Since the 1960s, the diesel internal combustion engine (ICE) has reigned as the powerplant of choice for off-road heavy equipment, offering high levels of power and torque relative to weight and volume.
In the future, however, diesel’s reign as the construction powerplant of choice may be threatened by an even older technology: the electric motor. Just as electric vehicles are a growing trend in automotive, electric construction equipment is poised to have an impact on its industry as well.
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Several major original equipment manufacturers already are producing a variety of electric construction vehicles for various applications.
Volvo, for instance, now offers a selection of electric compact equipment, including an excavator and a wheel loader. Bobcat unveiled an electric/hydraulic excavator and loader, and an all-electric loader in 2020. And Caterpillar introduced a battery-powered dozer, wheel loader, and mini excavator at the 2019 bauma construction trade show in Munich, Germany.
These and other OEMs are leading the research and development charge to introduce additional electric construction equipment that meets the needs of operators and applications across the globe.
According to a 2019 study by 360 Research Reports, the worldwide market for electric vehicles for construction, agriculture, and mining is expected to grow at a CAGR of 51.3% between 2019 and 2024. By 2024, the market is predicted to be worth $2.27 billion. A September 2020 report by Markets and Markets predicts a 22.8% growth in sales of electric off-highway vehicles between 2020 and 2025.
Many construction firms already realize that using electric equipment may make more economic sense than using diesel-powered equipment. A 2019 report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. shows how in some scenarios, the use of electric equipment offered a 20% lower total cost of ownership than diesel.
Stricter government regulations for emissions and noise pollution are helping drive the adoption of electric construction equipment. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency now limits new diesel engines to near-zero levels for the emission of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Rules in the European Union are even stricter, according to a 2019 article in Construct Connect.
Many electric construction vehicle OEMs are using lithium-ion batteries, which are smaller, lighter, and 20% to 30% more efficient than lead-acid batteries. According to an article in OEM Off-Road, Advancements in Battery Systems are Increasing the newest battery technologies have reached a point at which electric equipment can have the same, eight-hour duty cycle as ICE equipment.
Charging remains a concern for many operators, though, as the remoteness of some construction sites and limited access to electricity can be an issue in some applications. However, battery chargers are being integrated into the equipment they power, according to the same July 2020 article in OEM Off-Highway, making it easier for operators to charge anywhere.
Not so long ago, it might have been hard to imagine an alternative to diesel-powered construction equipment. However, driven by a variety of factors — including regulatory trends and advances in technology and customer economics that make it possible — construction firms are starting to adopt electric equipment on jobsites across the world.
To learn more about trends in the Construction industry, read our white paper, Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery.
This article was contributed by the Hydraulics team.
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