World hydrogen first as UK opens roads to new vehicle

The world’s first hydrogen-powered digger is to arrive in the UK after the government provided special dispensation for its use on the country’s roads.

The digger, powered by a hydrogen combustion engine, has been described as another step to decarbonise the UK’s construction industry.

The UK government has given special dispensation, under a vehicle special order, that allows JCB, the British construction equipment manufacturer, to test and use its world-first hydrogen-powered backhoe loader on UK roads.

The vehicle special order given by the Transport Secretary allows JCB to test its new hydrogen-powered machine on the public highway. This backhoe loader is the first of its kind and offers a pioneering solution to help reduce emissions on construction sites.

With 25% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions coming from the built environment, it’s vital the entire construction industry looks to decarbonise at every stage.

Technology and decarbonisation minister Jesse Norman said: “From cars to construction sites, industry has a vital role in decarbonising our economy and creating green jobs and prosperity.

“JCB’s investment in greener equipment is a great example of how industry can make this happen, using alternative fuels to generate sustainable economic growth.

“JCB’s prototype hydrogen-powered backhoe loader is an important first step in the construction industry’s efforts to decarbonise in what is a ‘hard to decarbonise’ sector. Hydrogen combustion machines can play a vital role in reducing carbon emissions in settings where other types of clean power may not be the most practical or efficient.”

JCB Chairman Lord Bamford (pic) added: “Securing this vehicle special order from the Department for Transport is an important first step in getting JCB machines that are powered by hydrogen combustion engines to and from British building sites using the public highway. It’s an endorsement that JCB is on the right path in pursuit of its net zero ambitions.

“JCB’s hydrogen-powered backhoe loader is a world first in our industry, a digger with a purpose-engineered internal combustion engine that uses hydrogen gas as the energy source. It’s a real breakthrough – a zero CO2 fuel providing the power to drive the pistons in an internal combustion engine, a technology that’s been around for over 100 years, a technology that we are all familiar with.”

targets more quickly, while adding jobs and contributing wider economic benefits to the construction sector.

Today Minister Norman will visit JCB’s headquarters in Rocester, Staffordshire, where he’ll see the digger take to the road near the factory where it was manufactured. He’ll also inspect one of JCB’s hydrogen combustion engines, which are the product of a £100 million investment project by JCB to build on their innovative British engineering and develop new lower emission powertrains.

The pace of JCB’s hydrogen developments showcase a level of commitment to decarbonisation that is needed across all sectors of the UK economy.

Hydrogen is just one of the many ways that the UK government is looking to accelerate decarbonisation. The recent announcement of second phase of the Tees Valley Hydrogen Hub builds on previous commitments to best explore how hydrogen can be utilised as an alternative fuel, whether that be through the use of hydrogen fuel cells on road or hydrogen internal combustion engines for off-road construction machinery.

The work seen as part of the hub in Tees Valley will work to address challenges such as providing refuelling infrastructure at scale and integrating that within a wider decarbonised energy network.

As hydrogen technologies develop here in the UK, it’s vital this knowledge helps shape the next generation of apprentices. During this year’s National Apprenticeship Week (6 to 12 February 2023), hydrogen continues to be a source of opportunity for new skills and jobs to be developed.

JCB’s expanding apprenticeship programme shows how apprentices can play a part in shaping a net zero future, building on the recent government commitment to deliver £300,000 towards the teaching of hydrogen skills as part of the Tees Valley Hydrogen Transport hub.

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