Fuel-Cell Power for Monster Mining Trucks in GM, Komatsu Deal

GM’s hydrogen fuel cells will generate up to 2 MW of electricity for Komatsu’s massive, market-leading mining hauler.

GM and Komatsu will jointly develop a hydrogen fuel cell-powered variant of Komatsu’s massive “ultra class” 930E electric-drive mining dump truck. (Komatsu)

In the latest announcement from GM regarding commercialization of its longstanding hydrogen fuel-cell research and development, it and commercial-vehicle specialist Komatsu said they are collaborating to co-develop a hydrogen fuel-cell power module for Komatsu’s 930E electric-drive mining truck, the world’s best-selling “ultra-class” hauling truck. The companies intend to jointly design and validate the truck’s onboard fuel-cell system that will generate up to 2 megawatts of power for the massive mining trucks, many of which spend their entire service life at the same site.

This GM Hydrotec fuel cell power cube contains more than 300 hydrogen fuel cells and generates 77 kW, but the array of modular power cubes for the Komatsu mining-truck application will make up to 2MW of electricity. (Jim Fets for General Motors)

The two companies intend to test the first prototype — powered by a modular array of GM’s Hydrotec fuel-cell “power cubes” — in the mid-2020s at Komatsu’s Arizona Proving Grounds (AZPG) research-and-development facility. In a video conference with the media, Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global Hydrotec business, and Dan Funcannon, vice president of North America engineering and development for Tokyo, Japan-headquartered Komatsu, declined to say when production versions of the fuel cell-powered hauler might be available or to provide financial specifics of the deal.

Funcannon said that Komatsu has been developing a “power-agnostic” platform for its mining truck — which has a massive nominal payload of 320 tons — and the initiative will help the company meet its target of reducing its global emissions footprint by 50% by 2030 and to become carbon-neutral by 2050. He said the fuel-cell collaboration with GM is an example of the company’s desire to use “the best technologies for individual mine types and applications.” He added that Komatsu is developing the fuel cell-powered 930E truck with the intent for global deployment, adding that fuel cells have many potential applications for mining environments.

Komatsu’s current 930E-5 dump truck is propelled by electric motors at each drive wheel. The power for the truck’s drive motors is generated by a 16-cylinder Komatsu-made diesel engine that develops 2700 hp.

“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 Funcannon. “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’s Freese said, “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.” He added that trucks such as Komatsu’s require “immense amounts of energy” and that the Hydrotec power cubes developed for the Komatsu application will have “substantially more power per system” and likely will be in a different form factor than the 77-kW power cube GM recently showed as part of a joint-development agreement with commercial-truck specialist Autocar.

Freese also offered some insight on the possibilities and options for how hydrogen fuel itself is deployed in the market, particularly for potentially challenging worksites such as remote mines. He said that proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology used for electrolysis that generates hydrogen from water “seems to be gaining traction in the industry.” He said the electrolysis industry “hasn’t been taking advantage of what’s been going on in the automotive space,” but the process has promise for on-site generation of hydrogen in some applications. If hydrogen can be manufactured close to the point of use, “it unlocks even more value,” Freese asserted.