There has been an increased drive toward a hydrogen ecosystem, primarily driven by proponents of environmentally sustainable energy and technology companies with hydrogen-based solutions. Globally, we see increased subsidies and incentives focused on hydrogen-based technologies and infrastructure. Also, advancements in fuel cells have made the technology more feasible for commercial use.
Improving proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology performance characteristics, particularly life and durability, efficiency and freeze-start capabilities, could make fuel cells a credible alternative for commercial and industrial applications. The application of PEM fuel cells to commercial vehicle applications is exciting. Particularly those applications with productivity or longer daily range needs that cannot be accomplished by batteries.
Joining the Hydrogen Council steering committee provides a great platform to collaborate with experts and companies with a similar vision of the future. Cummins is participating in the Costa Rica hydrogen ecosystem project by sponsoring a hydrogen fuel cell bus. Phase 1 of the project demonstrated technical feasibility and Phase 2 aims to demonstrate financial viability. Phase 2 will feature a Cummins electric powertrain and a fuel cell electric powertrain in two buses. As a part of our promise to provide customers with the ‘Power of Choice’ to meet their unique application needs, Cummins is actively working towards developing a fuel cell powertrain option to complement our power solutions portfolio.
We are investing in fuel cell technologies that will utilize hydrogen and convert it to electricity. We are also exploring fuel cell powertrains, fuel cell range-extender powertrains, and stationary fuel cell systems.
Infrastructure growth and the cost of hydrogen fuel are the biggest obstacles to widespread adoption. This is a particular challenge for transportation applications. Government subsidies and incentives will drive infrastructure growth, and zero carbon/zero emissions regulations will spur innovation to lower hydrogen costs.
Government legislation and subsidies, particularly in China, have resulted in bigger fleet deployments of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. For example, Dongfeng Special Vehicles has delivered 500 FC light-duty trucks in Shanghai working with various fuel cell system partners. The technology is moving past a demonstration phase into active fleets and ecosystems. These broader deployments will, in turn, support the case for infrastructure growth.
With the recent buzz around a hydrogen economy and proposals for carbon-free zones in major cities, there is a misconception that hydrogen-based powertrains will be the solution to all applications in all markets. While hydrogen fuel cells will have a place in vehicular applications, they will coexist with battery electric, diesel, gasoline, and other hydrocarbon-based fuel engine solutions.
The investments and activities that are happening in China, specifically in the Yunfu Fuel Cell park (Foshan (Yunfu) Industrial Transfer Park in Yunfu, Guangdong Province), is quite impressive. Stack manufacturers, system developers, truck/bus OEM’s, and hydrogen infrastructure providers all coexist in a massive complex aimed at delivering a hydrogen ecosystem.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology that, for the last fifty years has been thought to be a decade in the future, is now rapidly progressing closer to commercial viability.