JCB’S £100 million investment in a project to produce super-efficient hydrogen engines is going full steam ahead – with the reaching of a major production milestone.

A team of 150 engineers has been working on the exciting development for nearly two years ago and the 50th JCB hydrogen combustion engine has now come off the production line as part of the development process.

JCB Chairman Lord Bamford has been personally leading the project to develop the zero-carbon solution. He said: “The JCB engineering team has done a fantastic job to develop a brand-new hydrogen engine. They have gone back to first principles to completely re-design the combustion process to work for hydrogen. In doing so they have achieved two major things: secured JCB’s place in history as the first construction equipment company to develop a fully working combustion engine fuelled by hydrogen and steered us towards the production of a landmark 50 hydrogen combustion engines.” 

JCB’s commitment to reducing emissions goes back almost 25 years and the latest diesel engines designed to comply with European Stage V regulations have already delivered a 97% reduction in NOx emissions since 1999 and a 98% reduction in particulates. In addition, JCB’s drive to reduce fuel consumption means today’s JCB machines use 50% less fuel on average than those manufactured more than a decade ago – delivering significant carbon dioxide reductions and saving customers money on fuel.

JCB has also been at the forefront of electric technology development to meet customers’ demands for zero-carbon products. While battery electric is suitable for smaller machines which do less hours and typically use less fuel, larger machines have a higher energy requirement. This would result in larger batteries, which take longer to charge, making them less suitable for machines which work multiple daily shifts and do not have the available downtime to recharge.

As a result, JCB has concentrated its development of electric machines on its compact range including the 525-60E Loadall telehandler and the 19C-1E mini excavator – the world’s first electric mini excavator.

As the company examines future fuels which deliver zero emissions, it has left no stone unturned. In its search for a mobile fuel which can be taken to the machine, ensuring maximum uptime and fast refuelling, HVO, biogas, E-fuels, ammonia and hydrogen have all come under the microscope.

Lord Bamford said: “The majority of these alternative fuels require the production of hydrogen to make, so it makes perfect sense to use hydrogen in the first place because it is a clean zero carbon fuel which can be produced from renewable energy. Hydrogen also offers a potential solution to the challenge of batteries on larger machines; it allows for fast refuelling and is a mobile fuel solution, allowing fuel to be taken to the machine.”

As part of its hydrogen development, JCB also investigated its use in fuel cells and in July 2020 unveiled the construction industry’s first ever hydrogen powered excavator – a 20-tonne 220X.

For the time being, JCB has come to the conclusion that fuel cells are too expensive, too complicated and not robust enough for construction and agricultural equipment. 

In challenging the JCB engineering team to think differently using technology that is around us in a zero-carbon way, the JCB hydrogen engine was born.

Lord Bamford said: “The unique combustion properties of hydrogen enable the hydrogen engine to deliver the same power, the same torque, and the same efficiency that powers JCB machines today, but in a zero-carbon way. Hydrogen combustion engines also offer other significant benefits. By leveraging diesel engine technology and components, they do not require rare earth elements and critically, combustion technology is already well proven on construction and agricultural equipment. It is a technology which is cost effective, robust, reliable and well known throughout not just the construction and agricultural industry, but the whole world.”

JCB hydrogen engines are already powering prototype backhoe loaders and Loadall telescopic handlers and the company has recently unveiled its very own designed and built mobile refuelling bowser to take the fuel to the machines. The bowser has enough hydrogen to fill 16 hydrogen backhoe loaders and is able to be transported either on the back of a modified Fastrac tractor or on a trailer.