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June 3, 20244 min read

The All-Electric Construction Machine

This is a summary from the presentation of the same title by Stefan Schneider, Managing Director at SUNCAR AG, at the Future of Electrification 2024 conference. Watch the full session here:

The rumble of diesel engines and the billowing clouds of exhaust are synonymous with construction sites, but there is a cleaner, quieter alternative. Stefan Schneider gave an enlightening presentation on the topic: “The All-Electric Construction Machine,” at the Future of Electrification 2024 conference. His presentation offered a fascinating look at the possibilities and benefits that electric construction machines can bring to the construction industry, a sector known for its significant contribution to carbon emissions. Electric construction machines promise a future with zero emissions, and improved efficiency. He noted that depending on the machine or application, there are different approaches to maximize efficiency, in relation to the costs. Schneider's presentation centered around the following topics: the advantages of electric construction machines, the challenges associated with their implementation, and the potential impact on the construction industry. He also discusses three levels of electrification to be considered: 1) electro-hydraulic, 2) optimized electro-hydraulic with recuperation, and finally, probably five to ten years in the future, 3) direct-electric.

Benefits of Electric Construction Machines

Schneider’s presentation highlighted the compelling benefits electric construction machines bring compared to their diesel counterparts. The most significant being their environmental impact. Electric machines produce zero direct emissions, drastically reducing the construction industry's environmental footprint and improving air quality on both the worksite and in surrounding areas. 

As Schneider explained, electric construction machines also produce significantly less noise. This creates a more pleasant work environment for crews and reduces noise pollution in nearby communities. Improved communication and potentially lower hearing protection needs can also contribute to increased safety on the job site.

SUNCAR aims to stay ahead in electrification, says Schneider. They use the "all-electric" approach to find the best propulsion for any job and improve its efficiency. Their goal is to use the smallest possible battery to maximize operation time and drivetrain efficiency.

In an example, Schneider explains how electric technology allows for the recuperation of energy during tasks like lowering a boom from an excavator. That energy is fed back into the machine. Utilizing this technology could lead to dramatic increases in efficiency and increased operating time (or the use of smaller battery sizes). 

Schneider pointed out a key advantage for long-term costs: electric motors eliminate fuel expenses, and electricity itself is generally cheaper than diesel fuel. Electric construction equipment also requires less maintenance, their drivetrains require fewer service calls and part replacements. The reduction in downtime and maintenance can lead to significant cost savings. 

Challenges in Implementing Electric Construction Machines

Despite the numerous benefits, Schneider also acknowledged the challenges associated with implementing electric construction machines. One of the main challenges is the high upfront costs, as electric machines can carry a higher price tag compared to diesel machines. Smaller construction companies with tighter budgets may not be able to afford to add electric construction machines to their fleets. Additionally, a lack of charging infrastructure and the limited battery life of electric machines can also pose significant hurdles. Widespread use of electric construction equipment relies heavily on the development of a robust charging infrastructure on construction sites.

Battery life and capacity are also potential challenges, especially for larger electric construction machines with demanding power requirements. Large excavators, for example, might require massive batteries to operate for a full workday, impacting both the cost and overall size of the equipment. Battery life cycles and replacement costs are concerns, especially with the growing need to meet warranty conditions for batteries. This is more challenging compared to the on-highway market because there isn't enough data from off-highway use. Schneider emphasized the need for further technological advancements and investment in infrastructure to overcome these challenges.

Impact on the Construction Industry

Schneider's presentation depicted electric construction equipment as a potential catalyst for change within the construction industry. However, he explained that the success of this transition to electric construction machinery requires a collaborative effort to address any challenges. To overcome the higher upfront costs, if the economic incentive is lacking, the industry might need government subsidies, manufacturer incentives, or innovative financing options to help evolve the technology and be cost competitive with larger volumes. Building a robust charging infrastructure on construction sites is crucial, especially for remote locations. Collaboration with battery manufacturers is essential to develop more powerful and longer-lasting batteries that can handle demanding construction work. There's also a need to educate construction companies about the long-term benefits of electric machinery, highlighting potential cost savings, environmental impact, and performance improvements. Finally, pilot programs testing electric machinery in real-world settings can provide valuable data to optimize these machines for the construction industry. By addressing these challenges, the industry can pave the way for a successful transition to electric construction equipment.

Stefan Schneider's presentation at the Future of Electrification 2024 conference offered a bright vision for electric construction machines. These machines offer a clear path towards a cleaner environment, with zero emissions significantly reducing the industry's carbon footprint. The benefits extend beyond just the environment, with electric construction machines offering quieter operation, improved efficiency, and potentially lower long-term costs.

However, the transition won't be without its challenges. High upfront costs and the need for a robust charging infrastructure require solutions through government incentives, manufacturer innovation, and industry collaboration. Advancements in battery technology are also crucial to address concerns about range and capacity for larger machines. Schneider explained that the successful adoption of electric construction machines hinges on a multi-pronged approach. By overcoming these challenges, the construction industry can embrace a cleaner, quieter, and more efficient future powered by electricity.