Diesel or electric?

Volvo CE is exploring the viability of electromobility with its LX1, a prototype wheel loader, and the HX1, a concept autonomous, battery-electric and cab-less load carrier.

The plentiful list of choices for each product on the market is testament that original equipment manufacturers are prioritising to cater for a diverse range of customer demands, moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach. The manner in which equipment is driven is no different, with customers calling for various power-source configurations. So, which power-source should you opt for?

There are pros and cons for both diesel/hydraulic and electric configurations. The greatest benefit of the diesel/hydraulic power-source is that it is a self-contained with only fuel required. This allows the unit to be located in remote locations where an electric power-source is unavailable, especially in Africa where remoteness of sites is a common hustle for contractors. Another key benefit is that there are no cumbrous electric cables to deal with.

Plant equipped with diesel/hydraulic power units obviously has added flexibility. Operators can simply and quickly split their system. If a particular plant is not required, engines can be simply turned off. An example of this would be if additional further crushing or screening is not required to produce a product, then units not utilised in this process can be shut off, reducing operators costs. This can help offset fuel and maintenance costs of the operation.

Self-contained power-units generally are made up with a diesel engine coupled with hydraulic pumps, control valves to operate the system and hydraulic motors. This simple circuit eliminates the need for expensive control panels, starters, wiring cables and connectors. This circuit allows for easier serviceability in that the diesel mechanic that services your loader on site may be able to service your track conveyor or trommel. Electric systems generally are much more complicated and may require a trained service engineer.

The advantages of electric-powered equipment over diesel models extend well beyond the obvious savings on diesel fuel. Electric-powered equipment can significantly reduce operating and maintenance costs, while providing indomitable reliability and uptime. There is general consensus that electric systems are much more efficient than their hydraulic equivalents and more reliable regardless to the climate they are operating in. Diesel/hydraulic power-units tend to be more temperamental in extreme climates such as high altitudes.

Besides savings on diesel fuel, electric-powered equipment eliminates the costs and downtime associated with maintaining a diesel engine and radiator. Although an electric system may require trained service engineers to carry out maintenance, the regularity of service is much less than that of a diesel engine and will incur less downtime due to a blocked filter, oil and coolant exchange, air filter replacement, busted hose or a dusty environment.

With current developments by several OEMs, it seems we are further heading the electrical route, but the diesel/hydraulic options will always have their place in the market.

Thina Bhebhe – Publishing Director

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