Lord Bamford with JCB’s hydrogen combustion engine

A digger powered by a hydrogen combustion engine, which is claimed to be a world first, will soon be on UK roads and building sites following government approval.

The UK government has given special dispensation, under a vehicle special order, that allows JCB, the British construction equipment manufacturer, to test and use its hydrogen-powered backhoe loader on UK roads.

Technology and decarbonisation minister Jesse Norman said: “From cars to construction sites, industry has a vital role in decarbonising our economy and creating green jobs and prosperity.

“JCB’s investment in greener equipment is a great example of how industry can make this happen, using alternative fuels to generate sustainable economic growth.”

JCB chairman Lord Bamford said: Securing this vehicle special order from the Department for Transport is an important first step in getting JCB machines that are powered by hydrogen combustion engines to and from British building sites using the public highway. It’s an endorsement that JCB is on the right path in pursuit of its net zero ambitions.

“JCB’s hydrogen-powered backhoe loader is a world first in our industry, a digger with a purpose-engineered internal combustion engine that uses hydrogen gas as the energy source. It’s a real breakthrough – a zero CO2 fuel providing the power to drive the pistons in an internal combustion engine, a technology that’s been around for over 100 years, a technology that we are all familiar with.

“I am delighted that the decarbonisation minister will witness for himself the first drive of a hydrogen-powered digger on the open road. It’s clear to me that, following this visit, he’ll appreciate the potential for hydrogen internal combustion engines to help deliver net zero targets more quickly, while adding jobs and contributing wider economic benefits to the construction sector.”

Today the minister will visit JCB’s headquarters in Rocester, Staffordshire, where he’ll see the digger take to the road near the factory where it was manufactured. He’ll also inspect one of JCB’s hydrogen combustion engines, which are the product of a £100m investment project by JCB to develop new lower-emission powertrains.