Hyundai electrifies excavators via batteries and hydrogen

By Becky Schultz17 April 2023

Hyundai Construction Equipment showed its next steps in alternative-powered equipment at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2023, with both a battery-electric mini excavator and a 14-ton hydrogen-fueled model demonstrated in its booth. The machines are currently in prototype stage but represent Hyundai’s path toward a more sustainable future.

The 1.8-ton R18E electric excavator shown was the second generation of the model highlighted at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2020. It incorporates an electric motor rated at 37 peak hp, which is fed by a nickel cobalt manganese battery.

The R18E will be used in field testing in advance of production machines that are anticipated to be available in 2024, said Hyundai’s Chris Davies. While much of the “bones,” or structure of the machines are likely to remain the same, there will be some important distinctions.

“Our production models will have different specifications – higher kilowatt rated batteries and shorter charge times,” Davies said. “[The R18E] has a 220 V high-output charging system, but [with] the production models, there will be an optional 450 V fast charging system.”

The company plans to offer its electric-powered mini excavators in three sizes: 1.9, 2.7 and 3.5 tons.

Hyundai HW155H hydrogen excavator Hyundai’s14-ton HW155H prototype hydrogen fuel cell-powered excavator. (Photo: KHL staff)
Commited to hydrogen

Adjacent to the electric mini was the HW155H prototype hydrogen fuel cell-powered wheeled excavator.

“This is a 14-ton excavator using hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity that then feeds the electric motor on board,” Davies said. “You can think of this as an electric excavator, but instead of using a battery pack, in its place is a hydrogen fuel cell.”

According to Davies, “Hydrogen tanks feed pure hydrogen into the hydrogen fuel cell. The hydrogen fuel cell harnesses the chemical reaction within the fuel cell between oxygen in the atmosphere and hydrogen and that generates electricity.”

Hyundai hydrogen fuel cell prototype The HW155H is powered by hydrogen fuel cells developed through a partnership between Hyundai sister companies. (Photo: KHL staff)

That electricity enables up to eight hours of operation, with water as the only emission. Refueling time is just 20 minutes. 

The prototype stems from an agreement for development of hydrogen-powered medium- and large-capacity excavators and forklifts, signed between Hyundai Construction Equipment, Hyundai Motors and Hyundai Mobus in March 2020. “It’s all shared in-house technology developed through a partnership with our sister [companies] under the Hyundai umbrella,” Davies pointed out.

While acknowledging that a production version of the hydrogen-fueled machine is still a number of years off, Davies said Hyundai definitely sees the technology in its future and intends to lead the industry in its development.

“This platform technically is a second-generation prototype hydrogen fuel cell, and we have another one in the works,” Davies commented. “We are committed to developing this technology and we see it as the path forward.”

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