The hard road to electrifying a mighty truck

Sometime soon, a strange contraption wrapped in colorful green and orange coils and weighing almost 24 metric tons will roll out of a Seattle industrial park, destined for a platinum mine in South Africa.

There it will meet its future host: a truck that is one of the planet’s largest land vehicles.

The Komatsu 930E is three stories tall and made in Peoria, Ill., at a cost of $5 million each. These “ultra class” vehicles, as they’re known, are the Clydesdales of open-pit mines, hauling almost 300 tons of rock from the dusty depths of the pit to the lip for crushing and processing. The diesel-electric hybrid can burn almost 800 gallons of diesel a day.

But this particular truck, after its transplant, will never again burn diesel. Its engine will be removed and swapped out for this new device coming from Seattle — a fuel-cell power plant that runs on hydrogen.

British mining giant Anglo American PLC owns the truck, and the site: the Mogalakwena mine, a 28-square-mile series of pits that are one of the world’s leading sources of platinum. If the truck does the trick, Anglo American says it will convert many more of the 400 trucks it operates worldwide. It also intends to make the hydrogen fuel at the South African mine, using no inputs other than solar power and dirty water.

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