As battery power continues to develop, the past year has seen a flurry of activity from several loader manufacturers, with models of all types and sizes getting the electrification treatment. Alex Heath rounds up the latest plug-in load lifting options.
While the automotive industry has been developing electric vehicles for the past couple of decades, traditional and trusted diesel has resolutely remained the fuel of choice for most agricultural machinery.
However, with closer scrutiny on the environmental impact of using fossil fuels and the ever-advancing technology employed in batteries, electricity is making head way in the loader segment of our industry.
Several manufacturers are now offering an electric variant and there is an option for most loader types, be it skid steer, pivot steer or telehandler.
It seems an obvious and sensible choice for manufacturers to focus their attentions on the loader segment, due to the nature and location of the machines’ daily tasks. Most loaders will have periods throughout the day where they are left unused, allowing batteries to be replenished. In addition, many loaders spend most of their lives in the yard, never too far away from a plug socket.
With a growing interest on many farms for a diversified income from the production of renewable energy, with anaerobic digestion, solar, wind, battery storage and biomass providing not only revenue but a cheaper source of power, electric loaders could be a viable alternative to yard dwelling machines.
Traditionally, material handling tasks do not require the constant high torque levels that are required in field operations. Instead, short, sharp bursts of power are required, which lends itself to the high discharge rates of batteries, without any idling time. In addition, many manufacturers have incorporated regenerative technology, already seen on many braking systems, but now incorporated into the hydraulic system, whereby lowering or retracting the boom puts a bit of juice back into the batteries.
To see what is on the electric loader market, we check out several manufacturers.
Finnish manufacturer Avant Tecno offers two fully electric models. Both are variants of the manufacturer’s 500 Series compact pivot steer loaders and use two different battery technologies.
The e5 was the first to the market in 2017 and features an absorbent glass mat (AGM) lead-acid battery, where the electrolyte is absorbed in very thin glass mats. The nominal voltage of the battery is 48V and capacity stands at 285Ah/13.6kWh. The manufacturer says the advantage of the AGM battery include being maintenance-free, vibration resistant and its ability to give out more current than a traditional lead-acid battery.
However, it adds compared to a lithium-ion battery, lead-acid technology is inferior in battery lifespan and work cycle, its ability to give out current and charging speed. The battery is also heavier than a lithium-ion battery, however, it reasons it is a good counterweight for lifting. The manufacturer quotes a working period of one to two hours before the loader needs to be placed on charge, stating it should be charged when battery level drops below 50 per cent. It says the loader can be run to 20-30 per of battery capacity, but there is a risk of damaging the cells. It suggests the e5 is best suited to applications that are consistent on a daily basis and with time in between for charging, such as pushing up food and scraping passageways on a dairy unit.
Conversely, the e6 uses lithium-ion battery technology, albeit with similar capacities to the e5’s battery with a nominal voltage of 48V and capacity of 288Ah/13.8kWh. The manufacturer says the major advantage of the modern lithium-ion battery over the AGM battery is its charging and discharge current. The manufacturer suggests the e6 can be used until the battery drains to 10 per cent of its capacity, taking about three hours.
With the lithium-ion batteries, a higher voltage can be used to replenish the cells. In addition to the on-board 230V/10A charger, two off-board rapid chargers are available; a 400V/16A charger and the more efficient 400V/32A charger. The manufacturer says charging time of the 16A charger from 0 to 100 per cent with a full current is about two hours and with the 32A charger just over one hour. In addition, it says half an hour with the 32A charger will top the battery up from 20 to 80 per cent.
Both loaders have the same dimensions, with a length of 2,570mm, width of 1,130mm and height of 1,985mm when fitted with 23x10.50-12 tyres. Tipping load for both is 900kg and lift height with their telescopic booms is 2,790mm. Weight-wise, the e6 is significantly lighter at 1,400kg, while the ‘wet’ battery of the e5 adds 240kg onto the tare weight.
Drive is hydrostatic, with an 8hp (6kW) motor providing tractive power, using the same OptiDrive system as the rest of the manufacturer’s range, with oil directed to Poclain piston type wheel motors. In addition, a 2.6hp (2kw) motor turns the hydraulic pump providing 30 litres/minute for hydraulic and attachment functions.
Said to be the world’s first electric-powered skid steer, the Elise 900 is manufactured by Slovakian company Kovaco.
The company says the design of the skid steer started in 2014, with the first production units coming to fruition in 2018. Since then, the company has appointed Finlay Bassett as business development manager in the UK, tasked with establishing a dealer network and customer base.
