Ballard recently partnered with Norwegian-based hydrogen-powered equipment and systems developer, Applied Hydrogen, to develop and deliver a zero-emission fuel cell excavator for Veidekke – one of the largest quarrying and construction companies in Scandinavia. The Volvo EC300EI-based conversion will commence trials in early 2024.
The project was outlined in a recent Ballard blog post authored by its Marketing Executive Thomas Davies. He states: “Fuel cell engines offer several advantages for hard-working construction equipment running long shifts and requiring energy to be available throughout its full duty cycle. As hydrogen has a higher energy density and can be refueled in shorter time than is required for recharging batteries, hydrogen-powered machinery offers an effective solution for construction without compromising on performance or utilisation.”
Based on the Volvo EC300E crawler excavator, Applied Hydrogen is currently converting the first 30 t excavator to hydrogen operation by integrating Ballard’s FCmove®-XD heavy-duty fuel cell engine. Scheduled for trials and testing by Veidekke and the project partners in April 2024, the excavator will be supported by a mobile refueling station that can be located on construction sites. It is expected that a hydrogen-powered 30 t excavator will eliminate approximately 60 t of CO2 emissions per year.
To discuss the project in more detail, Vidar Sten-Halvorsen, General Manager, Applied Hydrogen, explained the collaboration to Davies in the article and outlined the challenges and benefits of retro-fitting the heavy-duty vehicle to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.
Q How did the partnership between Applied Hydrogen and Ballard for the excavator first come about?
The operation of heavy-duty machinery represents a large portion of the construction industry’s CO2 footprint, and major industry players are now realising that something of a powertrain revolution is required, with the need for zero-emission solutions now being an imperative. Applied Hydrogen believes that hydrogen is set to play a key role in decarbonising the heaviest operations which require a power source with higher energy density than can be provided by batteries alone. With that in mind, we were determined to collaborate with a leader in this space that possesses both development and real-world experience, as well as knowledge and capability when it comes to the practical application of innovative technology that enables zero-emission transition. Ballard presented that partner – and it is incredibly exciting to work on optimising the integration of their latest-generation FCmove®-XD fuel cell into the 30-ton excavator, which will deliver the engine power to meet the varied requirements of the demanding construction environment.
Q What does the project involve?
The final hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle is based on the existing Volvo EC300EI crawler excavator, which Ballard’s FCmove-XD 120 kW fuel cell engine Applied Hydrogen is currently converting to deliver a zero-emission heavy-duty solution. This process involves removing the excavator’s original diesel engine and replacing it with hydrogen power – by integrating Ballard’s powerful FCmove®-XD 120 kW fuel cell technology, which is tailored for heavy-duty mobility. As the project progresses successfully, the crawler excavator will undergo scheduled trials with Veidekke and the other program partners in early 2024. These tests will also include an on-site mobile refueling station to support the vehicle’s operation.
Q Can you describe the technical aspects of the integration process?
We have a great partnership with AVL in Austria, and started the integration process with baseline operations on a diesel-powered unit. A lot of engine parameters were logged for a high variety of operational scenarios, so we had good datasets to perform extensive driveline simulations together with AVL, understanding the powerflow through the machine for different operations. From the simulations, we were able to set the specifications for the new fuel cell-based power unit with mild hybrid battery support. As it turns out, the new FCmove®-XD 120 kW fuel cell from Ballard meets our requirements fully. We have selected a best of breed group of partners for all important aspects of the system, and also use Hexagon Purus hydrogen tanks and Cascadia Motion Controls electric power units to support the system.
Q What are the benefits of transitioning the excavator to hydrogen power?
Fuel cell engines offer several advantages for hard-working construction equipment running long shifts and requiring energy to be available throughout its full duty cycle. As hydrogen has a higher energy density and can be refueled in shorter time than is required for recharging batteries, hydrogen-powered machinery offers an effective solution for construction without compromising on performance or utilisation. The conversion of the excavator consists of a completely new fuel cell-based power plant, and we see many similar applications within the construction industry and elsewhere, where we can adapt our core system to new machines. In terms of the effectiveness of decarbonisation, it is expected that a hydrogen-powered 30-ton excavator will eliminate approximately 60 t of CO2 emissions per year.
Q What challenges does the project pose?
The process of fully decarbonising construction sites is extensive and demanding, as the heavy machinery needs a lot of energy and high availability. But this project represents a positive beginning of this overall transition. We believe Ballard’s FCmove®-XD fuel cell engine offers the high performance required and has a form factor that drives efficient integration, supported by their long-term experience in the industry – which is why we chose them as partners initially. Furthermore, this is a first-of-its-kind project for the associates, which has the potential to present technical and logistical issues and challenges along the way, but we are confident that together we can deliver an exceptional solution that will benefit the heavy-duty construction space, while gaining valuable experience that demonstrates how hydrogen power can become an efficient zero-emission alternative for diesel-powered excavators. The supply and distribution of hydrogen is currently a challenge since this industry is still evolving, but we see very positive developments that will secure its reliable supply, and we are developing our own solutions for the final delivery of hydrogen to the excavators on site.