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Decarbonisation of the heavy-duty, off-highway and agriculture sectors gains pace with global innovation.

By April 27, 2023 No Comments

Heavy-duty, off-highway and agriculture are three of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise. However, research and development in this sector continues to gain pace. Some of the largest innovators are developing highly efficient alternatives to traditional diesel engines, but still using the ICE as a base model.

Three of the largest companies decarbonising the Heavy-duty, off-highway and agriculture sector are JCB, CNH Industrial and Iveco Group.

Despite the 2050 net zero trajectory many countries are currently targeting, there is still a colossal amount of work to be done to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C and reduce emissions.

However, although electrification is still being hailed as the answer to emissions problems in many smaller vehicle sectors, this does not suit the heavy-duty, off-highway and agriculture sectors.

The vehicles in this sector are in some cases expected to be running 24 hours day sometimes weeks on end. Vehicles such as land movers, harvesters, tractors, land trains, etc fall into this category and with financial investment very much a consideration for the longevity of these vehicles, their ability to be running day and night is imperative.

Therefore, electrification is simply not a viable option for these vehicles.  However, innovators across the globe have been seeking sustainable alternatives for these vehicles and ensuring that their propulsion systems can be run on sustainable and zero emissions fuels.

CNH Industrial and Bennamann Ltd – Methane tractor

One of the most talked about seminars at the Future Propulsion Conference this year wasThe fugitive Methane Tractor and its Role in the Energy Independent Farm’ presented by Alastair Walshaw of CNH Industrial and Dr Chris Mann, Bennamann Ltd.

The seminar explored the benefits of utilising fugitive methane as sustainable fuel for dairy farm tractors.  Dr Chris Mann of Bennamann Ltd explained to the delegates how methane produced from dairy farms is one way to support the circular economy and produce a permanent supply of onsite fuel for the farming communities.

The process sees dairy farmers taking cow manure and turning it into methane in slurry lagoons.

With Methane being the worst contributor to global warming, 80% worse than CO2, if fugitive methane can be captured on site, it could help mitigate emissions.

Bennamman Ltd are trialling this process and currently move the methane offsite for processing and then return as a usable fuel. However, plans are in process to find ways of processing methane on farms and enabling the direct access to the methane fuel, removing additional CO2 generated by its movement off and on site.

In addition, Methane capture can mean another income for dairy farmers who are already struggling. In its liquid form it’s on a par with diesel and easier to move than in its gaseous format, with any excess being used to generate energy and being fed directly into the national grid.

Shortly after FPC2023 on 26th March 23, Bennamann Ltd announced that CNH Industrial, whose brands include New Holland Agriculture, Case IH, CASE Construction Equipment and IVECO commercial vehicles, had acquired a minority stake in Bennamann.  The minority stake acquisition see’s CNH Industrial become Bennamann’s exclusive strategic agricultural technology partner worldwide.

CNH Industrial being a global leader in sustainability is well known for its commercialisation of products which can be powered by renewable fuel sources. CNH Industrial’s investment will help Bennamann accelerate growth and they also bring a wide range of manufacturing, supply chain and operational expertise to the company.  (1)

JCB – Hydrogen for off-highway

Another seminar to delve down into the decarbonisation challenges faced by the off-highway sector, was Ryan Ballard from JCB with his seminar titled “The off-highway road to Zero CO2

JCB produces 350 machines, and they fall into three categories – compact, mid-range and heavy line.

Their small compact machines are often used in urban settings and therefore making them BEV makes sense as they are often only used for short periods of time, produce no noise and can have access to easily accessible charging outlets.

However, do batteries scale in off-highway?

Ballard explained how the JCB small excavator is 2 times more expensive than the diesel alternative and that customers need to see a reason for them to shift over to a product which does not have the same running times available as its diesel alternative.

However, Ballard posed the question – can a 20-tonne excavator be run on batteries?

Excavators of this size can move 4 tonnes of materials per minute, running 16 hours per day and use a huge amount of energy.

Ballard explained that it would take 1000kwh/1 megawatt to run 20 tonne excavator for 16 hours, that the batteries would weigh in at 10 tonnes and would add another £100k to already £120k price tag. Furthermore, based on the amount of usage they would be required to do, the batteries might only last 12-18months.

