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Zero emissions – the entire construction industry is buzzing about it. Climate change means that we have to reduce CO2 emissions at our construction sites, but how do we manage that? Some say with hydrogen, others speak of hybrids and still others prefer vegetable-based HVO fuels. And what should we make of electrically driven equipment? Are these alternative drives just as good and reliable as our trusty diesel motors? Are they just as powerful and can they be used all day long without issue? And how do you get all that electricity at remote construction sites? These are straightforward questions that deserve straightforward answers. Because it is possible. Right now!
It is already possible to work with a lot of electric equipment and Boels Rental can help you on your way. Hiring this kind of electrical equipment is an ideal learning experience where you don’t have to make a decision right away. But there is a good chance that you will never want to go back – and that’s a risk you just have to be willing to take. The range of electric rental equipment and tools from Boels is constantly expanding. This also applies to power supplies such as battery packs and low-emission generators. That’s a profession in itself, as Chris Dirx puts it. As Manager of Operations with the Boels division Power & HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), he and his colleagues have noticed that efficient energy and power facilities at building sites are now the focus of a great deal of attention.
“Wanting or needing to build emission-free also means, for example, using emission-free generators and emission-free heating for site huts. And that can result in ‘charging stress’ because, for example, batteries cannot be fully charged during lunch breaks, or because charging all the batteries at the same time at night can cause excessive peak loads. Efficient energy management in time allows companies to gain time and capacity.” His conclusion: “The time of randomly ordering a 20 kVA generator and then another one or two until you have 60 kVA where you actually could manage with 40 kVA is over.” He explains a more sensible solution a bit later.
”The time of randomly ordering a 20 kVA generator and then another one or two until you have 60 kVA where you actually could manage with 40 kVA is over.”
Plenty of zero-emission variants
Harm Munsters looks at it from a different angle. As Manager of Fleet & Maintenance, he and his colleagues are constantly looking for ways to add to and expand the zero emission range. At the moment, Boels has zero-emission variants for a large share of its rental fleet. For example, the 17 kN vibratory compactors for paving, the 4.3 tonne wheel loaders for earthmoving, the electric boom lifts up to 20 metres and the 1.6 to 5 tonne forklift trucks. Virtually all of the gardening and landscaping tools are now electric as well.
Harm provides a recent example: “For instance, JCB’s new 2.5 tonne battery-powered telehandler delivers the high-performance power our customers demand. The 24 kWh lithium ion battery can handle a full working day of normal use. Boels also rents out an external quick charger. This charges the battery to 80% in one hour. Being able to charge the machine during breaks means that work never has to stop due to an empty battery.” The ability to work eight hours non-stop is often not even required, as experience shows, because most machines run for (much) fewer hours every day. Another misconception put to rest.
No emissions and low noise
Electric machines offer major advantages for projects in residential areas and city centres. Besides being zero emission, the electric machines from the Boels fleet are also low noise. And because the machines have no on-site emissions, they can be used to work cleanly and safely in sheds, narrow passageways, car parks, tunnels, and so on. This is where electric drives always beat out diesel engines, even though the latter are not nearly as ‘dirty’ as they were in the previous century.
Boels Rental is constantly advancing in the field of electrification. The rental company is a pioneer in zero emission machines and boasts the largest fleet of sustainable rental equipment in the Netherlands. Harm puts it like this: “We believe in this technology and that it is a step towards working with zero emissions. That’s why we will be investing heavily in hybrid and zero emission equipment in the years to come and why we are working closely with machine manufacturers.” These kinds of energy-efficient and low-emission machines and tools bear the ECO label. If you ask Boels about it, you can be sure to never lose a project or contract because of non-compliance with environmental, occupational health and safety legislation or tendering requirements. As they say at Boels: Orange is the new green!
There are also hybrid construction machines
If you are still in doubt as to whether you can achieve completely zero emissions in your circumstances, you can also choose one of the hybrid construction machines from Boels’ range. Harm is happy to explain what that means for construction machines: “Hybrid refers to vehicles that have an internal combustion engine in addition to an electric or battery drive system. In principle, the machines are able to run on zero-emission electric or battery power. Depending on the machine, the fuel engine acts as a kind of backup, allowing you to move the machine or continue working when the battery is empty.”
