Hydrogen Rises as Alternative Fuel, but Check the Feedstock

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Hydrogen is rising as an eventual clean alternative option for fueling trucks but the feedstock used to produce it — by steam methane reforming, using coal or with solar panel-generated electricity — affects its carbon impact.

For now, several different colors are used to identify each process, with black being the dirtiest and green the cleanest. Hydrogen engine maker Cummins Inc. would like to see a different gauge.

“We are aware of the industry jargon on colors. They are not standard, but they are ways to take that [carbon impact] and put it into everyday conversation,” said Jim Nebergall, general manager of Cummins’ hydrogen engine business.

RELATED: Industry Shows Interest in Cummins’ Hydrogen Engines

It’s important to understand the full story of the fuel, he said, and how much carbon was put in the atmosphere in the creation of any type of fuel.

“It’s not obvious what the right solution is there for how we talk about it and track it,” he added. “I think it would be nice for the industry to come up with just a carbon-intensity measure.”

But Cummins believes the choice on using a hydrogen fuel with any of the various carbon intensities in its history is up to the end user.

“They put the fuel in. It’s the same hydrogen. It’s just how was it created. And that’s really going to be up to the fuel companies, and what they are delivering to the pump. We would like to see green,” Nebergall said.

As for performance, he added, an engine or fuel cell won’t be able to tell where the hydrogen came from, it’s just fuel. 

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