Why the future of compact equipment is electric

Case CE, Hitachi, JCB and Wacker Neuson are amongst the equipment manufacturers convinced of the potential for electric construction machines
Engines, Components & Tyres / October 16, 2020 2 mins Read
Hitachi has developed electric machines and is convinced of the potential for this power system
Hitachi has developed electric machines and is convinced of the potential for this power system

Driven by environmental and efficiency concerns, the demand for electric construction equipment in Europe is increasing. This is particularly true for compact equipment, which is often utilised in heavily populated urban environments. Although diesel engines compliant with EU Stage V emissions standards may meet the strictest regulations, contractors are looking to gain an advantage in tenders by demonstrating their sustainability credentials.

There are many challenges for manufacturers to meet the demand for zero-emission battery-powered equipment, however. These include technical issues concerning practical applications, such as the high cost of batteries, long charging times and short operation capacities.

In addition, for compact equipment, installing the battery tends to increase the overall size of the machine. This then eliminates the primary advantage of compact machines – their ability to work in confined spaces. But, reducing the size of the battery to fit inside the machine may not ensure sufficient operating times.

Despite these challenges, it is widely considered easier to develop electric versions of smaller models due to the size of the battery required. It is not surprising therefore that mini excavators are leading the field in this regard.

At the bauma 2019 exhibition, numerous electric excavators were on display for the first time, including the zero-emission Hitachi 2tonne ZE19 and 8tonne ZE85. The two concept models were developed by the European Application Center GmbH (EAC), a joint venture between Hitachi Construction Machinery (HCM) and KTEG, the special application development company of Hitachi’s German dealer, Kiesel.

Both excavators are built with high-quality battery systems to ensure a long lifetime and rapid charging. With one hour charging time, they are capable of working for more than four hours. They are also exceptionally quiet compared to diesel-powered alternatives and are safe to operate.

By joining forces with KTEG, HCM is hoping to accelerate the time to market for a full line-up of electric excavators. More recently, it announced the development of a battery-powered five-tonne mini excavator, which represents another step towards this goal.

Case CE has developed an all-electric backhoe loader
Case CE has developed an all-electric backhoe loader

The prototype will be used for market research by HCM, as it continues to dedicate engineering resources to EAC for the development of electric construction equipment for European contractors. It is also continuing to develop further fuel reduction of its existing compact construction equipment. This is supported by the sharing of knowledge and expertise with other Hitachi companies, which will help the manufacturer to reduce the environmental impact of its equipment and create reliable solutions for the future.

“Electrified construction machinery is not the solution, but part of the solution towards a sustainable future,” says Burkhard Janssen, general manager Product Management & Engineering at Hitachi Construction Machinery (Europe).

Meanwhile, JCB has had particular success with its electric construction machines. The firm’s electric mini excavator has been selling well, with the firm notching up sales in the rental sector. Similarly, Wacker Neuson’s compact electric wheeled loader is now in its second generation, also proving popular in the rental segment.

More recently, Case CE launched the construction industry’s first fully electric backhoe loader. The 580 EV (Electric Vehicle) concept, dubbed Project Zeus, offers the same power and performance as a diesel-powered CASE backhoe loader, but with zero emissions and considerably reduced operating costs. Two machines have already been sold to US-based utilities companies, with the concept planned to remain exclusive to the North American market.

The 580 EV is powered by a 480V, 90kWh lithium-ion battery pack. This can be charged through any 220V/three-phase connection to give around eight hours of runtime depending on the application. As this battery powers the drivetrain and hydraulic motors separately, breakout force is the same as a diesel-powered machine and overall performance is improved during simultaneous loader and drivetrain operation.

While cutting a business’ carbon footprint, it is estimated that that 580 EV could save fleets up to 90% in annual vehicle operating costs. This is due to either reduced or eliminated spend on diesel, engine oil, diesel exhaust fluid and long-term engine maintenance. All of this is achieved while retaining the features operators expect from a backhoe loader.

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