General Motors and Komatsu will co-develop a hydrogen fuel cell power module for Komatsu’s 930E mining truck, said to be the world’s best-selling ultra-class haul truck. The surface-mining electric drive truck has an operating weight of 1,150,000 lbs and a nominal payload capacity of 320 tons.
The companies will jointly design and validate the technology. Lightweight and quick to refuel, hydrogen fuel cells are suited for electrifying applications traditionally powered by diesel engines. Hydrogen provides an effective method to package large quantities of energy onboard the vehicle, without compromising payload carrying capacity, according to Komatsu officials.
Additionally, fuel cells provide an excellent zero tailpipe emissions solution for vehicles with extreme hauling requirements, like the Komatsu 930E mining truck. These vehicles typically operate at a single mine throughout their life, which simplifies the challenges of sizing and deploying an effective hydrogen refueling infrastructure to service the vehicle fleet.
“At GM, we believe fuel cells can play an integral role in a zero-emissions future, helping to electrify heavier-duty applications, beyond passenger vehicles,” said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global HydroTec business. “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.”
Power cube basics
GM HydroTec fuel cell technology is a hydrogen propulsion product that can be implemented in a wide range of applications, including military vehicles, Class 8 trucks, locomotives and aircraft. In the case of a HydroTec power cube, a series of over 300 fuel cells are housed along with supporting components.
The fuel cell system from General Motors efficiently converts hydrogen gas into electric power. Hydrogen passes through a positive terminal which separates the hydrogen ions from its electrons. The hydrogen ions are passed through an electrolyte while the electrons are routed through wires thus providing electrical energy to the application’s motors. The electrons are then routed back to the negative terminal of the fuel cell and are combined with the original hydrogen ions as well as oxygen, which results in a clean bi-product: water.
However, while various applications are currently under development, the use of hydrogen still faces a couple of challenges, including limited infrastructure and the cost of processing hydrogen itself.
Komatsu’s fuel cell-powered mining trucks will provide an additional pathway for decarbonization beyond battery-trolley or battery-static charging solutions, without the need for additional charging infrastructure within mines.
Komatsu has set a target of reducing its global emissions by 50% by 2030 and a challenge target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The plans for achieving these goals include reducing and eliminating emissions within the company’s product offerings, as well as in the company’s facilities and production of its products. Komatsu also works closely with its customers on reducing and eliminating emissions during product use through optimization programs supported by Komatsu technology and service solutions.
GM’s target is to be fully carbon neutral in both products and operations by 2040.
“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,” said Dan Funcannon, vice president of North America engineering and development for Komatsu. “This is essential work that requires cross-industry collaboration, and we are excited to be working with GM on this important solution for a haulage offering without tailpipe emissions.”
GM and Komatsu intend to test the first prototype HydroTec-powered mining vehicle in the mid-2020s at Komatsu’s Arizona Proving Grounds (AZPG) research and development facility. This vehicle will be powered by over 2 megawatts of HydroTec power cubes.
GM has been conducting fuel cell research and product development for more than 50 years and is one of the only companies with advanced, homegrown technology platforms for both lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. GM and Komatsu believe these complimentary technologies can help spur the adoption of lower-emission mobility solutions and help other industries beyond passenger vehicles meet their sustainability goals.