Recent announcements from major construction equipment manufacturers confirm the coming reality of worksite electrification.
CASE Construction Equipment, based in Racine, Wis., first unveiled its 580EV electric backhoe loader under the banner Project Zeus last March, a machine offering the power and performance equivalent to other diesel-powered backhoes in the CASE product line. Since then, the company says new 580EV units have been delivered to three U.S. power utility customers on a made-to-order basis. The company is in position to ramp up production further as demand increases.
Meanwhile, John Deere of Moline, Ill., in conjunction with North East U.S. utility company National Grid, has commenced testing its first electric backhoe. Targeting the performance and functionality of the 100HP diesel-powered 310L backhoe, the test period will, according to a Deere media release, “enable National Grid to expand its use of electric equipment on jobsites, reaffirming its commitment to leading the industry in the use of clean and resilient energy solutions.”
Electrification of the jobsite has increased greatly over the past few years, beginning with powerful battery-powered hand tools and high-capacity voltage storage stations and, more recently, expanding into rolling equipment like compact loaders and skid steers.
Volvo CE, known mostly for larger machines, announced plans in 2019 to switch 10 of its compact machines over to electric and to cease further diesel development in the very near term. That may be an indication that the company plans to leverage its electric truck technology towards ever-larger construction equipment.
Electric excavators represent another step forward. Bobcat, for example, started with its Z10e mini-excavator designed for indoor use. The company recently announced a development partnership with Green Machine Equipment to market other electric versions of their compact line-up, such as the E50 compact excavator.
Common to both CASE and Deere is the technology partnership with Green Machine.
Green Machine, based in Buffalo, N.Y., is a specialty manufacturer of construction drive systems powered by their patented lithium-ion batteries.
Komatsu has also joined the electrification movement, announcing the development of a mid-sized electric excavator to be unveiled later in 2021. Interestingly, they have chosen to work with Proterra, a Californian manufacturer of commercial battery technology known for its work with long range electric buses and freight trucks.
Meanwhile, German manufacturer Liebherr has released the world’s first battery-powered crawler cranes. The larger of the two models, the LR 1250.1 unplugged, can lift up to 250 metric tons and maintain over four hours of operation.
In the near term, and until new battery technology is developed, the practicality of electric machinery will be determined by range and recharging times.
For example, CASE says its new 580EV can put in a full eight hours of work before needing recharging. Industry experts feel that eight hours is a good target in order for an electric machine to be truly useful onsite. However, such claims may not always be achievable due to the specific nature of the work and loads encountered. There is also the issue of recharging times, whether through standard electrical infrastructure or fast-charging stations strategically located onsite.
Nevertheless, there are important advantages to electric machines, particularly in urban settings.
CASE says the zero emissions from electric machines will be, “a motivating factor for utility and government contractors incentivized to work with equipment that leverages alternative fuels and lowers emissions. City governments and municipalities will also benefit from the elimination of emissions for working in urban environments and close to other buildings/people, as well as the reduced noise generated by the equipment.”
Electric machines also promise substantially lower operational and maintenance costs. CASE estimates that its 580EV could save fleets as much as 90 per cent in annual vehicle service and maintenance costs, resulting in a payback of its price premium in five years.
Future operational prospects for machine electrification are also creating a buzz. Look for load/lift customization using software and, ultimately, the availability of all-electric machines versus today’s electric/hydraulic hybrids.
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.