Construction equipment manufacturers are embracing electric power. Most major construction equipment manufacturers have electric vehicles (EVs) in their current production catalogs. Some of this is driven by corporate decisions to decrease the negative impact when it comes to climate change and pollution, and some of it is driven to help their customers be more productive and profitable.
EVs don’t produce any local emissions, so you can run them indoors where they replace manual labor, thereby increasing productivity. They also produce less noise, so they can be used in noise-restricted environments. And, since they can be used in more applications, owners of electric-powered construction equipment will be able to work on more and more diverse projects.
1. Demoing EVs
Casper Company, a concrete and demolition contractor based out of Spring Valley, California, owns six EVs — a fleet of Sherpa stand-behind skid steer loaders and Brokk radio remote control demolition machines — and for three months they demoed the Volvo L25 Electric compact wheel loader and the Volvo ECR25 Electric compact excavator.
The L25 Electric features the newest lithium-ion battery 48-volt (V) technology with 39 kilowatt-hour (kWh) capacity. It is powerful. It provides a peak electric motor driveline of 48 horsepower and peak electric motor working hydraulics of 43 horsepower. It features a breakout force of 12,252 pounds and a maximum travel speed of 10 mph.
The ECR25 Electric is a zero-tail-swing machine that features a battery voltage of 48 V, a battery capacity of 20 kWh, and a peak electric motor of 24 horsepower. It has a maximum dump height of 9 feet, 8 inches (with the optional long arm) and a maximum dig depth of 9 feet, 1 inch (with the optional long arm) and features a breakout force of 5,020 pound-force.
“We used them in pretty much every application we regularly perform,” says Casper Company Equipment Demolition Superintendent Darrell Merritt.
“We used them in excavation applications, fitted the excavator with a hydraulic breaker, cutting out concrete with the loader, truck loading, grading, underground work to all things demolition.”
There are only a few differences between owning and operating the electric version of these machines compared to their diesel counterparts. Both the electric and diesel versions can perform all the same functions and run all the same attachments without seeing a change in performance.
2. Scheduling Work
However, the first major difference is the recharging schedule of these vehicles, which can limit how much work they perform and impact your schedule.
“We got five to six hours of use out of the machines,” says Merritt. “And every night we transferred them back to our yard for charging.”
The L25 has an indicative runtime of up to eight hours (depending on application) and an off-board charging time of about two hours. The ECR25 has an indicative runtime of up to four hours (depending on application) and can reach 80% of a full charge in 50 minutes (both using the 400 VAC 32A charging system).
“Toward the end of the three-month trial, we hooked up a tow-behind battery, and then got eight hours of work from them,” says Merritt.
The on-board charging time for the L25 is about 12 hours and the on-board charging time for the ECR25 is about five hours (both with the 230 VAC 16A recharging system).
3. Decreased Maintenance
The second major difference when owning EVs is the decreased maintenance. “We experienced no maintenance issues during the trial,” says Merritt.
An electric engine has fewer components than a diesel engine, which means there is less to go wrong and less that needs servicing. There are no oil changes, no filter changes and no diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). Also, operators won’t accidentally put diesel in the DEF tank or DEF in the diesel tank since there are no tanks.
4. Clean Energy Times Two
Electric energy is clean in two ways: It’s better for the environment (depending on the energy source) and it is always free from contamination.
With EVs, you don’t need to place orders for and then store large quantities of fuel for your fleet. And you don’t have to worry about that fuel getting contaminated or ensuring it stays at the correct temperature.
Electric energy is always free from contamination, and it will never be wasted due to spoilage.
5. Plan for Fewer Workers
Since a lot of EVs can work indoors and other spaces where diesel machines can’t work, these electric machines are often replacing manual labor.
“Our jobs demand EVs,” says Merritt. “We work underground and inside buildings that are occupied, so diesel machines aren’t an option. In these cases, we often work by hand, but there is a huge gain in productivity by using an EV. An application that takes one hour by hand, we can complete in just 20 minutes with an electric machine.”
The Volvo L25 Electric and ECR25 Electric were demoed by not just Casper Company, but three other companies in various applications in different climates across the U.S.; the machines are expected to be available next year.
“Casper wants to be a leader in the future of EVs and when the Volvo electric models become available, we look forward to being the first to get one,” says Merritt.
Get Smarter About Electric Construction Equipment
What you need to know about the changing equipment industry
Sustainability in the construction industry is being advanced by the public and private sectors. Governments are adopting more clean-air regulations at local and regional levels, and companies are adopting sustainability policies and asking partners to help them meet their targets.
Consequently, many manufacturers have already developed — or are in the process of developing — electric-powered construction equipment to meet increasing emissions regulations, provide efficiency improvements and lower operating costs. All electric, electric/hydraulic and battery-operated versions rival their diesel and gas counterparts in performance, notes Joel Honeyman, vice president of global innovation at Bobcat.
The Changing Industry
“People say electric machines are not going to perform as well as diesel machines,” Honeyman observes. “That is simply not true. In many cases they can outperform them.”
“Many people are so used to what they have and are afraid of new technology. Some companies have been running diesel– and gas–powered equipment for 40, 50 years. Hydraulics have been on equipment for 80 years. Adjusting to an electric–powered machine is quite a paradigm shift.”
“We see electric-powered technologies and their applications spilling into our industry,” says Honeyman. “Look at what is happening in the auto industry. Tesla has really driven the battery electric concept and an entire industry is shifting.”
Green construction technology is only getting better and smarter with new machine and equipment applications and opportunities, he adds.
Among the many advantages of electrification, says Honeyman, are “noise and vibration reduction, instantaneous power, and software features that are otherwise unavailable with a diesel engine and hydraulics.”
Matt Sagaser, director of innovation accelerated at Bobcat’s Acceleration Center, adds that “the software features allow us to advance and accelerate the technology. We are doing it in a way that is more efficient and cost-effective, and beyond expectations from a power perspective. Overall, our electric innovations allow us to offer customers an experience they may not have previously imagined.
“We could have very easily removed the diesel engine and replaced it with a battery. Instead, our innovation team, which leads this project, wanted to see what other advantages we could achieve if we made it all electric and removed the hydraulics as well. That opened up a lot of possibilities.”
Honeyman, along with Sagaser, will hold an education session — “Electrifying the Future: Get Plugged In” — at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023. They will examine the advantages of electric construction equipment beyond just being “green.” They will also discuss what an all-electric platform allows construction equipment manufacturers to do. Catch their session by registering for CONEXPO-CON/AGG at conexpoconagg.com.