Skanska is taking part in a “world-first” project that aims to reduce the amount of diesel used by on-site construction equipment.
The initiative, which involves hydrogen-fuel pioneers ULEMCo and world-leading building science centre Building Research Establishment (BRE), will produce and evaluate a “dual-fuel hydrogen and diesel piling machine”.
Named ZECHER, for ‘Zero Carbon Hydrogen Construction Equipment for Real-world use’, the project will provide a proof of concept for converting on-site construction equipment and will deliver the physical conversion of the rig.
It will also explore the “viability” of hydrogen fuel for construction and could enable the cost of green hydrogen to fall below that of white diesel, according to the construction company.
It is one of 17 ventures announced last week that are being funded through phase one of the government’s red-diesel replacement programme, which aims to help companies meet net-zero targets.
While transport applications of hydrogen fuel are becoming better known, the use of hydrogen to reduce or eliminate emissions in the construction sector is less developed.
The test will be undertaken on a piling rig, where ZECHER will use the findings to explore the opportunities for using hydrogen to reduce carbon. It will also assess how it can significantly improve air quality for a range of heavy-duty, non-road machinery typically used in the early stages of large infrastructure construction projects.
Managing director of Cementation Skanska Terry Muckian said replacing diesel was “key” to achieving environmental targets by 2045, with the company focused on “exploring a range of innovations”.
“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 operations is of strategic importance to us,” he added.
The project will also examine the range of equipment used at 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.
Skanska says conversion to hydrogen dual-fuel will enable the cost of green hydrogen to fall below that of white diesel if the barriers to meeting the on-machine storage challenge of energy density are addressed.
ULEMCo managing director Amanda Lyne said the technology would dramatically reduce carbon emissions and provide additional benefits, such as a reduction in nitrogen oxides and particulates.
She said: “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.”
A total of 17 projects were awarded funding through the red-diesel replacement competition last month, providing £6.7m during phase one. The scheme was brought in to help the construction sector and others adjust to life without the fuel after it was banned in April.