Cummins looks forward with hydrogen engine plans

Bartholomew County’s biggest employer made some groundbreaking news with the recent announcement of a project with a U.K. nonprofit to develop two hydrogen-fueled engines for potential medium- and heavy-duty uses. It’s the latest demonstration that Cummins Inc. is moving forward responsibly, globally, and with a technology-first approach to address pressing challenges.

Hydrogen-fueled vehicles have long been viewed as an elusive “holy grail” alternative to those that burn fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The arguments for hydrogen are simple: Hydrogen is the most abundant element, and the only emissions from hydrogen-fueled vehicles are water and warm air, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Even electric vehicles often are indirectly running on fossil fuels when they are recharged through the power grid.

The challenge has been how to engineer safe and reliable systems to power hydrogen vehicles, as well as how to build the infrastructure to refuel them. But already, carmakers such as Honda and Toyota have rolled out passenger cars that incorporate hydrogen fuel cells. The game is on.

Cummins announced in July it was testing a hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine to “meet the energy and environmental needs of the future.” The deal announced last week furthers that work.

Bankrolled by the U.K.’s Advanced Propulsion Centre, Cummins will lead the “BRUNEL” Project in Darlington, England, which seeks to develop a “zero carbon, hydrogen-fueled engine” to “help decarbonize heavy-duty transport.” The project aims to develop a 6.7-liter medium-duty engine sufficient for trucks, buses, construction equipment and similar uses, as well as a 15-liter engine that could power heavy-duty, long-haul trucks.

The goal, the Advanced Propulsion Centre said, was demonstrating that “tailpipe CO2 emissions can be virtually eliminated while retaining diesel-like levels of performance.”

That would be some heavy lifting.

But imagine what a change this could make if the gifted scientific minds at Cummins and their colleagues can crack the code and make the dream of hydrogen a reality for the largest, heaviest vehicles. The benefits for the environment would be clear, but the forward momentum of such efforts holds the promise of new jobs in an industry purposefully shifting toward cleaner, greener, cutting-edge technology.

Standing still and relying on carbon fuels without adapting to the real challenges of climate change would be irresponsible. Smart companies, even in the heaviest industries, realize this. Cummins’ moves to develop hydrogen propulsion expand on its prior work on alternative energy systems and demonstrate industry leadership and a commitment to stewardship of our environment.

These are not mutually exclusive aims.

Cummins’ efforts to develop hydrogen engines don’t just burnish its image as a responsible business. They also demonstrate a focus on the future and an eagerness to drive change.

Columbus is fortunate to be home to such a forward-thinking corporate citizen.