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Electrification in Off-Road & Heavy Industries – Engineering Expertise Needed

Electrification of heavy duty vehicles and electrification of off-road vehicles are about to conquer mining, construction, agriculture, forestry, and material handling. Also, boats, ships, and airplanes are being electrified.

On a global scale, the share of electric vehicles is estimated to reach 10% by the end of 2022, and the share is increasing quickly. For instance, the registrations of electric trucks of at least 16 tons increased 193% from 2020 to 2021 in Europe (IHS Markit).

The biggest driver is climate change. Every manufacturer wants to be part of the shift from fossil-based combustion engines. However, the environmental and sustainability aspects are not the only factors towards electrification.

“In underground mining utilization of electric vehicles provides several money saving benefits. Energy is saved by reduced ventilation thanks to missing of combustion engine exhausts and heat load. Improved efficiency and performance of the machinery with reduced maintenance costs are key to success. Equipment that fill all the dots does not come by itself. Professional attitude with knowhow and good practices from real life with safety aspects are needed.” says Arttu Kalliovalkama, Vice President Service Solutions Engineering at Etteplan.

Compared to combustion engines, electric vehicles are also more attractive. On top of zero exhausts, they make much less noise.

Engineering expertise needed to cut downtime

Making the electrical driveline function well for a human driver, support the use case and make it durable is another new challenge in electric vehicles. In off-road or heavy industries, there are additional challenges depending on the environment, which requires engineering expertise that is very different from conventional vehicles.

“The benefits and possible disadvantages of the electric vehicles should be merged to the process without excluding the change of the old practices. Full usage of energy recovery capabilities with careful work cycle planning and supportive charging infrastructure makes work efficient. Variety of electric vehicles and their features are growing all the time so awareness from customer is needed to select fit for purpose machine.” Arttu Kalliovalkama says.

Therefore, regardless of industry and use case, the question of battery charging is crucial. Buyers will ask how much downtime there will be compared to filling the tank of a diesel engine.

Charging while driving

A good charging infrastructure for EVs requires plenty of balancing to enable a good customer experience and efficiency. Companies must bear in mind that there is not one charger standard, but everyone has their own systems.

There are already going on practical implementations of electrification in mining vehicles. For example the mining vehicle manufacturer Epiroc is developing a heavy mining dumper for underground mining that uses constant charging by using technology that is familiar from regular trams or trolleybuses. This allows them to avoid battery replacements or charging breaks.

Wireless charging that enables charging while driving has also been proven to work.  Yet more research is needed for commercialization. However, wireless charging may well become a popular solution for selected use cases: urban bus networks, highways lanes for intercity buses and trucks, and closed industrial areas, harbors, mines, airports, terminals, and parking areas.