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Environmental considerations are now playing a huge role in steering the future of heavy equipment design and production. The use of hybrid technology to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions has already been widely applied to commercial vehicles, trucks, buses, and even locomotives used in switching yards. It is now likewise being adopted in the development of more eco-friendly heavy equipment. As recent research has revealed, the construction equipment industry could reduce its carbon footprint by millions of tons per year and greatly cut down on fuel consumption with the wholesale adoption of hybrid technology.[1] Compliance with stricter emissions regulations down the road, such as those outlined in Japan’s Kyoto Protocol, will likely be an even greater impetus for manufacturers to develop new models of hybrid machinery.

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[edit] What is a Hybrid?

A hybrid is an alternative fuel source used in combination with a conventional internal combustion engine such as gasoline or diesel. Together they work to supply power to a vehicle or piece of equipment. Most hybrids currently on the market are commercial vehicles or trucks that combine an electric motor with an internal combustion engine. Other alternative fuel sources that are being explored but are far from wide-scale adoption are fuel cells and hydrogen. This is partly due to a lack of available resources that allow for the easy dispensing and distribution of hydrogen.

A hybrid uses the electric motor in conjunction with a more advanced transmission and powerful batteries to ensure gasoline or diesel fuel is burned more efficiently. Depending on the type of design and usage of the hybrid, there is the potential for more than a 30 percent increase in fuel savings over standard gasoline engine and diesel engine vehicles and equipment.[2]

[edit] Types of Hybrids

Hybrids are classified as mild, full, or plug-in. A mild hybrid uses an electric motor and battery to assist an internal combustion engine. A full hybrid has two power systems – an electric motor and internal combustion engine – that are designed to work together or independently. In a plug-in hybrid the internal combustion engine operates as a back-up system to the main rechargeable electric motor and battery system. The one thing all hybrids have in common is the ability to constantly draw from or recharge the battery.[3]

Hybrid drives are suitable for use in any vehicle or machine with a start/stop application. During the braking process the hybrid drive is designed to capture electrical or even now hydraulic energy and then store it for later use. For example, an excavator can capture electrical or hydraulic energy during the swing function and a wheel loader during the forward and reverse motion repeated through continuous digging and dumping work.

[edit] Heavy Equipment Goes Green 

Since 2007 the move to make heavy equipment green and more eco-friendlier by implementing hybrid drives has been stepped up; however, it is still in its infancy. So far, the test market for new hybrid models appears to have been limited to Japan. In 2009, some of country’s biggest heavy equipment manufacturers are getting set to introduce and possibly take into production, the first installment of hybrid models to come out on the market. The first major piece of heavy machinery to be mass hybridized is the excavator.

In June 2008 Komatsu became the first Japanese manufacturer to develop a diesel-electric hybrid excavator. The PC200-8 excavator has the ability to cut fuel consumption by as much as 25 percent with some users on the job reporting savings as much as 41 percent.[4] The PC200-8 is designed to essentially piggyback energy from the swinging action of the shovel as speed is reduced and then harness that energy to power the engine as it speeds up. In addition, while the engine on the PC200-8 runs idle, the hybrid excavator keeps the revolutions of the upper structure at a very low level, thereby reducing fuel consumption.[5] Komatsu maintains a competitive edge over its rivals in overall planned production volume with its intention to develop and distribute 30 PC200-8 units by the end of March 2009.[6] Komatsu proved to be a pioneer in hybrid technology when it launched the world’s first hybrid electric forklifts in May 2007.[7]

Following Komatsu’s lead, Hitachi has also developed a hybrid crawler excavator, the Zaxis ZX200. The Zaxis ZX200 is only available as a built-to-order unit within Japan.[8] Similarly, Sumitomo Heavy Industries is also pushing into the hybrid market with its own prototype hybrid excavator.

