Refilling the Cummins “hydrogen diesel” (possibly coming to Ram)

Some time ago, we posted a story on Stellantis’ hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). That is one path forward for areas where battery-electric vehicles aren’t practical, but it’s likely Ram heavy duty pickups will have another option: Cummins 6.7 liter B-type diesels hydrogen engines.

Cummins, a pioneer in diesel engines (having run them at the Indy 500), helped to rebuild Dodge’s lagging truck sales back in the 1990s; indeed, without Cummins, there might not be Ram trucks today. The company has been in the vanguard of alternative powertrains and hydrogen separation.

2020 Cummins logo

Cummins announced earlier this year “the industry’s first unified, fuel-agnostic engines,” using core components, including blocks, that can handle different “lower carbon” fuels. The B-engine used by Ram is one of the engines that will be made in multiple forms (to take diesel, CNG, hydrogen, gasoline, or propane), largely by changing components above the head gasket. That saves money and cuts parts inventories.

Recently, Commercial Carrier Journal interviewed a Cummins representative after witnessing a fast-refill of a 15-liter truck engine. Senior editor Tom Quimby pointed out that public hydrogen filling stations are fairly rare, with just 48 in the United States—all in California. Cummins will be working with other companies to add filling stations at Love’s truck stops across the country.

The 15-liter hydrogen engine, which provides 500 miles of range (roughly double the Freightliner eCascadia and Volvo VNR electric trucks), refills in just 10 to 15 minutes. That’s almost certainly much faster than battery-electric trucks, which are presumably aimed mostly at shorthaul operations.

cummins propane-diesel-hydrogen engines

The 15-liter engine won’t be available until 2027; Cummins has not provided a timetable for the 6.7 engine, but if it’s on a similar timetable, Ram will almost certainly be doing a hydrogen fuel cell setup first. Earlier, Cummins reported that the first of its revised engines, which could be the 6.7 but could also be the L9, would be ready in 2024, in plenty of time for Ram’s launch. Buyers might also be able to choose a Ram 4500 chassis cab (or Ram 3500 pickup, and so on) that runs on natural gas; the cost to test and certify each fuel, though, will be quite expensive, so there may only be one option.

Power ratings for the 15-liter engine “overlap” the range of power ratings for their diesel versions.

Hydrogen internal combustion engines bring a 99% reduction on carbon dioxide emissions, with a small amount of carbon from burned oil. Oxides of nitrogen are extremely small—“a 75% reduction in NOx from today’s standards,” according to the story. NOx is mainly produced during acceleration.

Cummins also has a fuel-cell demonstration truck.

Hydrogen truck background

Few have seriously developed hydrogen power for commuter cars, because of the size and weight of the tanks. Hydrogen is most practical in large vehicles which have room for tanks, or which are run by professionals who can use fleet-focused refilling stations. Class 8 long-haul trucks would be a major boon, partly because such trucks gulp down hundreds of gallons of diesel in their runs; are driven by well-trained people; and can rely on a relatively small number of filling stations. Even if the trucks cost more, they would rapidly pay back the investment in lower fuel costs and reduce overall transportation costs.

Cummins FCEV truck

One type of hydrogen vehicle uses fuel cells to generate electricity which then power motors; a less common variety uses internal combustion to burn hydrogen directly. Internal combustion hydrogen engines are more efficient under high load, which makes them ideal for some heavy trucks; and they can use lower-grade (less pure) hydrogen than FCEVs.

Hydrogen is usually taken from fossil fuels now, but increasingly hydrogen is being isolated from water in renewable-energy-supplied plants (e.g. solar panels or wind turbines when their power is not needed).


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