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Liebherr says its big hydrogen wheel loader beats BEVs – are they right?

Liebherr is pressing ahead with its efforts to phase out fossil fuels on its job sites, but they don’t think battery-electric is the best solution for the heaviest heavy equipment – and the company’s latest hydrogen-powered wheel loader seems like it’s struggling to prove that point.

Despite the company’s efforts to convert some of the largest construction and mining machines on Earth to battery-electric power (efforts that have seen more than a million tons of material muscled aside), the company says it’s struggling to make a 40+ ton electric wheel loader make commercial sense.

At first blush, these seem like contradictory statements – but hang on. Mining equipment like massive excavators and 100+ ton haul trucks spend a ton of time in one place, and tend to operate in environments that have consistent access to grid power. That’s why it makes sense for Liebherr to electrify its 300 ton mobile container crane, but why it may not make sense to electrify anything much bigger than their L 507 E compact loader.

Liebherr believes batteries don’t makes sense for equipment like this 40 ton wheel loader that could be asked to operate in areas where electricity might be hard to come by. And, while Volvo is working on ways to bring power to the job site and Moog is working on modular batteries to do the same thing, Liebherr is pushing hydrogen combustion as a solution for job sites that require hundreds of kW of work to be done on a single shift.

And, as an off-road solution, it’s worth noting that MW-scale batteries would be so heavy, using current technology, that they’re just as likely to sink into the mud and earth as they are to effectively move it.

Liebherr L 566 H wheel loader

Liebherr L 566 H and MAN hydrogen semi; via Liebherr.

Though Liebherr didn’t release any specs on its L 566 H, the diesel-powered L 566 Liebherr wheel loader has an operating weight range of up to 58,310 pounds, and is capable of carrying buckets up to 15.7 cubic yards (for context, a full-sized pickup bed has a 2-3 yard capacity and can haul about one yard of sand and gravel).

The L566 H is expected to perform at least as well as its diesel-fueled counterpart, but with a fraction of the tailpipe emissions.

That said, getting the hydrogen to the tractor remains as big a problem as getting electricity to it. “To make progress in hydrogen research, we need to have access to hydrogen,” says Dr. Ing. Herbert Pfab, Chief Technical Officer of Liebherr Bischofshofen. “We built this filling station (at the Liebherr plant in Bischofshofen) to further advance our goals for decarbonizing construction machinery.”

Electrek’s Take

Look, Liebherr can talk up its new hydrogen equipment all it wats, but the reality of this cynical cash grab can be seen in the first press photo (at top). If you can’t see it: it’s the MAN truck. One of 200 examples of a hydrogen combustion semi built to prove that the tech isn’t ready.

MAN Truck’s notoriously hydrogen-skeptical CEO, Alexander Vlaskamp, told reporters that it was, “impossible for hydrogen to effectively compete with battery electric trucks,” back in January. “Today you cannot buy hydrogen for less than 13 or 14 euros … and it is not green.”

Frankly, not much has changed since then – and it’s hard to look at these hydrogen projects as anything, other than a means to funnel some hydrogen incentive money into the corporate coffers.

That’s my take. If you can think of another one, let us know about it in the comments.

SOURCES | IMAGES: Liebherr, via Construction Equipment.

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