With most equipment makers still working through backlogs and a strong construction season spinning up, contractors inspecting the equipment at the triennial CONEXPO-CON/AGG trade show in Las Vegas were asking questions about the alternative power sources on display as they looked to restock their fleets.

The rollout of battery-powered and other non-fossil fuel-powered equipment was seen throughout the show, from March 14 to 18, across a number of categories and sizes. The array ran the gamut from early prototype machines that were essentially rough sketches of how certain equipment could transition from diesel power, to commercially viable models for which contractors could place orders today.

While battery-powered mini and compact equipment has increasingly entered retail and rental channels in recent years, major manufacturers are looking at other power options for larger class machines. The promise of a possible rise in production of hydrogen fuel cells has some big players taking a serious look at the alternative fuel, with Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas showing off a two-ton, hydrogen-powered wheeled excavator at the show.

CONEXPO02.jpgHyundai Construction Equipment's prototype hydrogen-powered wheeled excavator.
Photo by Jeff Rubenstone for ENR



The HW155H is designed for use in both indoor and outdoor settings, and takes advantage of innovations in hydrogen fuel cells derived from other segments of Hyundai’s business, including its automotive division. The company's recent investment in battery and hydrogen technology are part of a “new brand identity," according to company CEO Choi Cheol-Gon, who spoke to assembled press at the CONEXPO show.

JCB was also on call to tout its latest advances in hydrogen power, with its engine division announcing the successful prototyping of a hydrogen-combustion engine. The manufacturer sees potential in the hydrogen-combustion engine profile for retrofits of more traditional internal combustion engines. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, the combustion reaction in an engine does release some emissions in the form of NOx, but it does not give off the carbon emissions found in gasoline or diesel engines.

The new hydrogen-powered engine is the result of a $121-million investment by the U.K.-based manufacturer. “As the first construction equipment company to develop a fully working combustion engine fueled by hydrogen, I’m delighted we are now able to present this technology on the international stage,” CEO Anthony Bamford said in a press statement at the time of the unveiling at the CONEXPO show.