2019 has been a landmark year when it comes to electric vehicles. So far, while highway-focused companies are capturing the most attention commercially and culturally, several exciting announcements have signaled the possibility of major shifts in the construction space that should catch the attention of eco-friendly and profit-minded professionals alike.
As those who follow industry trade shows already know, the buzz surrounding these announcements has been all about the construction industry’s pivot towards electric-powered equipment, including excavators, wheel loaders, trucks and drilling rigs. From Volvo to Caterpillar, many top manufacturers have launched or revealed new
products primed to change the way we’ll approach construction in coming decades through electric power--especially when it comes to our implementation of compact machinery.
Cleaner, Quieter Opportunities
According to industry leaders, upgrading to green construction equipment will have more to offer than scoring you points at the Sierra Club. This shift towards electric solutions is ushering in quantifiable benefits that are answering existing consumer demand in the real world, such as performance gains and cost reduction. This means that in conjunction with meeting mounting pressure to reduce noxious emissions at the government level, and the image-boosting effect of becoming environmentally conscious, the heavy equipment of the future is poised to entice business owners with attractive selling points that affect your bottom line.
First and foremost comes the advantage of equipment becoming pollutant-free. Today’s diesel engines release over forty toxic substances known to cause cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary and respiratory diseases after prolonged exposure, making expensive ventilation systems a necessity in confined spaces. So, in addition to meeting increasingly restrictive regulations on chemical pollutants, zero-emission electric motors will not only keep your fleet compliant but create and expand healthier work environments by eliminating these risks outright. As a result, you’ll be able to take compact electric excavators indoors with you while working in places where comparable equipment was previously unmanageable or cost prohibitive, like demolition sites and basement construction.
Apart from tackling greenhouse gasses, electric heavy equipment is putting noise pollution in the crosshairs. The cutback in sound so far is significant; companies are already claiming noise levels half the dBA of diesel engines on comparable machines! With quieter vehicles comes increased opportunities to work in urban areas, indoors and at later hours. For example, CNET has reported that testing of Volvo’s new line of fully electric trucks in Stockholm, Sweden revealed business owners could implement shipping schedules throughout the night in city centers without creating disturbances, resulting in up to 75% quicker deliveries. (After the successful case study, Volvo’s electric trucks will launch in Europe this summer and across North America next year.)
Lastly, the new breed of electric motors promises less maintenance with higher efficiency. Engine prototypes for the next generation indicate those who make the switch to eco-friendly options will reap the benefits of more modular propulsion systems with far less moving parts. We like the sound of longer lasting, easier to maintain components, especially if we are no longer forced to hear them running all day or left choking on their fumes.
Different Ways of Thinking Green
Considering not all electric vehicles are created equal, nor are all worksites suited for electric vehicles in every circumstance, companies are exploring different approaches as they move forward with their vision. The current technology is best matched to particular industries where sufficient access to electrical power grids are present, like urban environments, and jobs that operate within distance and cargo restrictions, such as close-quarters transport. With both light and lead-footed strategies being pursued, incremental progress will most likely be the name of the game in years to come as the potential of these systems expands to new sectors.
Taking the initiative, Volvo has made a commitment to exclusively produce electric vehicles in its line of compact wheel loaders and compact excavators by mid-2020. Promising eight hours of battery life, two hour recharge, and uncompromised performance, the L25 wheel loader and ECR25 excavator will pave the way for Volvo Construction Equipment going forward as they look to expand electromobility “across all product ranges and applications.” Director of Emerging Technologies Jenny Elfsberg has stated she is “absolutely convinced that all of [Volvo’s] machines will be all-electric in the future.”
For the present time, Caterpillar is focusing on electrification of existing vehicles. Rather than force consumers to engage in rapid change like Volvo, Caterpillar intends to pursue a more holistic route that serves the needs of specific niches. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t innovating. Caterpillar brought to Bauma their D6 XE dozer, which is the world’s first with a high electric-drive. The company touts the new electrified option to include more intuitive operator interfaces, 20-35% savings in fuel consumption, and 12% reduction in maintenance and service costs.
As far as zero-emission goes, Caterpillar debuted their lithium-ion battery-powered underground mining loader, the R1700 XE. When put head-to-head with diesel alternatives in the Caterpillar family, the R1700 XE came out on top with “more than a tenfold decrease in total energy costs; nearly eight times less heat generated; significantly less noise at the operator's ear; immediate torque availability from the electric motors; reduced dust levels attributed to not having a conventional diesel engine radiator fan; and reduced tire wear.”