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How Proven Fuel Cell Technology Is Decarbonizing Mining and Construction

5 minute read
Feb. 25, 2021
Article by Nicolas Pocard

For the mining and construction industries, the move to zero-emission heavy equipment is underway. Encouraged by government regulations and public demand, industry leaders are planning to transition away from diesel, and toward hydrogen fuel cell power for their heavy-duty vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel cells are the only zero-emission option that delivers the service range, payload capability, and performance of diesel. Only hydrogen fuel cells can directly replace diesel power for mining and construction applications, and cut the GHG emissions from off-road vehicles to zero—with no compromise in productivity.

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The industries recognize the need to decarbonize

The mining and construction industries have long recognized the need to reduce their GHG emissions. 

Today, the mining industry alone accounts for up to 7% of global emissions. Decarbonizing mining equipment can yield dramatic results, since diesel trucks can make up 30%–50% of their mines’ total energy use. Globally, the roughly 28,000 mining trucks in operation today emit 68 million tons of CO2 (MtCO2) per year, equivalent to the total greenhouse gas footprint of Finland or New Zealand. 

Construction is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis globally, contributing more than 23% of the world's GHG emissions. Construction sites are responsible for significant air and noise pollution, linked to construction activities like the use of diesel machinery and traffic congestion.

Fuel cells: heavy-duty performance with zero-emissions 

For applications requiring the high vehicle utilization of mining and construction, only hydrogen fuel cells offer comparable mobility, power, and safety performance to diesel—without any of the emissions. Fuel cell powered vehicles also offer a real safety benefit: they don’t fill the air with diesel fumes, making for a cleaner worksite, especially in underground mines.

Compared to battery-powered vehicles, fuel cell powered vehicles offer:  

  • More uptime: fuel cell trucks are refueled in minutes—not the two-to-five hours it takes to recharge an electric truck battery. 
  • Higher power output: fuel cells pack greater energy density—for far higher payload capacity than battery electric vehicles. 
  • More refueling infrastructure options: fuel cells can be refueled at central depots or remotely—whereas installing battery recharging infrastructure is complex and costly.

Considering fuel cell vehicles for mining and construction? Things you need to know

  • Fewer regulations: Off-road vehicles, such as those used in mining and construction, face fewer regulatory requirements and certifications compared to on-road vehicles like transit buses and transport trucks. This means that new vehicle designs are often built and delivered more quickly. 
  • Economies of scale: Large mining and construction companies may be able to reduce costs by ordering in quantity, thus leveraging economies of scale.
  • Centralized refueling advantage: Centralized hydrogen refueling can be built on site, providing enough hydrogen to fuel a fleet of off-road vehicles. 
  • Renewable energy: Leverage potential production of renewable energy on site to generate green hydrogen to be used as fuel for vehicles.

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Ballard is an early leader–and a strong partner—in this market 

Ballard is a long-term partner with a commitment to assisting operators and OEMs in adopting fuel cell technology for the specific needs of mining and construction. Our FCmove™ fuel cell module for heavy-duty motive applications is a perfect fit—it is a field proven solution used around the world in on-road heavy-duty applications. 

Demonstration vehicles are on the job today

Anglo American, the world’s largest platinum group metals mining company, has a fuel cell powered “Ultra” class heavy-duty mining truck in operation at one of their South African mines. 

anglo-american-fuel-cell-mining-truckAnglo American hydrogen fuel cell powered mining truck

The truck is powered by 800kW of FCmove™ fuel cell modules. Anglo American has ordered nine trucks to meet their emissions targets for 2030, and ultimately plans to operate a carbon-neutral mine. 

Their Head of Technology Development for Mining Sustainability, Julian Soles, said:

“Climate change and de-carbonization pressures are real, and they're here to stay. We’re seeing policy makers realizing this and starting to create frameworks or make investments in the hydrogen space, making it more predictable and stable, which is what’s needed. We can't just rely on renewable electricity production or energy efficiency measures, but we also need hydrogen, which is extremely versatile and can help decarbonize a number of the challenging sectors that are really difficult to decarbonize such as steel or heavy duty transport, which is where our project fits.”

To learn why Anglo American chose to work with Ballard, check out this video:

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Other demonstration vehicles in use include:

  • A 200 tonne fuel cell powered mining truck from Weichai will be introduced in the second half of 2021. The truck will be ready for loaded mine testing, and  has already received significant industry interest. Ballard and Weichai have jointly supplied fuel cells equalling 800kW to power the truck. 

Weichai, China’s Mining Truck

  • A fuel cell powered 20 tonne excavator, the 220X is in use at UK-based mechanical engineering firm JCB.  This is the construction industry’s first ever hydrogen powered excavator, as JCB continues to lead the sector on zero and low carbon technologies. Throughout this demonstration phase, JCB will continue to develop and refine the technology through advanced testing of the prototype. See it in action here.

jcb-fuel-cell-excavator

JCB hydrogen fuel cell powered excavator. Image courtesy: JCB Group

“The development of the first hydrogen fueled excavator is very exciting as we strive towards a zero carbon world. In the coming months, JCB will continue to develop and refine this technology with advanced testing of our prototype machine and we will continue to be at the forefront of technologies designed to build a zero carbon future.”

- Lord Bamford, JCB Chairman

Today’s leaders are creating change 

At Ballard, we believe that fuel cells offer the cleanest, best-performing alternative to diesel power for mining and construction. We have proven technology with over 70 million km of road operation, the intellectual property, and the experience to help our partners to deliver robust  fuel cell vehicles.

Today, Ballard offers a range of fuel cell power modules from 70kW to 200kW.   Our product road map will meet the requirements driven by technology innovation, power density improvement and cost reduction of mining and construction applications to deliver attractive total cost of ownership, and we are the partners of choice in the worldwide transition to fuel cell based zero-emission heavy duty vehicles.