Electric work vehicles have been around longer than you might think. They’re perfect for indoor workplaces like warehouses and airports. And now they’re gaining traction outdoors, as well.
Let’s take a tour through the world of electric work vehicles. We’ll see some types of electric vehicles (EVs) that are already in everyday use, some that are gaining popularity, and some that are just emerging in their fields.
Three Types of Electric work vehicles
Already Widespread: The Electric Forklift
The Pennsylvania Railroad Company introduced the first forklift in 1906 — and it was electric. But just as fossil fueled automobiles overtook electric cars, so gas and diesel powered forklifts soon reigned. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the electric forklift returned. This time, it was in response to concerns about fumes indoors. Now electric forklifts are the choice for indoor workspaces like warehouses. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that the only types of forklifts used in warehouses should be powered either by electricity or propane. And in some places, it’s even mandated by law.
Electric forklifts have a few advantages over other types of forklifts used in warehouses. In addition to being environmentally friendly, they are also quiet. This is very desirable for an indoor work environment. Also, their weight distribution makes the electric forklift more nimble than fossil fuel vehicles. This makes them better for operating in cramped aisles and corners. They’re also easier to drive, as they only have two pedals: one for acceleration and one for braking. Diesel power is still holding on as the choice for outdoors, but indoors, electric is king.
Electric forklifts do tend to be more expensive (around $22,000, compared to $14,000 for a diesel lift, or $18,000 for a gas powered lift). There’s also an additional cost for the charger ($1,000 to $1,500). But fuel savings help to offset the extra cost. And for indoor workspaces, the electric forklift can’t be beat.
Airports are another good place for alternative fuel vehicles. First, airports use most ground crew vehicles for short distance, light-duty tasks like moving passengers or baggage. In addition, according to Fleetcarma, airports are some of the most environmentally conscious organizations out there. And many of them have sustainability plans that stretch years into the future. A willing market plus a ready-made set of tasks makes airports a natural place for electric work vehicles. And plenty of airports have been using EVs for their ground crew vehicles for years.
Gaining Traction: Work Trucks and Vans
The Electric Work Truck
Electric car technology is moving forward at an amazing pace. For the first time, the price of consumer EVs is on par with the price of gas-powered vehicles. In addition, battery technology has advanced to the point that “range anxiety” will soon be a thing of the past. As a result, it’s no longer a novelty to see an electric work truck or an electric work van on the road.
The American company Workhorse has designed a plug-in electric work truck with an all-electric range of 80 miles. In addition, the vehicle’s generator recharges the battery while the car is moving. The W-15 is a heavy duty pickup designed for worksites. Also, it’s the first truck of this kind designed from the ground up, rather than converted from an existing vehicle. Workhorse is currently taking pre-orders for the consumer version of its electric work truck.
The Electric Work Van
Deliveries and short haul transportation are another niche where EVs are making their mark. Particularly in the area of “last mile” deliveries — that is, the final leg of a product’s journey to the consumer. Some of the problems of the “last mile” include pollution and congestion. As more consumers make purchases online, the resulting deliveries cause more traffic and more pollution within city limits. Electric work vehicles are uniquely positioned to address these concerns. And now that the problems of cost, range, and power are all but solved, we can expect the electric van and the electric work truck to become commonplace.
The Longer Haul
In Europe, electric trucks like the one pictured above are more common than in the United States. Part of the reason is that European semis, on the average, have to travel shorter distances between cities. Range anxiety is less of an issue. But what about American highways? What about the super long haul?
— ∬ Nazif Berat (@nazifberat) February 7, 2018
Recently, Tesla rolled out an all-electric big rig. This is huge, and we don’t just mean the truck itself. Tesla’s semi can go 500 miles between charges.
— Hipower Systems (@HipowerSystems) February 7, 2018
That’s right. It can travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and almost all the way back again, without stopping for a fuel up. And, Elon Musk told USA Today, it can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in twenty seconds, even carrying 80,000 pounds. Tesla won’t start producing its big rig until 2019, and there’s no price tag yet. But this promises to revolutionize long-haul deliveries. You can see exclusive preview pics of the new Tesla Semi right here at USA Today.
— TESLARATI (@Teslarati) February 1, 2018
Still in Infancy: Tractors
Farm vehicles and electricity may not sound like a natural match. Tractors and other farm equipment are huge and heavy and require a lot of power. In addition, they are strictly outdoor vehicles. Nonetheless, legendary American equipment manufacturer John Deere recently unveiled their prototype all-electric farm tractor. The SESAM (Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery) is the world’s first battery powered tractor. It can travel at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, has a range of 55 miles, and only takes three hours to charge. Although the SESAM is not yet on the market, it’s getting a lot of industry respect. And it won an award for innovation at Paris’s SIMA exhibition in 2017. Don’t be surprised if we start seeing more of these types of vehicle from John Deere and others.
What About Sport Tractors?
That’s fine for farm work, but you might wonder, is there an electric pulling tractor? We’re glad you asked that!
Tractor pulling is a popular motorsport in the United States, some Scandinavian countries, Brazil, and New Zealand. Tractors compete to pull a weighted sled. The tractor that pulls it the farthest wins. At first, tractor pulling doesn’t seem like a natural fit for an EV. Fossil fuel powered motors have typically been better able to generate the large amounts of horsepower necessary for heavy work. But the electric pulling tractor is real. And people love it. Check out this exciting video of a powerful electric pulling tractor in action.
Electric tractors are still in their infancy. Which means that we have some exciting developments to look forward to. Who knows where the desire for clean, powerful, and efficient electric work vehicles will take us next?
More Electric Work Vehicles
Electric Mining Vehicles
Electric vehicles excel at short distances, and light and medium duty tasks. In addition, electric work vehicles are best for indoor use. So you might be surprised to learn that electric mining trucks are becoming a reality. Mining trucks are by definition outdoor vehicles. Moreover, they have to be huge to manage their large-scale payloads. Which means that their batteries have to be enormous. And yet one Swiss company has just finished testing an all-electric giant dump truck.
Diesel-electric mining trucks like the Lectra Haul (pictured below) have been the norm since the 1960s. However, the Swiss prototype does not use diesel fuel or emit any CO2. Instead, it generates electricity on its laden downhill runs. This electricity is then stored in the battery for future use.
How big does the battery have to be to power a truck of that size? Well, the Komatsu all electric dump truck will use the largest battery pack ever fitted to a land vehicle. It will weigh in at 4.5 tons. A fitting power source for what will be the largest electric vehicle in the world. How much do you think something like that would cost? A lot, one imagines. At the same time, just one tire for a giant dump truck runs some $16,000. So perhaps, for mining companies, cost is relative.
Other companies, like Artisan Vehicles in California, are producing all electric work vehicles for underground mining. Artisan also produces proprietary battery packs, electric motors, power electronics, software, and control systems. And the Slovenian company ETF Mining Equipment makes an entire range of battery electric mining trucks. This range includes haul trains, wheel loaders, motor graders, and more.
Electric work vehicles are already here, in places you might expect, and in some you might not. In addition, they are quickly expanding their niche to other kinds of workplaces. Technological development is rapidly eliminating the problems of cost, range, and power. Electrics have already taken over as the vehicles of choice for indoor workspaces like warehouses and airports. In addition, it looks like electric work vehicles are on the brink of conquering the outdoor workplace as well. A world where clean, powerful, and efficient electric vehicles are the majority might seem like a futuristic dream. But when it comes to electric work vehicles, the future is already here.
Related Post: US Companies Embrace Electric Delivery Vehicles
Featured Image Image CC SA 3.0 by Cjp24, via Wikimedia Commons.