US automaker General Motors (GM) and Japanese equipment manufacturer Komatsu are set to jointly develop a hydrogen fuel cell power module for the latter’s 930E electric drive mining truck.

The two companies will co-design and validate the technology. Hydrogen fuel cells are suitable for electrifying applications conventionally powered by diesel engines as they are both lightweight and easy to refuel with zero emissions.

Hydrogen stores massive quantities of energy but does not hamper the vehicle’s payload-carrying capacity. For a mining truck such as the Komatsu 930E, the nominal payload is 320 tonnes.

Such vehicles generally operate at a single mine throughout their life, making it easier to deploy an effective hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

With fuel cell-powered mining trucks, decarbonisation can be achieved beyond battery-trolley or battery-static charging solutions without extra charging infrastructure.

The two companies plan to trial their first prototype, the HYDROTEC-powered mining vehicle, at Komatsu’s Arizona Proving Grounds research and development facility by the mid-2020s.

This vehicle will be powered by more than 2MW of HYDROTEC power cubes.

GM has been conducting research and product development on fuel cells and is one of the only companies with homegrown technology for both lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

These two technologies could help stimulate the adoption of low-emission mobility solutions.

The latest move is in line with Komatsu’s aim to cut its global emissions by 50% by 2030 and its 2050 goal for carbon neutrality.

To reach these targets, it needs to lower and phase out emissions from its products, facilities and production lines.

Komatsu North America engineering and development vice-president Dan Funcannon said: “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.

“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 global HYDROTEC business executive-director Charlie Freese said: “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.

“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.”