Construction Equipment GLOBAL

ENVIRONMENT

Electrifying research

In this article: Electric machines Sustainability

A major research project led by Volvo CE aimed at the electrification of construction machinery could lead to massive energy savings.

The demonstration project led by Volvo CE to power construction machines in a quarry using electricity instead of diesel has been launched in partnership with the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA), construction giant Skanska Sweden and researchers at Sweden’s Linköping and Mälardalen universities.

The nearly €22 million project, due to be completed in 2018, is the first step towards showing how a quarry of the future could be operated. It aims to deliver significant reductions in fuel consumption, emissions and total cost of ownership while also improving productivity.

“This is a new step for the construction industry. We see great potential and are proud to be part of this unique project,” says SEA director general Erik Brandsma.

A government agency for national energy policy issues, the SEA works towards the use of renewable energy, improved technologies, a smarter end-use of energy and the mitigation of climate change.

It is believed that conversion to electric power is likely to reduce the amount of energy used by 71% and cut CO2 emissions in the targeted quarry site from the current 0.7kg/tonne of material produced to 0.3kg/tonne.

“Collaboration is a key factor to achieving our environmental target,” says Martin Weissburg, president of Volvo CE.

Based on 2010 figures, the SEA estimates the energy consumption of construction equipment in Sweden at 14 Terawatt–hours (TWh) compared to 19 TWh for trucks, 3.7 TWh for buses and 55 TWh for private cars. The significance of these figures prompted the agency to ask Volvo CE what might happen if electrical power was used instead of diesel in a typical quarry. The subsequent discussions led to the electric quarry demonstration project.

“We estimated that if we could electrify a number of the functions in the quarry, we could reduce energy use by 71% [in kWh]. The intensity of the energy is much higher with electricity, which is why the potential savings are higher,” says Brandsma.

“In many applications, excavators are sufficiently stationary to be powered with electricity through cables. Crushers
in our demonstration quarry could also get their power through cables. We could maybe develop plug-in hybrid solutions for haulers. In the future, machines could be fully electrified with batteries, leading to the possibility of fully autonomous, driverless machines guided by computer,” Brandsma explains.

Volvo CE has been working on the technologies that will be applied to the project for some time. The company will continue to develop the concepts in-house before Skanska incorporates the machines into its operations during the 2018 demonstration, proving the technology is viable for the industry.

“This project involves creating new concepts which are part of our long-term future vision,” says Anders P. Larsson, executive vice president of Volvo CE’s technology function. “The work that we’ll do over the next few years has the potential to change the entire construction industry.”

The decision to use a quarry as the testing ground is partly because it is a more static work environment and less dynamic than a construction site.

“We consider quarries to be a good place to start with electrification – many of them already have electricity installed and some electric equipment on site,” says Jenny Elfsberg, Volvo CE’s director of emerging technologies. “We have been working with general purpose and production equipment in quarries for a long time, so we know them,” she says. “We can analyze and find efficiency improvement and we can easily compare before and after performance.”

The technology could eventually be applied to large construction projects. Electric-powered construction equipment will also have the benefit of significantly reduced noise emissions, of particular concern in the urban environment.

The electric machines offer new design potential to Volvo CE, which gives the company an opportunity to improve the overall performance of the entire worksite, according to Volvo CE director of design Sidney Levy. “They create a great design opportunity by allowing us to remove conventional systems and components. This gives us the ability to explore different machine designs for better visibility and serviceability,” he says.

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