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Cummins furthers investment in fuel cell technology

Canadian company Loop Energy, a manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cell electric range extenders for medium- and heavy-duty transport applications, recently announced that it has received a cash investment from Cummins Inc, one of the world’s largest heavy-duty truck engine manufacturers.

This follows hard on the heels of a deal Cummins closed on the $385 million acquisition of Hydrogenics, the Ontario based hydrogen fuel cell producer.

“Cummins is investing in a broad portfolio of power solutions, including advancements in hydrogen fuel cell technologies and the electrification of commercial applications," said Thad Ewald, Cummins’ Vice President of Corporate Strategy in a press statement.

“This investment is continued evidence of our commitment to next-generation trucking technologies, and we look forward to working with Loop Energy to further validate the provision of zero-emissions fuel cell range extenders for customers," he said.

While Loop wouldn’t divulge how much the investment is worth, it has been described as a “good-sized” equity investment in terms of where the company is currently situated.

Cummins will be using Loop Energy’s range extenders in demonstration truck projects.

Loop Energy developed a fuel cell range extender that can be used in hybrid electric vehicles.

It acts as a generator that allows for battery electric vehicles to have smaller battery packs.

“The fact one of the world’s largest engine manufacturers is investing in fuel cell technology bodes well for the industry as a whole,” said Loop Energy CEO Ben Nyland.

“It tells us that fuel cells have arrived and what we’re seeing globally is a massive shift towards this ground-breaking technology.

“In North America we’re maybe not seeing it quite as much just yet, mainly because of the current political environment, but in Europe there’s a significant shift towards hydrogen fuel cells,” he said.

“And in China there’s a huge shift going on. Cummins is a very large diesel engine company with significant interests in China.”

Loop’s no-compromise module is said to provide a breakthrough in terms of cost and power density, allowing truck operators to transition to zero-emissions without an impact to cost of ownership.

Hydrogen fuel cells are gaining interest from truck industry leaders as they can facilitate the transition from vehicles running on fossil fuels to sustainable electric solutions.

According to Loop Energy, fuel cell range extended vehicles in commercial transport applications emit zero greenhouse gases or pollutant emissions.

The company also claims there is no impact to vehicle payload weight, power demands or refuelling time compared to battery-only systems.

Meanwhile, in other automotive hydrogen fuel cell news, Korean automaker Hyundai claims sales of its Nexo – the firm’s second-generation production fuel cell passenger car launched last year – are being held back by limited production capacity, but still growing exponentially.

According to Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell business head Dr Sae-Hoon Kim, the company had planned to sell around 1,500 cars in 2019.

However, in Korea alone 5,500 cars have been ordered, meaning supply has been cut off for potential US and European buyers.

“We have to do what makes most business sense, and with good subsidies available in Korea that could be cut off at any time the decision was made to fulfil those orders,” said Kim.

“We are doing our best to meet demand, but it keeps on growing.”

As a result Hyundai has invested in upping its production capacity of fuel cell vehicles to 40,000 per year, on a par with Toyota’s current projections.

While these figures remain tiny in global car production terms, and even compared to battery-electric production numbers, Kim says that it brings production ever-closer to a point that it is commercially viable.

“At around 200,000 units a year you get the scale to buy the materials you need at a cost that could put a hydrogen car on a cost par with today’s battery-electric vehicles,” he said.

“At the current rate of demand, I can see that happening within five years.”

Kim also said Hyundai’s recent work in developing fuel cell technology for commercial vehicles was a priority for advancing the uptake of hydrogen.

“The key is that you need five to ten times more durability than for a passenger car, around one million kilometres,” he said.

“We can see today how we get to 500,000km in two to three years, and from there it is possible to take the next steps with the stack design, I believe," said Kim.

"These improvements don’t necessarily add cost – if you improve technology, sometimes it can reduce costs.”

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