GM, Komatsu partner to build hydrogen-powered monster mining truck
Mining industry looking for greener credentials in the future
Automaker General Motors and construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu have partnered to turn one of the world's largest trucks into an emissions-free, hydrogen-powered behemoth.
Komatsu's 930E – able to haul a whopping 320 short tons (290 metric tons) – currently ships with a diesel-fueled 3,500HP engine capable of reaching 64 kilometers per hour (40 mph). But in a bid to improve sustainability, the Japanese multinational has looked to American hydrogen tech.
"Finding new ways to power the equipment our customers need to do the vital work of mining and construction is a critical part of our commitment to supporting a more sustainable future," declared Komatsu's VP of North American engineering and development Dan Funcannon.
GM has worked on hydrogen fuel cell technology for some time, launching a subsidiary dubbed Hydrotec to develop devices like the Fuel Cell Power Cube – a hydrogen-powered propulsion unit.
Last week, GM announced that Alabama-based Autocar's heavy-duty vehicles will implement the Power Cubes, which contain more than 300 hydrogen fuel cells along with thermal and power management systems. A single cube can deliver 77 kilowatts of power, we're told.
"EV propulsion systems like GM's Ultium Platform are great solutions for electrifying passenger vehicles, but larger vehicles like Autocar's class 8 trucks, refuse trucks and terminal tractors require robust solutions that enable significant energy carrying capacity and fast refueling times," Hydrotec executive director Charlie Freese explained last week.
Concept art of a Hydrotec Power Cube installed on a semi truck, for size reference – Click to enlarge
"Mining trucks are among the largest, most capable vehicles used in any industry, and we believe hydrogen fuel cells are best suited to deliver zero emissions propulsion to these demanding applications," Freese observed in the context of the Komatsu partnership.
GM and Komatsu will collaborate to design and validate the technology to replace diesel engines in the 930E and aim to have a GM Hydrotec-powered prototype in testing at Komatsu's Arizona Proving Grounds by the middle of the decade. Komatsu told us it hasn't set a timeline for field deployment.
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GM told The Register that it plans to use Power Cubes in the hydrogen-powered version of the 930E with limited hardware and software modifications to suit the massive size of the Komatsu truck. "The unique element of this application is the need to use a large array of fuel cells to achieve over 2MW of total fuel cell power," a GM spokesperson told us.
In other words, there's going to be a lot of cubes strapped to a 930E to get it moving.
As Freese indicated, hydrogen fuel cells have been touted as an clean fuel alternative that's better suited to heavy-duty work like industrial trucking and aerospace applications, but it hasn't caught on much in the consumer space. Hydrogen fuel stations are still largely limited to the west coast of the US.
Ultra class trucks like the Komatsu 930E typically only operate at a single mine throughout their lives, meaning it'll be easier to deploy the necessary fueling infrastructure to service a fleet of hydrogen-powered 930E trucks.
"We believe fuel cells can play an integral role in a zero-emissions future, helping to electrify heavier-duty applications, beyond passenger vehicles," Freese predicted. ®