A Diesel Engine Giant Pushes Batteries And Hydrogen At COP26 To Combat Climate Crisis

Cummins Inc., a century-old maker of truck engines powered by diesel and other fossil fuels, may not seem like the most likely attendee at the UN Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, but CEO Tom Linebarger was there this week telling industrial partners and customers the company is working to help them shift to low- and no-carbon vehicles powered by batteries and hydrogen.

As battery-electric passenger models gain market share in the U.S., Europe and China, attention is shifting to electrifying larger, dirtier commercial vehicles including semi-trucks, construction and mining vehicles, as well as trains, ships and aircraft. Currently, no single type of electric power train can easily scale to handle light and heavy-duty vehicle categories, so it’s necessary to use both, Linebarger tells Forbes.

“If you’re flogging one thing and you trash the other, it’s not a good plan for meeting the challenge of climate change,” he said from Glasgow. “Climate change is the existential crisis of our time. It’s just not a good idea to argue about whether batteries are better than fuel cells.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose company has become synonymous with electric cars, is among the most vocal critics of using hydrogen as a transportation fuel, citing its inefficiency relative to batteries and the high cost of the fuel cell stacks that make electric power from hydrogen and oxygen. Yet makers of trucks and commercial vehicles that need to travel long distances aren’t convinced that multi-ton, lithium-ion battery packs that need relatively long recharge times are the best option.

(Notably, Musk also doesn’t launch his SpaceX rockets with batteries, but instead a blend of kerosene and liquid oxygen that spew climate-warming black carbon, or soot.)

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

Rather than storing electricity as batteries do, fuel cells make it as needed in an electrochemical process involving hydrogen and oxygen that emits only water as a by-product. Columbus, Indiana-based Cummins is far from alone in pushing hydrogen to power heavy-duty vehicles. Toyota, Hino, Hyundai Motor, Volvo, Daimler, Nikola, General Motors and Navistar have their own hydrogen-fueled plans.

They say the technology is better suited for heavy trucks that drive hundreds of miles per day than multi-ton batteries, such as those required by Tesla’s long-delayed electric Semi, as the fuel cell power train is lighter and can be refueled about as quickly as a diesel truck.

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

“To bring battery-charging stations to every farm and every application, it’s just incredibly expensive, versus to make hydrogen available, which is transportable,” Linebarger says. “And vice versa . . . hydrogen is just not a good fuel when you can charge your cars at home and have to transport hydrogen around. You just lose too much efficiency.”

During the international conference, Cummins met with operators of large commercial fleets who are eager to make them more sustainable but are running into practical challenges to do so.

“There’s many big fleets here, actually. Their sustainability leaders here meeting with us are saying, ‘How can they hit these goals? And how can we help them do that faster?’” Amy Davis, president of Cummins’ New Power Segment, said from Glasgow. “They’re getting their head around last-mile trucks, but what about long-haul?

It can’t get there right now and [saying] ‘I couldn’t even charge three of my trucks at once, given the system that’s out there for charging. So what are we going to do?’ This is where fuel cell electric drive train can be quite complementary with the battery work that’s going on.”

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

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

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More Contents:

Business, Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN. “Why electric cars are so much heavier than regular cars

 

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