“Depending on the machine, the fuel engine acts as a kind of backup, allowing you to move the machine or continue working when the battery is empty”
For instance, Boels has approximately ten hybrid boom lifts in its portfolio, with working heights ranging from 10 to 28 metres. They are energy-efficient, have low emissions as well as very quiet when running on batteries. Most models are also equipped with four-wheel drive for achieving good grip on rough terrain. Generally speaking, hybrid construction equipment requires a higher investment than conventional machines. Renting is then a better option than buying, both economically and ecologically, and it also provides an opportunity to see if this form of drive fits into the company vision. At Boels, you have access to the largest and newest fleet of nearly 500 hybrid machines. The top 5 includes the rough terrain articulated telescopic boom lift, the scissor lift, trailer-mounted DIS/roadside VMS, mobile lighting tower and the hybrid generator.
The ‘bigger’ construction equipment
In practice, we see that compact construction equipment such as mini and midi excavators can be converted to electric power easily and affordably. This is somewhat more difficult for the ‘larger’ construction equipment (more than 10 tonnes, for example), because this requires large battery packs. These are expensive, heavy and take up a lot of space. That is why the battery packs are sometimes used to (partially) replace the counterweight. Working with interchangeable battery packs can be a convenient solution, but it does require a certain logistical approach. That is why Boels is increasingly recommending a suitable charging infrastructure, such as a standalone power pack.
In the meantime, as an alternative to electricity, some equipment manufacturers and converters are also looking at the (future) possibilities of hydrogen. This technology is still in its infancy for the construction sector and this kind of equipment is not yet available for hire at Boels. But of course, what is not yet possible can still be achieved, as work is already underway on hydrogen-powered generators. The logistics are still a challenge at the moment but the expectation is that we will soon be combining hydrogen and battery packs. It’s not a question of ‘and/or’ but simply ‘and’.
Smart use of the power supply
Choosing electrically-powered equipment makes having a sufficient supply of the necessary electricity on the building site a must. Although every construction/civil engineering company is used to having fuel supplies for machines, trucks and generators, now suddenly a different way of supplying and storing energy needs to be considered. Is there enough mains power available? Can we work with battery packs? Should we install solar panels and is there someone to manage all of this?
At Boels, they know all about these issues, so we will give Manager Operations Power & HVAC Chris Dirx the floor. Chris reassures us straight away, but also doesn’t deny that switching to an all-electric construction site is quite a task. After all, “Where do you draw the line?” In other words: “It is more sensible to take a step by step approach to going electric. Then you can discover where the strengths and weaknesses of the system lie.”
“It is more sensible to take a step by step approach to going electric. Then you can discover where the strengths and weaknesses of the system lie”
Monitoring provides insight into usage
For the near future, Boels has high expectations for remote monitoring and control. Here, all of the equipment is smart and connected online, providing real-time insight into energy demands and consumption. Chris: “This allows us to see capacity problems in advance and warn our customers early on. I anticipate that more and more (spare) batteries will need to be charged on-site. Coordinating energy demand and supply – referred to as dynamic load balancing – is crucial in that case. This means that instead of emptying a bucket at once, so to speak, you distribute the available energy drop by drop according to need. That way, you can also hire more energy when you need it”.
In this transitional phase from fossil fuels to green electricity (green = sun, wind, etc.), it is not yet very easy to know who exactly will be the users at the construction site and how this should be settled financially. After all, how do you deal with subcontractors and their equipment and what do you say to a supplier’s lorry driver when he needs to recharge electricity for the return journey? Starting with monitoring means that it is possible to gain clarity about the various energy flows and the complexity of users versus payers. Monitoring also provides insight into the best (often very different) way to set up a construction site in terms of energy.
Is all of the energy really needed?
The final question is simple: is all that energy really needed? The trick is to balance energy supply and demand in advance. Chris: “When is which machine being operated and what kind of energy does it need? Is that extra electric platform really necessary? Does the site hut need to be kept warm at night, and would it not be better to heat it electrically, with a heat pump or with a local heat network?” Boels wants to be your business partner in this process, advising you and helping facilitate the smartest and most affordable approach. Because zero emission building sites are rapidly expanding, partly because (major) clients are requesting them and partly because they are increasingly being included in the tendering requirements. Try saying no then.