There are very few good options for replacing diesel engines in plant machinery and most of them involve hydrogen.
Batteries are an option for smaller machines operating in urban areas where there is a ready supply of electricity for recharging. For the bigger beasts of the construction world and those operating in remote sites and quarries, batteries are not an option – about 97% of construction machines are refuelled while working on site.
Both hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen combustion engines solve the remote refuelling issue because hydrogen can be delivered to sites in much the same way as diesel.
After spending a year testing hydrogen fuel cells in the JCB 220X excavator in 2020-21, the company concluded that the high levels of dust and vibration in the places they would be operating ruled out fuel cells in the medium-term.
That left hydrogen combustion as the only serious option left for JCB, which unveiled its first prototype hydrogen-fuelled piston engine in May 2021 and six months later announced an increase in the number of engineers working on the development of its hydrogen engines from 100 to 150 and a plan to invest £100 million in the technology. It expects to have the engine ready for pre-production by the end of 2022 [IS THIS STILL TRUE?].
JCB also solved one of the major logistical challenges facing the adoption of hydrogen fuel earlier this year when it unveiled the world’s first mobile site hydrogen refueller for its hydrogen-powered backhoe loaders and telehandlers.
The practicalities of refuelling aren’t the only reason JCB went with hydrogen combustion. Everything below the cylinder head apart from the pistons is the same as in its diesel engines, meaning it can use 70% of its existing parts and supply chain.
That also allows the thousands of mechanics and engineers around the world that already know how to service their JCB machinery won’t have to completely reskill, minimising the cost of transition for its customers.
U.S. engine manufacturer Cummins has been researching hydrogen combustion products since mid-2021 and recently announced an agreement with agricultural equipment company Versatile to develop a hydrogen-powered tractor.
“I’m optimistic that hydrogen combustion engines will start to get some traction toward the end of the decade,” Jeremy Carson, off-highway director for Cummins, told Equipment World recently. “The capex expense on the front end, for a hydrogen combustion engine is definitely going to be less than a full-on hydrogen fuel cell, which will help make it a near-term solution.”
The R 9XX H2, developed by Liebherr-France SAS in Colmar, has also adopted hydrogen combustion engine instead of fuel cells. The engine can reduce CO2 emissions by almost 100% on a tank-to-wheel basis or by 70% cradle-to-grave, i.e., including the manufacture of the engine itself, Liebherr says.
Companies such as Ryze Hydrogen are putting in place the infrastructure to produce, transport and distribute clean hydrogen, meaning consumers, including the construction industry are assured to have access to adequate supply.
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The future of plant machinery is hydrogen. The only question is how fast we will get there.
SOURCE: RIZE HYDROGEN