LONG BEACH, Calif. — In the clearest sign yet of Cummins Inc.’s evolution from a legacy diesel engine maker, the company will work with Daimler Truck North America to fit Class 8 Freightliner Cascadias with hydrogen fuel cells.
The announcement by Cummins CEO Tom Linebarger at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo fills a big gap for Cummins, which has heavily invested in fuel cells and hydrogen production technology in recent years.
“End users say, ‘I’d like one of those fuel cells. Can you make me one?’” Linebarger said in a keynote address Wednesday. “I can make you a fuel cell. I just can’t make you a vehicle that you can drive.”
Now he can.
“The hard part is how much can we produce?” Linebarger said. “The answer of how many we can deliver and which year I don’t know yet. More customers want to try it than we can supply by a long shot. And we already have hundreds of orders from end users.”
Fuel cells rising in long-haul popularity
Cummins (NYSE: CMI) sells thousands of diesel engines to Daimler every year. And Daimler makes many of its own powertrains.
“That’s sort of the same plan here,” Linebarger told FreightWaves after his speech. “No exclusivity. No long-term commitment.”
In fact, Daimler has a joint venture with rival Volvo Group called cellcentric that expects to build fuel cells for trucks and stationary uses like data centers starting mid-decade in Europe.
Fuel cells are increasingly seen as a viable — albeit expensive — nonpolluting solution for long-haul trucking. Their only emission is water vapor. Fueling time is about the same as diesel. Hydrogen tanks weigh thousands of pounds less than battery packs on electric trucks, which cuts into cargo capacity. But they are far less energy efficient than batteries.
“It’s not an exclusive situation. They are definitely going to source from their own, and they’re going to source from us in this case,” Linebarger said. “They’re making their own fuel cell stacks. But the range of their fuel cell stacks is not the whole range of trucks they make. Plus, they’re starting in Europe and not North America. And we can start something earlier.”
Air Products and Chemicals Inc. has been working with Cummins to test fuel cells.
“We’re trying to convert our entire fleet, which is over 2,000 vehicles around the globe,” said Eric Guter, Air Products vice president of hydrogen mobility. “We produce, distribute and dispense fuels. So that’s where this comes together because of the integration of our own fleet.
“We’re incredibly excited about the ambition here,” Guter said. “We need multiple players across industry to bring together these collaborative solutions. So we’re thrilled to see this partnership that is going to help really drive the industry forward.”
Engineering work ahead
Rakesh Aneja, DTNA vice president of eMobility, said Daimler and Cummins have a lot of joint engineering ahead to determine what components could be used in the fuel cell conversions.
“Gone are the days when you can look and see,” Aneja said. “Now, you have to learn by doing. We benefited tremendously from our generation one battery-electric platform. This is our opportunity to learn how to package fuel cells in North America.”
Said Linebarger: “Both of us recognize there is so much to do here that we’re going to have to work together with capable partners to get to the markets.”
Fuel cell competition growing
Startup Hyzon Motors is just beginning to test its fuel cell trucks with U.S. customers after years of fuel cell production in Asia and Europe. Coincidentally, Hyzon converted a small number of diesel-powered Cascadias into its test trucks. At the Expo, Hyzon (NASDAQ: HYZN) announced a conversion program for recent-vintage diesel trucks.
Nikola Corp. is sticking with new hydrogen Class 8 vehicles based on the Iveco S-Way cabover truck from Europe. Nikola (NASDAQ: NKLA) is selling battery-electric versions and begins production of fuel cell variants in 2023. Nikola has no interest in retrofitting older trucks, Pablo Koziner, Nikola president of energy and commercial, told FreightWaves.
Hyundai Motors brought two of its Xcient fuel cell trucks to the ACT Expo — one for display and one for conference attendees to experience ride-and-drives. Hyundai plans to deploy 30 Class 8 6×4 Xcient fuel cell heavy-duty tractors at the Port of Oakland, California, in 2023.