The Elise 900 has two lead acid battery options; a 240Ah version or 400Ah unit. The company says the former is good for up to six hours of operation and provides the equivalent of 30.8hp (23kW), while the latter has a run time of more than eight hours and a power output equivalent to 52.3hp (39kW). Both battery systems run at 96V. The company says it has stuck with ‘wet’ batteries rather than lithium-ion technology for several reasons, not least the ballast they provide which is ideal for a short wheelbase machine. In addition, with testing on-going from 2015, backed up by telematics data, the firm is happy with the performance gained from lead acid, coupled to easier recycling come end of battery life.
Charging times are said to be just over five hours for full replenishment, while topping up to 80 per cent from flat is about three hours. There is a smart charging option that tops up from 60 to 100 per cent in an hour.
Batteries are said to be good for more than 3,000 charging cycles.
It features three electric motors; a pair provide traction, while the third is for hydraulic operation. Rated power for each is 13.4hp (10kW) with peak power topping out at 36.2hp (27kW).
The two traction motors provide power to the left- and right-hand side of the loader. There are planetary gearboxes in each wheel that reduce the high speed of the electric motor to the desired travel speed, from 0.1 to 12kph. Motors provide 120Nm-worth of torque, affording the loader a 35 degree climbing angle.
The hydraulic motor provides 65 litre/minute hydraulic output at 180bar and there is a 40 litre oil reservoir on-board. Gyroscopic sensors measure the tilt and pitch of the loader and regulate the hydraulic performance.
Thanks to the low centre of gravity, whereby the batteries slot through the rear door and under the driver’s seat, the machine can operate on side slopes of 47 degrees, some 10 degrees more than the nearest competitor’s diesel machines, says the manufacturer. In addition, through its design, underbelly clearance is 262mm, 44mm more than comparative diesel skid steers. As there is no engine to accommodate at the rear of the machine, the body work tapers down and the rear wheels jut out, allowing it to reverse up ledges easier.
Depending on battery size, lift capacity is either 900kg for the smaller battery or 1,400kg for the larger. The loader has a pin pivot height of 3,637mm.
Being electric, the chance to integrate a greater level of technology has presented itself. The loader can be operated in a conventional manner, in addition to remote controlled, reducing the risk of injury to operators when working on challenging terrain. A dedicated twin joystick control console with a range of 50 metres can be used, or the loader can be operated with a phone and app. With a maximum operating range of 15m, the app has full user functionality and doubles up as the in-cab dash when required.
The latest manufacturer to launch a new electric loader and one of the first telehandlers on the market to do away with a diesel powerplant is JCB, with its 525-60E Loadall.
While JCB has been developing electrified vehicles for a number of years with its 19C-1E mini-digger and 30-19E Teletruk, this is the first that will widely appeal to the agricultural sector and sits under the firm’s ‘E-Tech’ umbrella for electric vehicles.
Built on the chassis of the manufacturer’s 525-60 diesel variant, external dimensions are unchanged, with a width of 1,840mm, wheelbase of 2,390mm and offering the same 3.7m outside turning radius. Maximum lift capacity is 2,500kg and it will hoist a maximum of 2,000kg to the top of its six metre lift height.
The 525-60E uses two electric motors; a 22.7hp (17kW) driveline motor drives through a permanent four-wheel drive dropbox to the machine’s axles, while a 29.5 (22kW) hydraulic system motor powers a fixed displacement gear pump, delivering a maximum 80 litres/min of flow.
Electric motors are said to be 85 per cent efficient, compared with the 45 per cent efficiency of a diesel engine.
Power comes from a 24kWh lithium-ion battery from Jungheinrich, running at 96V. The manufacturer is yet to put a figure on how long the run time is between charging, but says the machine is capable of a ‘full shift’ and the batteries will work effectively between -20 and 60 degrees celcius.
Charging options are plentiful, with the 3kW on-board charger (240V/16A) taking eight hours to put a full 100 per cent into the battery. It takes five hours to go from 25 to 80 percent.
In addition, there are two, three phase charging systems; one running at 32A and the second at 63A. The former, called Rapid charging, goes from 0 to 100 per cent in just under two hours, while the latter, called Supercharge, gets there in bang on one hour, claims the firm. Topping up from 25 to 80 per cent take 60 minutes and 35 minutes respectively. All chargers are universal and can be used with any of the manufacturer’s other E-Tech products.
Able to top the battery up on the go, the drive motor uses regenerative braking instead of a traditional braking system. The brake re-gen function automatically turns off when the battery is fully charged.
