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Fuel cell-powered mining trucks next up for GM Hydrotec

Powering monster trucks will require multiple fuel cell cubes with lots of power

General Motors will co-develop fuel cell systems with Komatsu for outsized mining trucks. (Photo: GM/Komatsu)

An array of fuel cell power cubes from General Motors will power Komatsu’s massive off-roading mining trucks by mid-decade — each operating with more than 2 megawatts of hydrogen power.

The use of multiple fuel cells to provide power to the massive off-highway Komatsu’s 930E electric drive mining truck is an ideal use case for fuel cells, whose only emission is water vapor. The Komatsu model is the world’s bestselling ultra-class haul truck. 

GM and Komatsu will jointly design and validate the technology for debut at Komatsu’s Arizona Proving Grounds around 2026. The fuel cell Power Cubs are assembled at GM’s plant in Brownstown, Michigan.

It is GM’s second announcement of a future fuel cell production program in a week. It is also planning to power cement mixers from AutoCar with its Hydrotec fuel cells.

GM moves into production fuel cell systems

“What you are seeing that’s different is that we’re producing production systems,” Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global Hydrotec business, said in a virtual news conference. “That’s part of what is different now than it was a few years ago.”

In a news release, Freese said, “Fuel cells can play an integral role in a zero-emissions future, helping to electrify heavier-duty applications, beyond passenger vehicles.” 

The automaker has a joint venture with Honda Motor Co. to build fuel cells at GM’s plant in Brownstown. Honda plans to use fuel cells in its vehicle lineup. GM has not announced a GM brand vehicle program. It prefers longer-term projects like one with  Liebherr-Aerospace to develop a fuel cell power-generation demonstrator system for aircraft.

During the news conference, Freese declined comment on a fuel cell project announced in January 2021 with Navistar International, J.B. Hunt Transport and hydrogen producer OneH2.

Upfits of existing trucks being explored

Komatsu said it is exploring upfits to existing trucks with the fuel cell Power Cubes. An undetermined number of Power Cubes would make up a power array of more than 2 megawatts of power per truck. The mining trucks carry up to 320 tons of material.

The trucks typically operate at a single mine throughout their life. That simplifies the sizing and deployment of hydrogen refueling infrastructure. Komatsu and GM are considering installing electrolyzers at the mining sites.

“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,” Freese said.

GM is working with Nel Hydrogen to use Nel electrolyzers to make hydrogen from water and electricity. 

“The individual lines will require a relatively large quantity of hydrogen, so they’ll need to work on that supply at the mine site with local or regional [hydrogen] suppliers,” said Dan Funcannon, vice president of Komatsu North America engineering and development. 

Komatsu is working toward reducing its global emissions by 50% by 2030 and a stretch goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

“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,” Funcannon said. “We believe [GM is] best suited to help us help our customers meet their sustainability goals.”

GM targets carbon neutrality in its products and operations by 2040.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.