Battery-Powered Construction Equipment From Komatsu & Liebherr

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The fight against global heating involves finding replacements for gasoline and diesel engines. In the transportation sector, the transition to electric cars and trucks is proceeding apace but there are other sectors that still rely on diesel engines such as the construction industry where the battery electric changeover is just getting started. There are some battery powered mining trucks in a copper mine in Sweden and Swedish mining equipment manufacturer Epiroc already has electric mine vehicles in operation with more coming. Now comes news that Proterra is working with Komatsu to bring electric diggers to market and Liebherr is building battery electric cranes for the construction industry.

Proterra And Komatsu Partnership

Credit: Proterra

Older readers may call them steam shovels but today they are known as diggers or excavators — the tracked, hydraulically operated devices that are a common sight at construction projects everywhere. They dig trenches, move piles of dirt and rocks, and uproot tree stumps to clear the land for roadways and buildings of every type and description. They are an essential part of the construction industry and today, virtually every one of them has a roaring, snorting, pollution spewing diesel engine on board.

Proterra is known for making state of the art carbon fiber electric buses but it has taken what it knows about building batteries for buses and turned that into a separate business. Today it supplies the batteries that power school buses and coaches from Thomas and VanHool, electric delivery trucks from FCCC, and electric shuttles from Optimal. Its battery packs are customizable for just about any application and its latest foray into new areas is a partnership with Komatsu.

Together, the two companies will develop a line of medium size electric excavators that combine Komatsu’s experience as a manufacturer of heavy equipment with Proterra’s expertise at building batteries. “Komatsu will utilize Proterra’s high-performance battery systems for the development of a proof-of-concept electric excavator in 2021 before expected commercial production in 2023 to 2024. The Proterra battery system powering the electric excavator will feature high energy density and fast charging technology,” Proterra says in a press release.

According to Construction Equipment Guide, the packaging flexibility of Proterra’s battery platform will make it possible to place the batteries within the chassis of the  medium size excavation equipment and eliminate the need for the normal counterweights used to balance the excavator’s hydraulic arm movements. This is one instance in which the weight of the batteries is an advantage.

“As more communities embrace a zero-emission future, Proterra is excited to partner with Komatsu to develop battery-electric construction equipment,” says Proterra CEO Jack Allen. ”Proterra’s best-in-class battery technology has been proven in 16 million miles driven by our fleet of transit vehicles. What’s working in our battery-electric transit vehicles on roads across North America can work off-road, too. We look forward to collaborating with Komatsu to deliver the benefits of emissions free, quiet Proterra Powered vehicles to more communities around the world.”

Liebherr Unplugged Crawler Crane

French heavy equipment manufacturer Liebherr has just introduced its LR 1250.1 crawler crane. Like the Komatsu excavator, it it battery powered and once again those batteries are placed in such a way as to counterbalance the machine while it is lifting heavy loads — up to 250 tons. SpaceX fans may be familiar with Liebherr. Its “Tankzilla” crane is used to move Starship rockets to the launch pad.

The unique feature of the LR 1250.1 is that it can be powered by an onsite electrical source via a cable or operate exclusively on battery power for up to 4 hours. According to CleanTechnica reader Alexandre Moleiro, Liebherr has a 196 kWh battery pack that operates on 700 volt DC. The batteries can be charged at 40 kW using 64 amps of 3 phase AC electricity or 80kW using 125 amps of 3-phase AC electricity. Charging fully depleted batteries takes about 4.5 hours.

“Electrify everything” is the mantra of climate advocates. Now even the world of heavy construction equipment is paying attention.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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