UK roads and building sites will soon see world’s first hydrogen diggerFebruary 23, 2023
The UK will soon have its very first digger powered by hydrogen fuel.
The UK government has approved the use of the world’s first hydrogen digger powered by a hydrogen combustion engine on UK roads and building sites.
The H2-powered digger will help to decarbonize the nation’s construction industry.
The Transport Secretary has provided British construction equipment manufacturer JCB special dispensation, under a vehicle special order, that allows the company to test and use its hydrogen-powered backhoe loader on roads, including the public highway, and building sites in the United Kingdom.
This hydrogen digger is a first of its kind in the world and delivers a pioneering solution to assist in the reduction of emissions on construction sites. This is an important step in the right direction toward decarbonization in the construction industry, which is responsible for 25% of the UK total greenhouse gas emissions.
“JCB’s hydrogen-powered backhoe loader is a world first in our industry, a digger with a purpose-engineered internal combustion engine that uses hydrogen gas as the energy source,” said JCB Chairman Lord Bamford. “It’s a real breakthrough – a zero CO2 fuel providing the power to drive the pistons in an internal combustion engine, a technology that’s been around for over 100 years, a technology that we are all familiar with.”
The innovative hydrogen digger has created over a hundred new jobs.
In addition to lowering emissions, this new H2-powered machine has lead to other benefits, including creating 150 new jobs in the Midlands, and there is a promise of hundreds more as JCB’s hydrogen project continues to advance further.
What’s more, these developments aid in equipping the UK with the skills and expertise required to lower emission and provide learning to prospective apprentices, ensuring that the nation’s skillset is secured over the long term.
JCB’s prototype hydrogen digger is a vital first step in the construction industry’s efforts to decarbonize what is considered to be one of the hardest sectors to decarbonize. Hydrogen combustion machines, such as the H2-powered backhoe loader, can play a key role in lowering CO2 emissions in settings where other types of clean power may not be as efficient or practical.
“From cars to construction sites, industry has a vital role in decarbonising our economy and creating green jobs and prosperity”, said Technology and Decarbonisation Minister Jesse Norman. “JCB’s investment in greener equipment is a great example of how industry can make this happen, using alternative fuels to generate sustainable economic growth.”
In the mid 1970s I recall watching Tomorrows World on BBC television hosted by Raymond Baxter.
The program, in B+W, was filmed in a Paris university where students had modified a car to run on Hydrogen.
Whilst discussing the benefits and to prove the exhaust was clean Raymond held a glass by the exhaust tail pipe collecting the water vapour as it condensed.
He then drank the water.
Its stuck with me for over 50 years wondering why Hydrogen had not become mainstream.
I can only conclude that its because the oil companies did not want it to.
One possible answer is the way the hydrogen was produced 50 years ago. It’s likely that renewable hydrogen was not readily available as it is today and would have more likely to be made by Steam Methane Reforming (SMR), which creates more Co2 that burning diesel or petrol directly.
This is rapidly changing with renewable hydrogen produced from wind and solar, that is now cheaper than SMR and going to get even cheaper. Now it’s just the infrastructure to manage, store and deliver the hydrogen to the customer, if the customer can’t produce it themselves. This will take time, and someone must be willing to take the risk to start.
Part of the solution is the need for an open hydrogen market to set the price of all types of hydrogen, and for customers to switch to it. Retro fitting of transportation is in this mix and is a good transitional approach, as PEM electrolysers and Fuel Cells are in high demand and cost, and the supply chains to produce them, including the mining of rare earth minerals, will take 15-20 years to catch up. So, the ICE and in particular the diesel, still has a role to play in this transition, although be it not as efficient as FC tech.
We have to remember that it is a ‘transition’ and cannot be completed overnight, but we have to make a start. I believe that start is now, as the price and pace of renewables is such that we in Australia at least have excess during the day that we can’t use. Storing it in batteries is not the answer but hydrogen may be a better storage option. My recent research, even with the most expensive hydrogen storage – carbon tubes- Hydrogen cost about $200AUD to store 1 kwh of energy whereas a battery cost 3 to 5 times this at between $600-1000AUD (depending on the scale i.e. industrial, commercial or domestic). Once a battery runs out of energy, no matter the scale or application, it needs to be recharged which takes time. However, with hydrogen if its available you can produce power constantly ether as electricity or in an ICE.