Mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) have changed through the years thanks to technological advances, resulting in zero emission alternatives for compact and mid-size diesel aerial lifts and telehandlers.
“In part, thanks to the development of lithium-ion battery technology in the automotive sector, it is now possible to replace a diesel or gas engine in an aerial lift with batteries, without any compromise in performance,” says Matthew Elvin, CEO, Xtreme Manufacturing and Snorkel, Henderson, Nev.
“Focusing on high-reach equipment, this is currently concentrated in the compact and mid-size aerial lift and telehandler, which is a ‘sweet spot’ from a weight versus power ratio perspective,” Elvin says.
Since November 2019, Snorkel has launched and commenced production of nine lithium-ion battery-powered models, which are available globally.
Elvin says lithium-ion batteries and the electric motor require zero maintenance, and if comparing to lead-acid batteries, lithium batteries do not require regular inspections or top-ups, adding that lithium-electric machines have low noise and retain full four-wheel drive capabilities.
“This makes them ideal for both indoor and outdoor use,” Elvin says. “With zero emissions and powerful rough terrain performance, lithium-electric lifts can be rented to a wider range of customers for an increased range of applications, maximizing potential utilization.”
Zach Gilmor, product manager, Genie, A Terex Brand, Redmond, Wash., says historically, the MEWP market was split between diesel and electric applications because there wasn’t one machine that could do it all. He says with the development of high-performance electric and hybrid equipment, there has been a shift to greater acceptance of battery-powered equipment in a broader number of applications.
“Simplicity is another major benefit of electric motors and battery power,” Gilmor says. “The versatility of electric equipment increases fleet utilization for rental companies by opening up rental opportunities in specialized applications, such as city centers or job sites with noise or emissions restrictions, while also being able to work in traditional applications previously reserved for diesel-powered equipment.”
Jennifer Stiansen, director of marketing, JLG Industries, McConnellsburg, Pa., says battery-powered lifts have been around for a long time, but in recent years, battery technology has been rapidly advancing.
“If you look at the construction industry today, as well as adjacent industries, you’ll see cues that represent a continued drive towards electrification,” Stiansen says. “The evolution of batteries plays a big role in this.”
As an example of recent advances, the JLG DaVinci™ AE1932 lift, introduced in early 2021, is a fully electric scissor lift. The battery source selected for the DaVinci lift is a single, 24V lithium-ion battery with an expected 10-year battery life.
Elvin says Snorkel lithium-powered lifts can complete a minimum of a full eight-hour shift on a single charge, and in some cases, up to one week between charges, subject to usage.
And, as battery-powered equipment plays a greater role in aerial equipment, manufacturers like Skyjack, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, prevent downtime via telematics that can provide rental companies with measurable benefits, according to Malcolm Early, Skyjack’s vice president of marketing.
Skyjack’s optional ELEVATE BMS (battery management system) targets the largest cost of ownership on electric scissor lifts, providing the operator with charging advice, and, Early says, “providing the rental company with the ability to manage the cost of battery replacement using accurate data. On electric machines, the state of health, battery life percentage and last charge date are shown.”
Jiarui Cao, an engineer for Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science & Technology Co., Changsha, China, says electric MEWPs maintain environmental advantages. At the same time, Cao says the electric drive system is easily upgraded.
“However, the construction machinery industry does not set general standards for battery charging function,” Cao says. “Since the rental market is complex and diverse, different charging conditions require different charging functions. The standard charging station is not flexible enough. Manufacturers are also actively looking for charging solutions. Battery safety is especially important because of the complex construction environment.”
As for the future, Cao says diesel and gas engines are developing as well in the direction of green, efficiency and intelligence.
“They will remain the mainstream among all types of engines for a relatively long time into the future,” Cao says. “Also, continuously large power output is the biggest advantage of the internal combustion engine. Hybrid technologies are also the research direction in the future.”
Elvin believes that ultimately, as time allows, engines will be phased out. The timeline for this, he says, is dependent on the affordability and performance of the chosen replacement(s).
“Hybrid technology has been embraced as an interim solution, however in the construction sector, it is not uncommon for hybrid machines to be predominantly operated on the diesel engine, ultimately negating the emissions benefits,” Elvin says. “For this reason, hybrid construction equipment, including aerial lifts, are not permitted in some low or zero emission zones and green cities.”
Gilmor says as equipment gets larger and heavier, the onboard energy storage needs to increase.
“At this time, we have to look at other options besides full electric to deliver the power needed to ensure the performance that modern job sites demand,” Gilmor says. “With electric, in those cases, the technology isn’t quite there yet.”
Gilmor says as for new technologies on the horizon, ideas have been floated around for the future such as hydrogen for both engines and fuel cells.
“However, this is not yet developed enough for MEWP applications,” he says.