Home » National Highways to use hydrogen-powered construction machinery on Thames project

National Highways to use hydrogen-powered construction machinery on Thames project

by Liam Turner
National Highways staff on site at Lower Thames Crossing

National Highways has launched one of the UK’s largest ever purchases of low-carbon hydrogen in a move that it hopes will reduce the carbon footprint of the Lower Thames Crossing and accelerate the industry’s shift from diesel.

As a part of National Highways’ commitment to net-zero maintenance and construction emissions by 2040, the Lower Thames Crossing – a proposed new road and tunnel across the river Thames east of London – has been designated a pathfinder project to explore carbon-neutral construction.

The scheme seeks to remove an estimated total of 66 million litres of diesel from its worksites.

National Highways says the move kickstarts the Construction Leadership Council’s government-backed route map to eliminate diesel from most construction sites by 2035.

The body is aiming to buy the supply, storage, and distribution of over six million kilograms of hydrogen to use on the project, which will replace around 20 million litres of diesel.

Projects such as HS2 have trialled small hydrogen generators; however, the Lower Thames Crossing would be the first in the UK to use the fuel on a large scale to power its major construction vehicles, such as excavators and dump trucks.

The project also plans to use electric plant for static or slow-moving machinery, where a mains connection is possible and in smaller equipment where battery solutions are viable.

Other renewable fuel sources and biofuels may also be used.

‘Greener industrial future’

Matt Palmer, executive director, Lower Thames Crossing, said: “The proposed Lower Thames Crossing is designed to be the greenest road ever built in the UK, with the aim of being carbon neutral in construction.

“At the heart of these plans is the use of clean low-carbon hydrogen power, and by using it on such a large scale to power our heavy construction machinery that is traditionally hard to electrify, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint, accelerate the construction industry’s shift away from diesel, and help kickstart the creation of a hydrogen ecosystem in the Thames Estuary.”

National Highways says it will work with the Department for Transport and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to ensure the hydrogen purchased for the proposed Lower Thames Crossing scheme helps to drive decarbonisation and strategic development.

Nusrat Ghani, minister for Industry and Economic Security, said: “Last month, we unveiled our new route map to drive diesel out of construction, marking a vital step towards achieving our ambitions of net-zero by 2050.

“I’m pleased to now see National Highways’ plans to replace diesel with hydrogen on the proposed Lower Thames Crossing project.

“This will not only drive forward our construction sector’s net-zero transition but also help to create a new hydrogen ecosystem in the Thames Estuary, moving us forward towards a cleaner, greener industrial future.”

Alasdair Reisner, CEO of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “We have a shared challenge to drive carbon out of the construction industry; finding alternatives to diesel is vital.

“The journey will be difficult unless we start to make progress now and the leadership shown by the Lower Thames Crossing to use hydrogen at this unprecedented scale shows it can be done, and invites others to take a similarly bold step forward.”

Kate Willard, Thames Estuary Envoy and chair of the Thames Estuary Growth Board, said: “I am delighted to see the Lower Thames Crossing leading the charge to net-zero in the construction sector.

“We have proven the demand-led case for investment in hydrogen in the Thames Estuary, and the Lower Thames Crossing will be instrumental in making this a reality.

“This extraordinary and much-needed transport project is a clear demonstration of how we can make a successful transition away from fossil fuels not only in construction but also other sectors, including maritime and logistics.” 

Martin Whiteley, CEO of Thames Freeport, said: “As well as offering attractive business incentives and significant amount of shovel-ready land for development, the freeport has a mandate support levelling up, innovation, and moving to net-zero.

“Thames Freeport stands ready to play a leading role in developing the region’s hydrogen ecosystem.

“We are delighted to be working with the Thames Estuary Growth Board to identify the opportunities across our sites for production, supply, refuelling, and end use and how this will support the region’s hydrogen ecosystem.” 

The detailed examination of the Lower Thames Crossing by the government’s independent planning experts, the Planning Inspectorate, began on 20 June 2023.

If the plans are approved, construction is currently expected to start in 2026.

Image: National Highways staff on site at Lower Thames Crossing. Credit: National Highways

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