Busting myths about electric CWLs

Lars Arnold of Volvo answers common questions about battery-electric compact wheel loaders.

volvo electric wheel loader movign crushed concrete

Photo courtesy of Volvo

As electric compact wheel loaders (CWLs) begin hitting the market, those who are not early adopters understandably have questions. Do these CWLs have the same power as their diesel equivalents? Will charging ruin the flow of my workday? What about maintenance?

You might be surprised by some of the answers.

What is required to charge an electric compact wheel loader?

The more power you can put into your electric machine, the faster it will charge. Think of it like filling your vehicle with a fuel pump versus a gas can.

For optimal charging time, it’s strongly recommended to have a 240-volt, 32-amp Level 2 AC-charging setup that uses an SAE J1772 charging adapter or J plug. If this terminology is new to you, don’t be intimidated. This is the same setup recommended for electric cars, and 240 volts is what many household appliances run on. While you can use a 120-volt outlet, charging will take longer.

I recommend that you charge the batteries whenever you have a pause in your workday. Because we use lithium-ion batteries, they have no memory effect. It’s also best practice to charge from midlevel to full, as opposed to draining the battery completely before recharging. 

A 240-volt, Level 2 AC setup will charge a Volvo L25 Electric CWL in six hours from empty to full. A common household 120-volt outlet will do the job in 24 hours.

Options like off-board fast chargers and solar-powered chargers also are available. AC Level 2 charging is best for battery life, but it’s all about a user’s needs. Of course, research and development will provide a wider range of charging options in the coming months and years. As electric vehicles continue to roll out into the market, improved charging infrastructure will follow suit.

What I would not suggest is charging with a gas-powered generator because that goes against the goal of this machine: to be more environmentally friendly.

How long will it hold a charge? Will that affect my workday?

This is tough to answer because a compact wheel loader can be used in so many ways. The differences in job site applications significantly can alter how long the batteries last.

I recommend that you charge the batteries whenever you have a pause in your workday (e.g., over lunch). Because we use lithium-ion batteries, they have no memory effect (a reduction in the longevity of a rechargeable battery's charge related to incomplete discharge in previous uses). Therefore, you can top them off during a break and continue working throughout the afternoon or evening.

It’s also best practice to charge from mid-level to full, as opposed to draining the battery completely before recharging. When you charge from 30 percent or 40 percent back up to 80 percent or 100 percent, it’s better for the overall life of the battery. These aren’t the lead-acid or nickel-cadmium batteries used in early versions of electric power tools that were affected by the memory effect. With those batteries, if you didn’t charge them properly, they became useless after a short time. Lithium-ion batteries are more advanced and more forgiving, so it’s fine to charge them back to full whenever the opportunity arises.

For example, I’ve seen customers doing heavy applications that include cutting, grading and large workloads who have worked through the morning and needed a quick charge at lunch. Meanwhile, customers who use the machine intermittently or in lighter applications have found that it can last longer. From our testing, the reported work time is four to six hours, depending on the application.

Another tip is to not run at full throttle all the time because you don’t often need the excessive power. Run in an appropriate rpm range to get the work done without slowing down.

Do operators need to remember to turn it off throughout the day to save energy?

No. Volvo electric CWLs come with auto electric motor shut down. If an operator stops running the machine, the electric motor turns off almost immediately. And to get working again, the electric motor turns on instantly and provides immediate power.

With diesel equipment, operating time is defined by engine runtime, and many of those hours are counted while the machine is idle. Given that, jobs that can rack up 10,000 hours on a diesel machine might only add 6,000 or 7,000 hours to a comparable electric machine. These saved hours lower operating costs and in turn lower total cost of ownership. They help improve resale value, too.

Another benefit is that the lighting on Volvo electric machines (rotating beacons, work lights, travel lights, etc.) are LED, so they’re very low power consumers. This helps extend battery life for the toughest projects.

Does an electric CWL have as much power as a diesel one?

Some people jump to the conclusion that an electric machine will be inferior to a diesel machine in some way—usually power. But I can assure you that’s not the case at all.

In fact, in addition to maintaining (or in some instances exceeding) the power of comparable diesel models, electric construction equipment offers even more advantages compared with its diesel counterparts.

When it comes to power and performance, the Volvo L25 Electric CWL specifications are nearly identical to its diesel counterpart. One exception is a marginally higher operating weight and a higher static tipping load compared with the diesel model.

two volvo electric cwls
Photo courtesy of Volvo 

We’re not initially offering a high-speed version of this machine to better maintain the battery during a full workday. The maximum speed of the L25 electric wheel loader is set at 12.4 mph. The good news is that high speed isn’t required for most applications. It’s mainly necessary if you have an application when you need to drive from job site to job site without hauling the machine.

One of the most popular aspects of an electric machine is that the electric motors provide instant torque as soon as the operator starts running it. There’s no feeling of a slight delay, which can happen with some diesel machines.

How is maintenance different on an electric CWL?

Maintenance is much simpler on an electric machine. For one thing, diesel exhaust fluid, or DEF, or other filters are not needed. Essentially, the only supplies required are grease and hydraulic oil. This is much different than a conventional machine that requires engine maintenance such as fluid, filter and component checks as often as every day, with additional preventive fluid and filter maintenance.

Electric components, like the lithium-ion battery, inverter, AC-to-DC power converter, battery management unit and charging plug, just need visual and functional inspections. Any components not working will be replaced rather than repaired.

Because we’re talking about machines using electricity, much of the additional training needed for technicians is about safety. They’ll also need to learn some new concepts and functions, but that’s part of our ever-evolving industry. It’s just like when telematics and in-cab displays started becoming more prominent—technicians in the shop had to learn how to service those components as well.

Overall, the lifetime of battery-electric components should be equal to or better than that of the diesel engine on a conventional machine. Volvo CE conservatively estimates that users will see 35 percent savings in maintenance costs and time over the life of the machines we offer.

Why should I use an electric CWL instead of diesel?

Think of all the new and different ways electric CWLs can be used thanks to their zero emissions and lower noise. They can work indoors and outside of normal business hours, plus they have a fast-charging option to work longer hours. These benefits open the doors of possibility for those looking to expand their offerings.

In a business sense, incorporating sustainability measures into your operations will be good for your long-term profitability. More local and state/provincial governments are adopting clean air policies, so if you want better odds of winning those bids, you need to prove that you’re using equipment with reduced or zero emissions.

If you’re concerned about the cost of switching to electric, don’t forget to assess the total cost of ownership (TCO) and not just the purchase price of such a machine. Electric machines offer fuel savings, less maintenance and extended component life—and that’s on top of the additional work you might be able to win because of the sustainability and noise differences.

What an actual user says

Eberhard, a company in Zurich, Germany, that offers civil engineering, deconstruction, recycling and remediation of contaminated sites, tried out a Volvo L25 electric CWL last year. The machine was used at a landfill site, as well as for road clearing and small-scale material handling and as a forklift.

The team said they enjoyed its low emissions, silence and minimal vibration. In the future, Eberhard says it plans to use the L25 electric on construction sites in downtown Zurich and at other cities where requests for silence and low emissions are growing.

“As our organization has grown, we wanted to look at alternative machines that don’t rely on diesel,” says Bruno Meier, CEO and owner. “This is our first foray into the world of electric machines, and it’s going well.”

If you have other questions or concerns about how well electric compact wheel loaders could work for your operation, treat it like any other important business decision and connect with your dealer or original equipment manufacturer of choice.

 Lars Arnold is electromobility product manager at Volvo Construction Equipment. More information is available at www.volvoce.com

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