JCB & their Net-Zero Journey – Hydrogen in the Construction Sector

This article looks at a new development from JCB, which looks to offer a solution to the demanding need for green growth in the construction industry, which has a reputation for being high carbon emitting sector and is very conservative about new technology especially in competitive and price-conscious projects.

Hydrogen could be an answer for this demanding sector. It can be generated sustainably from renewable energy, such as solar or wind-power & has one valuable property over traditional fuels, such as diesel, since its combustion product is water rather than CO2.

I spoke with Bob Womersley – Director of Product Innovation at JCB on how new and developing alternative fuelled mobile equipment can compete with traditional diesel-powered machines, both now and in our transition to a NetZero future.

“JCB for a number of years has been pursuing a low carbon technical strategy, which generally is driven by efficiency systems making all the power delivery systems on the machine, more efficient. A few years ago, we embarked on machinery electrification, and we will we launched the world’s first fully electric excavator around three years ago on our award winning product and it’s wanted fast excavator. And that was the first of what we now have is seven, fully electrified products.

What we’ve learned during that journey is that electrification is splendid. It’s great in many respects, and yet there’s some fairly significant hurdles into widespread deployment. One is scaling it as the machines become heavier. So are electric machines. Some of the most heavy electric machines we’ve got presently are, about four tonnes and as the machines get heavier, typically they do more due to more hours in the working day and therefore the energy content required on the machine gets larger.

Electrification becomes a really significant problem. One, the bulk of the battery packs, two is the size of the battery packs, and three is, that is the cost and then four, which is probably the killer would be the time it takes to recharge the electric machines.

Consequently, there isn’t the time to recharge a high amount of electrical energy, as it is going to take a serious electrical power delivery, and it takes a seriously long time to do it. And caught or downtime playing with the machines cost.

So the battery machines, unfortunately, have been significantly more expensive than the diesel machines that we sell. So a number of years now, we’ve been working on hydrogen propulsion hydrogen works. Hydrogen is great as a fuel for deploying to wherever the job site is, whether it’s a farm or a construction site or quarry, you need to get the energy to it. So getting the fuel to site is, obviously, customer practice with diesel, but hydrogen can be that way as well, where you take the hydrogen fuel to where the machines operating. And what’s more, it can be refilled really quickly. So you know that the refuelling point on this, this machine is here. It’s a straightforward business and in a matter of minutes, the machine can replenish its full energy content.

Now, in the early stage of the hydrogen development, we’re working on hydrogen fuel cells. We’ve got fuel cell heavy excavators, but they’re in the public domain. They’re not ready for the market. And we believe that there’s some years before they could be ready for the market. But there are some fairly significant technical impediments to delivering a product that’s robust in dirty construction environment with the fragility of the fuel cell and the tolerance of contamination, dust and all that sort of stuff that happens on construction sites and in quarries.

And only in the last year or so, and your determination to get to zero carbon, that the fields of problem and we really need to use, you know, move to hydrogen fuel. I think for the last year or so, we had a bit of a breakthrough, where we looked for the first time hydrogen combustion now that needed, you know, a substantial redesign of the combustion system on the engine.

We’ve delivered a very, very clean and very efficient engine. So this isn’t just a rework of an existing diesel product. All the power delivery hardware at the bottom end of the engine is really, common territory, but the combustion system and all the services that feed the combustion system, air preparation, gas preparation, ignition are really new. And, really, we had to speak to specialists all across the world to get the very, best technology into this engine. But the outcome is that we’ve got a real robust deployment of a hydrogen fuel in this technology.

We could see it as really a rapid robust deployment and moving to a non-carbon based field in the fairly near future in years. So we should have trial machines with customers in a few years. So that’s our hydrogen journey so far with JCB”.

So, to summarise:

Hydrogen, especially from sustainable sources, can offer a powerful NetZero alternative to traditional diesel power equipment including a comparable rapid refuelling option for the demand cycles on construction projects over alternative electric powered equipment.

In our journey from a carbon-based economy, hydrogen will have a place in making our immediate transition to NetZero and is likely to have a longer-term future. Certainly, it is rewarding to see the developments that JCB have made and continue to make in this direction.

I am sure that hydrogen fuelled vehicles will be further developed by JCB and others to ensure that the construction sector can meet their NetZero targets and contribute to the global NetZero challenges ahead.

If this article has helped to advance your understanding of the role of hydrogen in powering the construction sector, please leave a comment in the box below, if this article has help you.

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