Batteries are an integral part of everyday life—so much so that they are being used in some applications to power construction equipment. Magnus Larsson, development engineer batteries for electromobility systems at Sweden-based Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE), shares five things to know about lithium-ion batteries being used in today’s construction equipment.
1. They look nothing like conventional batteries
To power something like a wheel loader or an excavator, operators need a high level of system voltage and energy, which is more than a single battery cell the size of a chocolate bar can provide. So, Volvo generally takes multiple cells and connects them together to create a battery pack. These packs may look like they are just big boxes, but there’s a lot going on inside.
2. Batteries come in different shapes and forms
Operators can buy a complete battery pack unit from a supplier, or they can assemble sub-modules and incorporate them into a custom-fit pack unit. Conversely, contractors can build everything in-house from scratch. Battery packs are sized and shaped differently for different machine types.
3. They’re surprisingly big
Large vehicles require large battery capacity. The lithium-ion battery packs Volvo uses in construction equipment can weigh more than 900 pounds. Especially for large machines, there might be a need to install more than one of these battery packs, so the overall battery weight could easily exceed one ton. However, when it comes to lithium-ion batteries, significant progress is being made with respect to energy density. Developers are working on lighter and more volume-efficient batteries. This essentially means that manufacturers can get more energy for the same volume or get the same energy capacity for cheaper.
4. They’re becoming cheaper
At the moment, lithium-ion batteries are still quite expensive, but the price is constantly dropping. This price decrease is a result of two factors: more battery demand globally and an increase in energy density. If the price continues to decrease at the current rate, the cost barriers to electromobility innovation within the construction equipment industry will significantly reduce.
5. We’re at a turning point where battery-powered machines are viable solutions for contractors
With current technology, compact machines (such as Volvo CE’s recently announced range of electric compact wheel loaders and excavators) can put in a full day’s work on electric energy from batteries. Manufacturers are starting to approach this capacity with bigger machines. Although regular recharging is still required, it’s now a matter of when, not if, electric batteries can meet the energy and power requirements of heavy construction machines.