Oil flow is proportional to joystick position, with the hydraulic motor reacting to the demands in oil flow. Unlike a conventional telehandler, this means you do not need any ‘revs’ to make the hydraulic system work. The hydraulic system also saves energy which regenerates flow while lowering the boom, reducing the power requirement.
Similarly, because the hydrostatic transmission has been ousted in favour of electric drive, forward speed control is also directly proportional to pedal input. This adds up to total independent control over forward speed and hydraulics.
Schaffer has developed its 23e electric loader on the chassis of its 2345 model - the drive train is much the same, with the contents under the hood the exception.
The 23e with its 1,060mm width and 2,300kg weight is a relatively compact offering, at home in multiple enterprises from dairy and sheep farms to pig and poultry units.
The company says the loader is 90 per cent energy efficient, compared to a diesel loader, which it says is just 30 per cent efficient, losing efficiency in the combustion process through heat and noise loss, as well as mechanically throughout the drive train. It reckons, although it commands a premium in the purchase price, by 3,000 hours, the electric machine will offer savings as a result of cheaper fuel, lower servicing costs and virtually no energy loss when operational, as the machine does not idle.
Lithium-ion batteries are the German manufacturer’s choice for power storage, and it claims at the time of the loader’s launch, it was the first to offer this particular battery technology, with other manufacturers previously only offering lead-acid packs. It says the benefits of its lithium-ion batteries include faster charging cycles, higher load rating and longer service life.
The 23e offers the option of a single or double power supply, each weighing about 100kg and providing 6.7kWh of storage capacity.
For charging, there are two options; either using the on-board charger that uses a 16A plug, running at 230V, or a standalone 400V external unit, running at 32A. The manufacturer says it takes about four hours to charge the loader to 80 per cent and a further hour to top up the batteries when charging at 230V. However, it says using the 400V supply, each of the machines’ batteries can be topped up to 80 per cent in 15 minutes each.
The power banks provide electricity to a pair of motors at 260 volts; a 28hp (21kW) motor providing power to all four wheels via a cardan shaft and a 13hp (9.7kW) motor providing all the grunt needed for the 42 litre per minute hydraulic pump. The loader comes with two running modes; economy and full power. In eco mode, the motor is de-rated to 14.7hp (11kW).
The loader has a maximum lift capacity of 1,700kg, with a straight tipping load rating of between 1,048 and 1,578kg depending on the attachment and the number of weight plates at the rear. The loader will lift to 2,880mm at full stretch.
Merlo expects the first of its new e-Worker telehandlers to arrive on UK shores during the summer of 2021, after showing a prototype version at last year’s Agritechnica show. The Italian firm is offering two models; a two-wheel drive version with a 60hp (44kW) output and a four-wheel drive, 90hp (66kW) version.
Lifting performance of both machines is identical, able to hoist 2,500kg to 4,800mm. Forward reach with its telescopic boom is 2,600mm. Length of the two wheel drive telehandler is 3,280mm, width is 1,530mm and it stands at 1,950mm tall. The four-wheel drive model can be type approved with tractor homologation which makes it slightly wider at 1,670mm, due to wider chevron-patterned tyres, the trade-off being it can then tow up to 6,000kg.
Batteries fitted are lead-acid, with 46kWh-worth of capacity, enough juice for eight hours of work, according to the manufacturer. The system runs at 48V. Charging takes about nine hours using the on-board charger. The manufacturer says it has developed software that allows the owner or operator to monitor the state of the batteries and optimise their use, resulting in a more efficient use of energy. Batteries are also removable and can be interchanged for a fully charged set, if constant running is needed, however, you will need another loader to move them as they weight about 1,500kg.
Designed as an electric vehicle from the outset, two electric motors are used to power the front axle, with an additional one powering the rear for the four-wheel drive version. A separate motor powers the hydraulic pump which is both load sensing and flow sharing, capable of 42 litre/minute flow at 210bar. Interestingly, just the rear axle is used to steer, affording a turning radius of 2,440mm for the 60hp machine and 3,240mm for the 90hp.
The loaders weigh in at 4,500kg and have a top speed of 22kph. They feature up to 260mm of ground clearance and can climb slopes of 40 degrees, the manufacturer says. Maximum lift capacity to the top of the machines’ lifting height is 1,500kg.
There is the option of a cab which is 765mm wide with a removable door. In addition, there is the option to have the loader wired up so that it can be operated from an aerial platform, converting it into a cherry picker-type arrangement.
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