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Cummins Continues Advancing Diesel Technology

Many of the advances in diesel technology demonstrated in SuperTruck 1 are in production to improve fuel economy and, by extension, reduce greenhouse gases. Those innovations are extending the life of diesel engines as other environmentally friendly technologies are developed. Photo courtesy Cummins.com

Cummins Inc. is pouring research money into a host of future technologies that will replace the company’s offering of diesel engines.

While important, that doesn’t mean diesel engines are going to be gone tomorrow.

The diesel engine segment of Cummins’ business will be part of the company’s present and short-term future even as electric engines, fuel cells and electrolyzer technology is perfected.

“Our view is that the tail end of diesel will be a lot longer than people expected,” said Tom Linebarger, Cummins president and CEO, during a conference call with industry analysts this week. “And that’s not because we sit around and hope for the preservation of diesel. It’s because the diesel market is so complicated.”

Diesel engines have a variety of uses – buses, trains, agricultural equipment, boats and barges, generators and construction equipment. In each of those categories are a myriad of uses for diesel engines. Electric motor designs won’t be able to replace all those different types of diesel engines all at once.

“There are so many applications,” Linebarger said. “A hundred years of applications and it’s not like cars, where there’s just one application. There’s hundreds or thousands and each one of them has unique demand and scale. It’s very difficult to achieve in some of these. And so we see the demand for diesel lasting a long time and that’s why this investment in both helping customers that are trying to move otu of diesel as well as trying to think through how do we invest in those technologies to decarbonize through renewable natural gas or hydrogen ICE engines, or hybrids, or other things is a good investment because it allows these applications to move down the carbon curve, have less carbon out, lower criteria pollutants in an engineering way and cost way that’s going to drive utilization and people are actually going to use it and not just delay purchases.”

Last November, Dr. Wayne Eckerle, Cummins vice president of research and technology, told those attending the Diesel Technology Forum that initiatives such as the Supertruck II are already under way to explore ways to increase the efficiency of modern diesel engines and long-haul tractor-trailers. Innovations being worked on at Cummins include advances in waste-heat recovery, engine controls, reducing engine friction, aerodynamic vehicle design and others that will lower the carbon emissions from big rigs.

In 2018, Cummins introduced an emisssions control sy stem that meets EuroVII regulations by combining turbocharged air management with exhaust aftertreatment as a single close-coupled system, together with a new rotary turbine control. The designed used Cummins’ advances in air and thermal management to convert almost all nitrogen emissions to clean gas as it intenracts with the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) unit.

Since around 1990, modern diesen enginens have reduced both particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen, which contribute to smog, by about 98%, according to the Diesel Technology Forum. Forum members say it would take 60 of today’s cleaner diesel trucks to equal emissions to equal the emissions of one diesel truck sold in 1988.

When asked by an industry analyst how long diesel engines will continue to be used, Linebarger said there is no way to know for sure because the answer depends on how quickly economically viable alternatives are developed for all of the ways diesel engines are used.

“And the answer about how long is unfortunately, for people that want a simple answer, it depends on how — it’s complicated,” Linebarger said. “It will last a really long time if you mean all of them. If you mean the one-truck application, our largest volume, it might happen sooner than the last unusual kind of truck — that’s a very small volume. But the accumulation of all those curves and all those applications means diesel is around a long time. And these new applications, the lower carbon ones, are going to be introduced starting now and all the way through the 2030s.”

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