PUT THE POLITICIANS ON THE MINIMUM WAGE AND WATCH HOW FAST THINGS CHANGE
Civilisation has operated in two ways - To make one part of society more affluent and the other more wretched than would have been the lot of either in a natural state
There are Natural Rights and Civil Rights. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Where Our Power to Execute Our Natural Rights is Perfect, Government has No Legitimate Jurisdiction
When the Forces for War are Greater than the Forces for Peace   Then the World is in Danger
Politics is not a Dirty Word. It is a Way of Life. How is Your Way of Life Today ?

H for HYDROGEN WITHOUT THE O FOR OXYGEN

JCB develops hydrogen combustion engine and outlines plans for the future of machinery propulsion

JCB is forging ahead with the development of alternatives to diesel engines with the Staffordshire-based manufacturer believing hydrogen is the future fuel for combustion engines. Alex Heath finds out more.

A 3CX is fitted with JCB’s hydrogen engine, seen here next to the refuelling station.

A 3CX is fitted with JCB’s hydrogen engine, seen here next to the refuelling station.
Share This

Hydrogen- the fuel of the future


With lots of legislative changes coming in the next years and decades regarding the use of fossil, hydrocarbon and polluting fuels, JCB has outlined its views on the future of propulsion.

 

With a range of options under consideration, most exciting and relevant to the agricultural sector is the firm’s recently developed hydrogen engine.

 

JCB chair Lord Anthony Bamford says the company is ahead of the curve in developing alternatives to the fossil fuel burning internal combustion engine (ICE).

 

He says: “Much of the legislation regarding emissions is aimed at cars, the biggest emitters of CO2 in the UK, with petrol and diesel powerplants being banned by 2030.

 

“However, strict rules on HGVs are now firmly in place.

 

“The sale of fossil fuel burning HGVs will start in 2035, with a phase out for vehicles weighing from 3.5 to 26 tonnes, and 2040 for vehicles weighing more than 26 tonnes.

 

“As a manufacturer of equipment and engines, we need to be at the forefront of developing alternatives that can be used in all machinery, hence why I challenged our employees on the use of hydrogen in a combustion engine.”

 

Similar to the land speed record for a diesel powered vehicle set by the company in 2006 and the world’s fastest tractor record set in 2019, the hydrogen engine has come as a result of a challenge from Lord Bamford.

 

Initiated in July 2020, a running engine was developed by December of the same year.

 

A team of 100 engineers were involved in the creation of the engine.

 

“We have already seen developments in other alternative power sources and we have been involved in using batteries and hydrogen fuel cells,” Lord Bamford says.

The hydrogen engine uses an off the shelf block with extensive modifications made to the top end to allow for hydrogen combustion.

The hydrogen engine uses an off the shelf block with extensive modifications made to the top end to allow for hydrogen combustion.

“Both technologies have their place, however, have several pitfalls, not least the expense and complexity of each system, coupled to the fact the supply bases for the components and materials are relatively immature for wide scale commercial use.

 

“Batteries suit the smaller, less energy demanding machines with low hourly use, such as our 19C-1E mini excavator.

 

“However, the cost and weight of such systems make them unsuitable for larger machines.

 

“A 20-tonne excavator with its engine removed and batteries fitted would be 8t heavier for the same power needed for a day’s work.

 

“Hydrogen fuel cells are in their infancy and rather temperamental.

 

“They also do not like the transient load an excavator and other machinery develops.

 

“While slewing round and lowering the dipper arm, there is not such a demand on energy. However, when lifting up, a huge demand is placed on the power source.

 

“With the fuel cells we are evaluating, a battery store is needed for the energy produced when not under load, which is released to the relevant hydraulic motor when the demand increases. The major drawback of this system is the cost.

 

“A 20t excavator with a fuel cell would be double the price of a comparable diesel machine, and the prices of these technologies are not going to go down as the demand from all sectors increases for the raw materials and technology needed.

 

“With an ICE, it is familiar to farmers and dealer’s service teams. There are just a few modifications made to the way it works, but it is essentially still an engine.”

 

With this in mind, the team at JCB Power Systems has taken an off-the-shelf DieselMax 448 four-cylinder, block and done extensive work to the top end to facilitate hydrogen combustion, including redesigning the pistons, cylinder head and fuel system and adding spark plugs for ignition.

 

While hydrogen combustion engines are not a completely new idea (Frenchman Francois Isaac de Rivaz invented a spark ignition ICE running on hydrogen in 1807), to date the reliability and efficiency of such systems has been lacking.

 

However, JCB says the difference in its engines are the fuel/air mixture used and the type of injection used to introduce the fuel into the cylinder.

Hydrogen fuel cells have been tested in a 20t excavator, but the fuel cell has its limitations with capacity and working environments.

Hydrogen fuel cells have been tested in a 20t excavator, but the fuel cell has its limitations with capacity and working environments.
The manufacturer says battery power is a sensible option for smaller, low houred machines such as its 19C-1E mini excavator.

The manufacturer says battery power is a sensible option for smaller, low houred machines such as its 19C-1E mini excavator.

Using computer modelling and extensive cell testing, the manufacturer is confident it has cracked the failures of previous attempts.

 

Key to the combustion process is a lean mix of fuel.

 

Just one part of hydrogen is combusted with 100 parts of air.

 

As a result, the manufacturer has also added a variable geometry turbo charger to force the air into the cylinders. As the amount of air, compared to fuel is so high, a full combustion at relatively low temperatures is achieved.

 

This also keeps a lid on nitrous oxide emissions, another of the greenhouse gases which needs monitoring.

 

Out of the exhaust pipe comes water and little else.

 

Other modifications include a steam management system which keeps the water vapour produced during combustion away from the engine, while the manufacturer is also working on oils and oil additives which prevent emulsification in the presence of water.

 

Because hydrogen is three times more energy dense by mass than diesel, the characteristics of the engines output are very similar, the manufacturer adds, and the engines are drop-in units.

 

As such, the manufacturer has placed a hydrogen burning unit in one of its 3CX backhoe loaders for evaluation, in addition to a generator which is used to test at different loads.

 

However, the storage of fuel on a machine poses another challenge.

 

Being a gas, the hydrogen needs to be compressed under great pressure to enable enough to be carried on a machine.

 

There are various tank designs in circulation, but the 3CX uses Type 3 storage tanks, comprising 3mm aluminium liners, wrapped in 10mm of carbon fibre.

 

Five feature on the test machine, each capable of holding 1kg at 350 bar.

 

The hydrogen is currently delivered in a stillage of cylinders, holding 700kg worth, before entering the refuelling station, which stores the fuel at 450 bar.

 

This pushes the hydrogen into the machine’s storage tanks in a matter of minutes, offering refuelling times comparable to a diesel machine.

 

The company says there is a reasonably strong supply of hydrogen at present, but anticipates the production and distribution of the element to mature as the demand increases.

 

Although most hydrogen is captured as part of manufacturing processes currently, JCB says electrolysis is the future of hydrogen production, with renewable power sources used to split the oxygen and hydrogen molecules from water.

 

It even reckons the process could be done on farm in the future.

 

Testing is still ongoing, but the manufacturer says it could start offering the hydrogen alternative as early as next year, with a strong possibility of adding hydrogen ICEs to some of its ag ranges.

Similar Recent Posts by this Author:

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email