Could hydrogen be the solution for fuelling medium and large off-highway machines? JCB thinks so, and it has opened its doors to explain why it is backing this alternate fuel with a number of prototypes already in work.

The route to emissions-free fuels is something that virtually every machinery manufacturer is currently wrestling with. And, it seems, nothing is off the table – whether it’s full electrification, hybrid technology, biogas, plant-derived oils or hydrogen – they’re all under the spotlight. But until now few of the big players have openly settled on one option, defining their path to Net-Zero. However, Cummins, Deutz and JCB have bucked the trend, recently announcing their intentions to pursue hydrogen as a fuel source for their internal combustion engines.

JCB recently opened the doors of its top- secret engine research and development centre to a select bunch of journalists to reveal its plans to reach the ultimate goal of moving away from fossil-fuels. Heading up the programme is no one less than the company’s chairman Lord Anthony Bamford who is clearly so enthused by the various projects that he took time out to personally explain how he sees things progressing. “For over a decade we’ve been working on electrification and have a range of compact products out on the market that are doing incredibly well. But we’ve found battery power only really works for these smaller machines. If we were to be serious in achieving a Net-Zero product line it became obvious we needed to look at the alternatives and it seemed hydrogen was the most obvious option.”

First steps

At the time – four or five years ago – there was a lot of buzz around the hydrogen fuel cell concept and JCB’s R&D team were set to work in investigating how they could integrate the technology into some of the firm’s larger machines. After a costly and complex development process, in 2019 a version of the company’s 220X 20-tonne excavator entered evaluation in one of the Bamford family’s quarries.

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