Carbon emissions and the impact of our activities on the environment have become a hot topic in almost every industry, and the heavy machinery industry is no different. In fact, many of the buildings being constructed across the country, including some of the biggest developments of the decade are designed to be environmentally friendly buildings that use a variety of sustainable energy sources. Similarly, with mines, ways of reducing the environmental impact of the mining process itself are constantly being developed.
But until now, that focus had not really impacted the machinery used to carry out the construction or mining. Heavy equipment has developed significantly through technology, making an operator’s job safer and improving working conditions, but drivetrains have not changed too much over the same time.
Volvo, in partnership with Swedish construction company Skanska, is changing that, as they are trialing a complete mining transport solution, from excavators to trucks, all based on electric and hybrid power. The 15-ton truck, called the HX2, is a hybrid solution that uses a diesel engine in combination with electric motors to provide the power. In addition are the LX1, a hybrid wheel loader that has already been tested in California, and the EX1, which is a 70-ton excavator prototype that is perhaps the most interesting of the three.
The EX1 still uses a diesel engine to power the wheels for mobility, but once in position, it switches to an electric supply. In this prototype, this is not provided by batteries but is connected by cable to a wind-powered electric supply. In the mining application, all 3 machines are also operating autonomously, and they are fitted with a range of sensors to assess the world around them.
However, for the near future, it is the powertrains that are the most likely to make their way onto sites, with hybrid and potentially even all-electric drivetrains being an essential part of the need for reduced emissions. As we look at the Volvo prototypes as a sign of future heavy machinery, there seem to be several challenges that still need to be overcome. The major thing they all show is that battery technology is not yet at a stage where it can fully power site machines for an entire day without a recharge. That is why there are hybrid units, with the all-electric excavator using an external, connected power source to keep it going rather than internal batteries.
For heavy machinery owners and operators, hybrid machines offer a familiar operating and maintenance experience, so it’s better for the world around us without adding too much to the operator’s workload. With trials ongoing from Volvo, it is only a matter of time before hybrid machines begin appearing on sites from all manufacturers.