JCB tests the world’s first hydrogen-powered digger

The 20-tonne prototype is the latest hydrogen-powered product developed by heavy equipment builder as it aims to phase out diesel vehicles

Prototype JCB 220X excavator
A prototype JCB 220X excavator powered by a hydrogen fuel cell undergoes testing at a quarry in Staffordshire Credit: JCB

JCB is now “rigorously testing” the world’s first hydrogen-powered excavator, as it continues to develop zero- and low-carbon technologies for widespread use in the heavy-construction-equipment sector.

Lord Anthony Bamford, the chairman of JCB, Europe’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment, said: “We’ve got a working prototype – so watch this space. Hydrogen is the fuel of the future.”

Lord Bamford said he was “intensely interested” in alternative fuels and described JCB’s “active” development of hydrogen-powered equipment as “path-breaking and exciting”, in an interview with The Telegraph marking the company’s 75th anniversary, to be published on Friday.

He said: “We make upward of 100,000 diesel-powered vehicles each year. Our diesel engines use 50 per cent less fuel than a decade ago, they are much more efficient and emission levels have gone down.” 

But Lord Bamford accepts “fossil fuels are badly regarded for all kinds of reasons, and we must eventually get rid of them”.

In 2019, JCB went into full production of the world’s first fully electric mini excavator, before introducing an electric telescopic forklift range. The company has now developed a 20-tonne JCB 220X excavator powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

Lord Bamford and his eldest son, Jo - with a standard 20-tonne JCB 220X excavator powered by a hydrogen fuel cell

“We’ve been testing it in a Staffordshire quarry, close to our headquarters,” said Lord Bamford.

Worth roughly £95 billion in 2019, the global construction equipment market has been seriously affected by the coronavirus pandemic. However, with governments around the world spending to develop public infrastructure as a form of economic stimulus, there are signs of recovery.

Describing the pandemic as “the biggest challenge in our 75-year history”, Lord Bamford acknowledged JCB’s 2020 production would be approximately half pre-Covid estimates. However, he said global demand “is now back at the same sort of levels as this time last year”.

Lord Bamford’s son Jo Bamford spent 14 years at JCB before buying Northern Ireland bus manufacturer Wrightbus last year. He has won contracts to supply the world's first hydrogen double-deckers to cities including London and Aberdeen.

Jo Bamford said: “I truly believe hydrogen is the UK’s best opportunity to build a world-leading industry which creates UK jobs, cuts emissions and is the envy of the globe."

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