Cummins Leader Says past Successes Can Inform Carbon-Neutral Future

Mar 29, 2021 9:05 AM ET

When Cummins’ Chief Technical Officer thinks about the global power leader’s aspiration to be carbon neutral by 2050, he’s inspired by the industry’s past success fighting smog.

“What gives me confidence that we’re actually going to be able to get there is looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing the innovation that has occurred over the last 30 years to get us to where we’re at today,” Jim Fier told participants at Work Truck Week 2021, a celebration of the commercial truck business, which was held virtually this month because of the pandemic.

Thirty years ago, diesel engine makers began what would be a remarkable success story. Working to meet increasingly tougher standards set by government regulators, the industry steadily reduced oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emissions, two key contributors to smog.

Today, the industry’s NOx emissions are down more than 90% compared to the mid-1980s and early 1990s and PM has been reduced more than 95%.

It wasn’t easy. There were plenty of misses along the way. But eventually ultra-low sulfur fuels, increasingly sophisticated emission control devices and other innovations enabled today’s diesel engines to reach near-zero emission levels for NOx and PM.

The Diesel Technology Forum, a not-for-profit dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel, and technology, estimates it would take 60 18-wheel trucks today to equal the emissions of just one 18-wheeler built before 1988.

Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the aspiration included in PLANET 2050, the company’s environmental sustainability strategy, won’t be easy and Cummins can’t do it alone. Technology has to be developed, infrastructure has to be established to support the technology and most importantly customers have to adopt and embrace the technology.

Cummins is developing battery electric and fuel cell electric technology to prepare for the transition to a carbon neutral future. Fier said the company is also working to improve its diesel engines, exploring everything from alternate fuels to technology advances to reduce carbon. And natural gas engines as well as hybrid engines, combining electric and diesel, could serve as an important bridge to the future as the infrastructure develops to support low-carbon technologies.

The good news at this early moment? This new challenge is precisely what engineers live for.

“It is so much fun trying to get in and solve some of these problems and know you’re helping people doing it,” said Fier, an employee at Cummins for more than more than 30 years. “…There are over 11,000 engineers just waiting to get at these problems. That’s what we do as engineers. We solve problems and that’s what’s exciting for us.”