The Electric Slide Making Power Play Moves To Net Zero

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Antti Matinlauri explains why electric powertrains are the key to making industrial vehicles more sustainable.

FTransportation accounts for almost 30% of global carbon dioxide (CO2), and a small number of heavy industrial vehicles account for nearly half of all vehicle emissions. These emissions contribute to global climate change and pose an immediate health hazard to people nearby, such as industrial workers.

These vehicles play a vital role in moving raw materials, goods and people around the world, so reducing their use is not an option. Instead, to meet Net Zero targets and ensure that the industry can operate sustainably, there is a global move toward electrification. 

Why Switch To Electric?

An electric powertrain consists of several components. The first is the electric motors. The torque and speed generated by the motor are regulated by a traction converter or inverter. Besides these, an energy source is needed. Battery powered vehicles require batteries and charging infrastructure, while those using a direct network connection require AC/DC converters.

Electric powertrains also add the possibility to reuse energy captured by regenerative braking. This can either be stored for later use in batteries or fed back to the network. Electric powertrains are significantly more efficient than diesel powertrains, which are the current standard in many industries. Whereas a diesel engine can achieve maximum efficiency of around 45% at its optimum load range, electric motors can achieve 95% energy efficiency.

They also have a significantly longer operating life. While diesel motors have an average lifespan of approximately 12,000-15,000 hours, the average lifespan of an electric powertrain is over 20,000 hours. Electric powertrains also require less maintenance and fewer spare parts than diesel alternatives. This, combined with electricity’s cost compared to diesel, results in a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for an electric powertrain.

Expanding Electrification

To accelerate the adoption of electric powertrains, operators can retrofit existing vehicles. This is often more cost-effective than purchasing new vehicles. For example, Norwegian business Nasta AS has worked with ABB to pair existing Hitachi construction vehicles, such as excavators, with an appropriate powertrain. Each construction vehicle converted in this way eliminates the equivalent of almost 48 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. Operators also report that converted vehicles are much more responsive to use.

For applications where the vehicle moves on a set path or within a certain range, catenary lines are ideal. Catenaries, which have long been used by electric trains, can be installed in warehouses or on paths that vehicles are likely to cross. For example, at the Aitik copper mine in Sweden, a 700m catenary line was installed to recharge mining trucks as they travel uphill. While travelling downhill, they can recharge using regenerative braking. This has cut emissions along this route by almost 80%.

Electric Powertrains Are Ready

As regulators set increasingly ambitious emissions targets, electrification is a matter of “when,” not “if.” There are compelling business and technical advantages to switching over and when combined with renewable power, electric powertrains are a huge step toward Net Zero.

Antti Matinlauri is the Global Product Group Manager at ABB. Download ABB's new whitepaper on sustainable transport here

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