Therefore, if batteries are not an option for a 20-tonne excavator, H2 makes a compelling alternative for these and other energy dense machines.

But what about fuel cells, can these land movers not run on these as an option?

Ballard explained that the main challenges for fuel cell applications is that they are expensive, difficult to engineer and fit in a variety of different applications and are intolerant to off-highway environments (they don’t like dust, heat or vibrations)

With this in mind, JCB have now developed their own H2 engine. The success of the engine is shown in its efficiency and being zero emissions in use. The NOx can be mitigated by running the engine lean and dropping the combustion temperature.

So, what are the benefits of developing H2 engines for off-highway? H2 is fast to market, fast to deploy and is not dependant on rare earth minerals. However, investment needs to be ramped up in UK to keep up with international investment already going on in Green Hydrogen production.  €30 billion have already been allocated to Hydrogen production in Europe, India has a vast Green Hydrogen economy growing as does the USA. Currently the UK are lagging behind their international competitors.

But what about fuelling infrastructures for H2? JCB plan to overcome fuelling infrastructure issues by collaborating with infrastructure builders on major construction sites, then when the construction is completed, the H2 fuelling ability would be left as a legacy, adding to the fuel options available across the UK.

Iveco Group – Nikola Tre FCEV

The Nikola Corporation is a global leader in zero-emissions transportation and energy supply and infrastructure solutions. Part of the Iveco Group, Nikola have been developing the heavy-duty Nikola Tre hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEVs)

The first incarnation of the Nikola Tre, the BEV, packs up to 733kWh of energy into a compact 186” wheelbase and all at lower operating costs than conventional diesel. However, the Tre BEV only has a maximum range of 330 miles and a charge time of 90 minutes. (2)

To give a greater range and appeal to the heavy-duty long-haul market, Nikola have now developed the Hydrogen powered Tre FCEV for longer or continuous journeys. With a maximum range of 500 miles, refuel time of 20 minutes or less and zero emissions at the tailpipe; the Tre FCEV will certainly have greater appeal for the longer haul sector.

Such is the appeal of the Nikola Tre FCEV that in January 2023 Nikola and Iveco Group announced a letter of intent to order 100 Class 8, heavy-duty Nikola Tre FCEVs from GP JOULE, a system provider for integrated energy solutions based in Reussenkoege, Germany. The Nikola Tre FCEVs in the European 6×2 variant will be manufactured by the joint venture between Nikola and Iveco Group at the site created in Ulm, Germany. (2)

Dolphin N2 – Recuperated Split Cycle Hydrogen Engine

Dolphin N2 having been purchased by FPT Industrial in 2019, are now part of the Iveco Group.

The Dolphin N2 Recuperated Split Cycle Engine has been developed to run on a series of sustainable fuels and more recently it has been developed to run on Hydrogen.

The Advanced Propulsion Centre recognised the validity of the ThermoPower process as “a radical new take on the internal combustion engine, taking waste heat from the exhaust and putting it back into the engine via a recuperator, increasing the engine’s efficiency by 20%.” (3)

Despite the ICE being designed to run on diesel, an APC Advanced Route to Market Demonstrator funded research project – known as RE-ARMED – determined that the same high efficiency could be achieved when using hydrogen as a combustion fuel. (3)

The engine has a split cycle, separating the ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ sections of a traditional internal combustion engine, and uses waste energy to heat air through a recuperator. By retaining and reusing the heat from the exhaust, it can achieve 55% efficiency for diesel or hydrogen combustion and produces very low NOx emissions. (3)

ThermoPower was designed to reduce the diesel costs and carbon emissions of logistics companies by 20% in a simple to adopt drop-in solution. The fact that the engine can now also be powered by hydrogen paves a clear pathway to a zero-emission future. (3)

To find out more about the ThermoPower Recuperated Split Cycle Engine Hydrogen capabilities, follow the links below.


“The Recuperated Split Cycle Engine: A Practical Hydrogen Solution for Heavy Duty?”

Written by Katy Mason for and on behalf of Dolphin N2.