries and the high cost of fuel cells that generate electricity from hydrogen and oxygen. Yet manufacturers of trucks and utility vehicles that have to travel long distances are not convinced that multi-ton lithium-ion batteries requiring relatively long recharge times are the best option. (Notably, Musk also doesn’t launch his SpaceX rockets with batteries, but rather a mix of kerosene and liquid oxygen this spitting carbon black or soot that warms the climate.)

The move away from carbon-based fuels was a key topic for COP26 negotiators and seemed to have made a historic breakthrough with a first draft agreement calling for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. But one second draft appeared to soften the language as major oil and gas producers struggle to save subsidies.

Rather than storing electricity like batteries do, fuel cells manufacture it as needed in an electrochemical process involving hydrogen and oxygen that emits only water as a byproduct. . Cummins, based in Columbus, Indiana, is far from alone in pushing hydrogen to power heavy vehicles. Toyota, Hino, Hyundai Motor, Volvo, Daimler, Nikola, General Motors, and Navistar have their own hydrogen fuel plans. They say the technology is better suited to heavy-duty trucks that travel hundreds of miles per day than multi-ton batteries, such as those required by Tesla’s time-delay electric semi-electric, because the fuel cell powertrain is lighter and can be refueled about as quickly. like a diesel truck.

Cummins sees batteries as a better option for smaller, lighter types of vehicles that don’t need to travel long distances, but not as convenient for users in remote areas or that require more types of applications. heavy.

“Bringing battery charging stations to every farm and every application is just incredibly expensive, compared to making hydrogen available, which is transportable,” says Linebarger. “And vice versa … hydrogen just isn’t a good fuel when you can charge your cars at home and have to haul hydrogen around. You are just losing too much efficiency.

During the international conference, Cummins met with operators of large commercial fleets who want to make them more sustainable, but face practical challenges in doing so.

“There are a lot of big fleets here, actually. Their sustainability managers who meet with us say, “How can they achieve these goals? And how can we help them do it faster? ‘ Said Amy Davis, president of Cummins’ New Power Segment, from Glasgow. “They care about last mile trucks, but what about long haul? He can’t do it now and [saying] “I couldn’t even charge three of my trucks at once, given the charging system in place. So what are we going to do? ‘ This is where the electric fuel cell powertrain can be quite complementary with the ongoing battery work.

But even as electric powertrain technologies advance, other options shouldn’t be overlooked in the short term, says Linebarger.

“We should even start on the technologies we have today, like low carbon fuels, natural gas, renewable natural gas in (internal combustion) engines because we are running out of time. It’s that simple, ”he said. “We are putting carbon in the atmosphere that we cannot remove, so we have to act on each of them.”

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