New Holland Construction, in cooperation with the Kobelco Construction Machinery America Co. Ltd., has also revealed its own prototype of a hybrid hydraulic excavator. The Hybrid, as the machine is called, competes in the seven-ton class and is designed to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions up to 40 percent over conventional excavators of the same size classification. Production of the Hybrid will depend on market demand. As of 2007 five units were being tested within the U.S. and Japan.[9]

Last year Volvo CE also unveiled its new Hybrid Wheel Loader, the L220F, at CONEXPO; it is slated for production and delivery in late 2009.[10] The L220F uses Volvo’s D12 diesel engine as its platform, in combination with a hybrid system Volvo has coined the ISG – Integrated Starter Generator. The ISG is fitted between the engine and the transmission and is attached to a state-of-the-art battery. The ISG enables the diesel engine to be turned off when stationary (usually when idling). It also addresses the common problem of diesel engines to produce low torque when speeds are decreased. In the case of L220F, the electrical motor automatically generates a massive electrical torque "boost." [11]

New Holland, in partnership with Iveco (both part of Fiat), will also debut the agricultural industry’s first fuel cell tractor, the NH2, at the Paris Sima agricultural trade show in February 2009.[12] Fuel cells and three lithium ion batteries replace a standard diesel engine. The batteries act as storage receptacles for energy captured from regenerative braking and can provide bursts of power when necessary. In fact, New Holland sees tractors as a natural partner with hydrogen technology since refueling can be easily accomplished on the farm at a central station. Farms are also in a better position to produce hydrogen more accessibly and cleanly using wind power, solar power or even biomass.[13]

In the Fall of 2009, Caterpillar introduced the D7E, the world's first hybrid crawler tractor.  The D7E operates on a different hybrid principle than most vehicles.  A diesel engine powers an electric generator, which in-turn powers an electric motor.  Because instantanious energy is drawn from the electric motor, the diesel engine is able to stay running at consistently low RPM's to maximize fuel efficiency.  The D7E saves 3 litres (0.79 gallons) of fuel per hour over the D7R Series II tractor it is based upon.[14]

Search for used and unused heavy equipment at upcoming Ritchie Bros. auctions.

[edit] References

  1. Hybrids' potential to cut construction industry CO2 emissions is enormous. Heavy Equipment Guide. 21-01-2009.
  2. What is a Hybrid Vehicle. About.com. 21-01-2009.
  3. What is a Hybrid Vehicle. About.com. 21-01-2009.
  4. Digging the Dirt: Hybrid Technology in the Eartmoving Equipment Sector. International Construction.21-01-2009.
  5. Komatsu Introduces the World's First Hydraulic Excavator: Hybrid Evolution Plan for Construction Equipment. Komatsu Press Release. 21-01-2009.
  6. Hybrid Technology goes off-road in Japan. International Herald Tribune. 21-01-2009.
  7. Komatsu Introduces the World's First Hydraulic Excavator: Hybrid Evolution Plan for Construction Equipment. Komatsu Press Release. 21-01-2009.
  8. Digging the Dirt: Hybrid Technology in the Eartmoving Equipment Sector. International Construction.21-01-2009.
  9. New Holland "Ex-ercises Hybrid Option. New Holland, Kobelco explore Hybrid excavator concept. BNET. 21-01-2009.
  10. Volvo CE Unveils Hybrid Wheel Loader at CONEXPO CON/AGG 2008. Volvo Press Release. 21-01-2009.
  11. Volvo CE Unveils Hybrid Wheel Loader at CONEXPO CON/AGG 2008. Volvo Press Release. 21-01-2009.
  12. New Holland NH2 Fuel Cell Farm Tractor to be Unveiled. Hydrogen Cars and Vehicles. 21-01-2009.
  13. New Holland NH2 Fuel Cell Farm Tractor to be Unveiled. Hydrogen Cars and Vehicles. 21-01-2009.
  14. Caterpillar Builds World’s First Hybrid Bulldozer. gas2.0 [September 22, 2009].