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hydrogen digger

Transport is responsible for about 25% of the world’s carbon emissions. This is mainly due to road vehicles and heavy machinery.

If global temperature rises must be controlled below 1.5C, it is important to find an alternative to internal combustion engines using petrol and diesel.

The solution to the problem of transport pollution is electric batteries. But, if the electricity they produce upstream is made from fossil fuels, then their contribution to solving climate crisis is null.

hydrogen digger
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JCB aims for hydrogen-powered machines to be on the market by next year

What if there was an alternate fuel that didn’t cause greenhouse gas emissions? Entrepreneurs and industrialists are becoming more interested in hydrogen transport.

I recently tested two types of hydrogen-powered vehicles, a JCB digger as well as a two-seater car.

Lord Bamford, CEO of JCB believes that the key to addressing the global climate crisis is in the use of hydrogen, more than electric batteries power.

Lord Bamford
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Lord Bamford

In less than two years, JCB engineers created working prototypes from scratch in less than two years. I drove a hydrogen powered “backhoe digger” through JCBs quarry in Derbyshire. It even picked up rocks in its bucket.

It all worked out well, even though I’m not a professional driver.

The machine is powered by an internal combustion engine, similar to a petrol engine or diesel engine, but burning hydrogen with water as its only emission.

The company also makes electric batteries and fuel cell machines, which combine hydrogen with oxygen to create electricity to drive motors.

They believe that hydrogen internal combustion is the best alternative to conventional Hydrocarbons for heavy-duty applications.

Heavy machines like bulldozers or farm tractors are often used at all hours on remote sites that are far from an electrical source.

Hydrogen digger
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The internal combustion engine powers this machine

The theory is that hydrogen can be transported as easily as liquid fuel. You can fill up in minutes, rather than hours when you plug into a charging station.

Internal combustion is able to provide power for heavy lifting on cars of reasonable size, while the large number or fuel cells that are required to deliver similar power becomes impractical.

JCB aims for hydrogen-powered machines to be on the market by the end next year.

Because there are fewer fuel cells, fuel cells are more practical for lighter vehicles like private cars.

All three major automakers, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, and Volkswagen, are currently developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. A few smaller companies are also developing their own models.

Riversimple is one such company, which is based out of Wales. They raised £5m through crowdfunding to develop 20 prototypes of the Rasa car, powered by hydrogen cells driving electric motors on each of its four wheels.

Rasa is a simple, quiet and simple-to-use two-seater.

hydrogen two seater car
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Rasa is a two-seater that is stripped down and quiet, making it easy to operate.

The problem right now is that the UK has only 16 hydrogen stations, so long-distance travel is impossible.

Fiona Spowers envisions a network of hydrogen forecourts in Britain. For now, however, she suggests Rasa drivers join forces to share a hydrogen source.

Riversimple is now trying to raise £150m, with the aim of building a range of 25,000 vehicles a year by the end of the decade.

Fiona Spowers
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Fiona Spowers

Hydrogen vehicles are currently facing a similar problem to electric battery cars if it isn’t possible to source clean hydrogen.

Dr Sara Walker, National Centre for Energy, points out that “around 95% of the hydrogen created in Britain is generated from fossil fuels.” This technology must thrive if reliable supplies of “Green Hydrogen”, clean, are needed.

Low-carbon hydrogen is a hot topic for large companies, including Ineos in the UK, Fortescue in Australia, and En+ in Russia.

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All aboard the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train

Although electrolysing water is the best way to go, it is not energy-efficient. However, if electricity is generated from surplus energy from renewable sources like wind, sun, and hydro, the carbon can be used as a chemical battery to store energy.

Thomas Moore, Sky News’ science editor, showed how Orkney’s surplus windmill power is already producing hydrogen – and profit.

Lord Bamford believes that clean hydrogen internal burning could be the most important invention this century.

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