Fueling the future: How hydrogen will power big machines both on-road and off-road into a zero-carbon world

It’s a scorching afternoon amid a record-breaking heatwave sweeping the region – a sharp contrast to the mild English September – at Wardlow Quarry off Ashbourne Road in Coldon Low, UK. But several days of temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, the first ever in the country, did not prevent a dedicated team of engineers from demonstrating JCB’s latest achievements – “ultra-efficient” hydrogen combustion engines – in the private sector. Research and development site for a British construction equipment manufacturer.

Two prototypes – a backhoe loader and a full-load telescopic loader – are doing their best to showcase their clean technology prowess. Except for the green branding, which replaces the traditional bright yellow, there’s nothing wrong with it. Engineers also say that there is no noticeable difference in the vehicles even while driving. The only byproducts are water vapor and warm air, which explains why the exhaust pipes are not black, as with regular diesel engines.

The new hydrogen engine is less noisy, which is a good thing, and at the same time the unique combustion properties of hydrogen enable the engine to deliver the same power, the same torque, and the same efficiency as today’s JCB machines, but in a carbon-neutral way.

Energy booster

Earlier today, JCB Power Systems engineers demonstrated the hydrogen engine at the company’s engine plant in Derbyshire for the first time to a select group of journalists from India. The 4.8-litre four-cylinder hydrogen combustion engine (448 ABH2) – JCB’s zero-carbon emissions solution for construction and agricultural equipment – ​​was previously unveiled at Conexpo 2023 in Las Vegas, US, as part of the International Fluid Power (IFP) show in March .

JCB is pumping £100 million into the project. Led by Chief Innovation and Growth Officer Tim Bornhop, a team of 150 engineers has been working on this engine for almost two years, and the 50th JCB hydrogen combustion engine has now rolled off the production line as part of the development process.

Lord Anthony Bamford, the company’s chairman, has also taken a personal interest in the project. “JCB’s engineering team has done an amazing job developing a completely new hydrogen engine. They have gone back to first principles to completely redesign the combustion process to work with hydrogen. In doing so, they have achieved two key things – securing JCB’s place in history as the first construction equipment company to develop A fully functional hydrogen-powered combustion engine and directing us towards the production of 50 distinct hydrogen combustion engines.

Green solution

But why hydrogen? “Two years ago, I set the challenge that we should make hydrogen engines for the construction and agricultural industry. Two years later, we have hydrogen engines running on the type of equipment that JCB makes. A solution that provides energy in the same way as conventional engines, but without using any of the Fossil fuels: “We are proving every day that hydrogen works, that it is a clean, renewable and transportable fuel,” says Bamford.

Another advantage is that hydrogen-powered vehicles can be refueled much faster, with the task completed within minutes compared to several hours to recharge batteries.

JCB’s hydrogen engines already power typical backhoe loaders and all telescopic handlers. But the main challenge is the display. It seems that the company has found a solution for that as well. Recently, JCB unveiled its mobile refueling vehicle to transport fuel to machines. The vehicle also holds enough hydrogen to fill 16 hydrogen backhoe loaders and can be transported either on the back of a modified Fastrac tractor or on a trailer.

At the same time, the company installed one of its hydrogen engines in a 7.5-tonne Mercedes truck, an upgrade that was completed within a few days. Subsequently, the company achieved a second major breakthrough in demonstrating the broader appeal of hydrogen combustion technology by installing one of its hydrogen engines in a Mercedes Sprinter truck. The modernization of the white truck was completed in just two weeks.

This development comes at a time when many manufacturers and car makers around the world are turning to electrically powered engines towards a greener transition. While JCB has been at the forefront of this technology, it seems that electric motors are not good enough – primarily because larger machines have higher power requirements. This would lead to larger batteries, which take longer to charge, making them less suitable for machines that operate multiple daily shifts and have no downtime to recharge.

As a result, JCB has focused its development of electric machines on its compact range including the 525-60E telehandler and the 19C-1E minihandler. Excavator – The world’s first mini electric excavator, according to the company.

Home run

JCB also plans to manufacture hydrogen engines in India, its largest market outside Europe. But the company has not announced any timetable yet. “We are investing in India all the time,” Bamford says. “If we make hydrogen engines commercially, we will make them in India as well.”

In India, JCB has been manufacturing engines for more than a decade. Therefore, the potential for manufacturing hydrogen combustion engines in the country is great.

This development also comes at a time when India is making significant efforts to source green hydrogen to meet climate goals. On January 4, the Union Cabinet approved the National Green Hydrogen Mission with an outlay of Rs 19,744 crore from FY 2023-24 to FY 2029-30. The overall objective of the mission is to make India a global hub for the production, use and export of green hydrogen and its derivatives.

India’s green hydrogen production capacity is likely to reach 5 million metric tons per year, with an associated renewable energy capacity of 125 GW, by 2030. The targets are likely to bring in more than Rs 8 trillion in investments and create more than 600,000 jobs. . Nearly 50 million tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions are expected to be avoided by 2030, according to reports.

In August, the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy notified the Green Hydrogen Standard for India, which sets emission thresholds for producing hydrogen that can be classified as “green”. India has become one of the few countries to have a definition of green hydrogen.

“After discussions with several stakeholders, the ministry decided to define green hydrogen as a well-to-gate emission of no more than 2 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kg of hydrogen (H2),” the ministry said in a statement.

Well-to-gate emission includes water treatment, electrolysis, gas purification, drying and hydrogen compression. The scope of the definition includes both electrolysis-based and biomass-based hydrogen production methods.

Currently, hydrogen is mostly captured by reforming carbon-based fuels using carbon capture technology, called blue hydrogen. The other way is to split water into oxygen and hydrogen using electrolytes. This is green hydrogen.

The road ahead

India’s automobile sector is said to account for about 18% of the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions. The Bharat Phase (BS)-VI norms for automobile vehicles were implemented on April 1, 2020. As per the new norms, the emission of carbon monoxide will be reduced by 30% and nitrogen oxides by 80%. BS-VI standards also set limits on emissions of hydrocarbons and particulate matter, which were not specified in the previous standards.

To further reduce emissions to zero levels along with improving energy efficiency, hydrogen is being hailed as one of the best fuel options. According to the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, natural gas mixed with hydrogen (up to 18%) can be used in used vehicles. Existing natural gas-powered vehicles need minimal or no modifications to use natural gas blended with hydrogen. “Hydrogen-blended fuel is one of the easiest ways to decarbonise the automobile sector. In case of 100% hydrogen, a customized engine/vehicle has to be developed. A zero-emission vehicle powered by hydrogen is the next important step after BS-VI norms,” ​​the ministry adds.

Achieving a zero-emissions world on a global scale will be difficult, if not impossible, and the first thing we need to do is find sustainable fuels. JCB’s hydrogen engines are undoubtedly a step in the right direction. “I am now convinced that hydrogen, more than electric battery power, holds the key to controlling the global climate crisis,” Bamford adds. “Yes, we can keep driving, keep building, keep flying, keep heating our homes – all without pumping any Carbon dioxide or other toxic emissions into the atmosphere.

(The writer was in the UK at the invitation of JCB)

(Tags for translation) JCB

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: