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Cementation piling rig switches to hydrogen fuel

The Soilmec SR30 rig that is beign converted to dual-fuel hydrogen and diesel power

Piling specialist Cementation Skanska is working with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and vehicle conversion specialist ULEMCo.

Together they plan to produce and evaluate the world’s first dual-fuel hydrogen and diesel piling machine.

The project is backed by government funding from phase one of the red diesel replacement programme, part of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s Net Zero Innovation Portfolio (NZIP).

Called ZECHER – for ‘Zero Carbon Hydrogen Construction Equipment for Real-world use – the project is expected to provide a proof of concept for converting on-site construction equipment to hydrogen fuel.

The trial is being carried out on a Soilmec SR30 rotary and CFA piling rig at Cementation Skanska’s facility at Bentley Works in south Yorkshire. It is a medium-sized rig with a Cummins QSB6.7 engine. Machines like this can typically drink 100 litres of diesel a day (£185 a day at current rates).

The project will also examine the range of equipment used on a construction site, create detailed energy use and duty cycle data, and investigate the requirements and options for addressing the challenges of providing hydrogen at scale across the country for different machine types. Given the high volumes involved, conversion to hydrogen dual-fuel will enable costs for green hydrogen to fall below that of white diesel, if the barriers of meeting the on-machine storage challenge of energy density are addressed, Skanska reckons.

“ZECHER plans to show that conversion to dual-fuel will save up to 50% CO2 in this duty cycle, and we expect that it will provide additional emissions benefits such as reduction in NOx and particulates”, said Amanda Lyne, co-founder and managing director of ULEMCo. “The machines used in construction are owned and used for many years, so demonstrating a decarbonisation solution that utilises these existing assets is not only cost-effective but also important for sustainability.”   

Cementation Skanska managing director Terry Muckian said: “We are exploring a range of innovations that will support us in decarbonising our operations, with a target of achieving net zero carbon by 2045. Replacing diesel is key to achieving this target. We need solutions that will offer operational certainty and reliability, that will also set us on the pathway to full decarbonisation. We have already done this with HVO (hydro-treated vegetable oil), with all our plant fleet including piling rigs running on this fuel since the beginning of 2022. Exploring the role that hydrogen could play in our future operation is of strategic importance to us.”

BRE senior consultant Ranjit Bassi added: “The UK construction sector uses around a billion litres of fuel annually, generating about 2.7 million tonnes of CO2, and therefore finding ways to decarbonise the sector is critical to delivering the UK’s targets for net zero. BRE’s role in the project is to look across the sector and to help accelerate the transition to clean fuels. Hydrogen looks to be one of the only currently viable routes to doing this in the available timescale.”

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