Heavy lifting

EVs muscle in on heavy industrial applications

By Morand Fachot

Mention of EVs (electric vehicles) immediately brings to mind electric cars and possibly urban transport vehicles such as trolleybuses or electric buses. However, it is also important to consider commercial and industrial EVs as they represent 60% of the value of the overall EV market. IEC Standards are essential for the further development and introduction of this class of EVs and for the entire EV sector.

FC systems can easily be retrofitted to replace lead-acid batteries into forklifts, like in this machine (Photo: Yale)

An eclectic electric vehicle market

Certain types of EVs are already widely present in the industrial and commercial sectors.

Materials handling vehicles, such as pallet trucks, reach trucks, counterbalance stand ups and counterbalance forklifts are obvious examples of vehicles that are often powered by electricity. This may be imposed through laws and regulations; for instance in certain countries, forklifts have to be electric when used inside buildings so as to prevent emission of noxious fumes.

Electric forklifts first appeared in the 1940s, but were only deployed on a commercial basis after World War 2. They can be powered by lead-acid batteries, but these may not last a full working day and may take up to 8 hours to recharge.

More recently materials handling vehicles powered by FCs (fuel cells) have been introduced. In contrast with lead-acid systems FCs can be recharged in a matter of minutes. Their weight is not a drawback as, in common with lead-acid batteries, they act as counterweights in forklifts. FC-powered vehicles can also be used in cold environments, such as cold stores, as their performance is not degraded by low temperatures.

In future, the FC and battery combination is expected to be used for a hybrid mix of FCs and electric storage for batteries and super capacitors. Already under development is a FC and battery hybrid that helps recover energy as forklifts raise and lower loads.

Energy is supplied as the forklift raises its load and is then recovered as the lift comes back down. The recovered electric power can be used in a generator to charge the battery and keep the cycle going.

Shifting and lifting beyond forklifts

Short range is often perceived as a drawback for personal EVs, but this may not be relevant in the case of commercial and industrial EVs. These are often used in limited environments and so may not need to cover vast distances between charges. This is certainly the case for airports' GSE (Ground Support Equipment) such as aircraft tugs, baggage tractors, belt loaders, shuttle buses and cargo moving equipment.

There are about 300 000 GSE vehicles in the world’s airports today, including in the commercial airports used for freight and by the oil industry and in military airports. In a report on industrial and commercial EVs, market research company IDTechEx estimated the sale of EVs for airport applications to be between 30 000 and 39 000 units in 2013.

Airports are often funded or controlled by governments or local/regional authorities and are under pressure to convert their GSE to electric versions.

Comparable machines in other markets are electric yard or heavy duty tractors for use in harbours or warehouses to pull containers or trailers.

Some commercial and industrial EVs are also available as hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles or are equipped with range extenders powered by fossil fuels (petrol or liquid gas).

Another emerging trend likely to boost the adoption of industrial EVs is the rollout of driverless or fully automated systems. These are already in use in warehouses and in the mining industry.

Fast-growing sector for slow-moving vehicles

Unlike in the personal EV industry, where manufacturers are launching many models, sometimes without prospects of significant ROI (return on investment) so as to keep up with their competitors, the commercial and industrial sector demand for EVs is driven by other considerations. These include the quest to lower the operating costs of large fleets and the need to meet ever more stringent government emissions limits.

These will drive the introduction of EVs into previously uncharted territory, that of earthmoving, mining, agricultural and outdoor machinery.

Major earth-moving equipment manufacturers such as Caterpillar, John Deere and Komatsu, have already introduced hybrid electric earth-moving machines that can cut fuel consumption by 25% or more.

IDTechEx expects the commercial and industrial EV sector to more than quadruple between 2013 and 2023. It forecasts that 706 000 purely electric forklifts will be sold in 2020, almost all for indoor use, together with 750 000 other heavy industrial vehicles, mainly hybrid forklifts used outdoors and self-propelled cranes. Agricultural, mining and earthmoving electric vehicles will also be included in this latter category.

To this should be added 110 000 electric buses and 377 000 light industrial and commercial EVs.

IEC standardization supporting the expansion

Many IEC TCs (Technical Committees) and SCs (Subcommittees) are working on Standards for systems and components used in the EV sector. The following list is not exhaustive.

IEC TC 69: Electric road vehicles and electric industrial trucks, is obviously a major player. It prepares Standards for motors and motor controllers, on-board electrical energy storage systems and for power supplies and chargers.

TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries, prepares Standards for secondary batteries for the propulsion of electric road vehicles. These batteries can be of the lead-acid, lithium-ion, nickel-metal-hydride or lithium iron phosphate types, for instance.

Fuel cells are increasingly being used in commercial, industrial and personal EVs. TC 105 prepares International Standards for FC technologies. In January 2013 three global car manufacturers announced they were pooling resources to bring FCEVs to the market as early as 2017. FCs are already widely deployed in the industrial and commercial EV sector.

Capacitors and supercapacitors are being used more and more widely in vehicle applications, with supercapacitors sometimes replacing traction batteries, Standards for capacitors are prepared by TC 33: Power capacitors and their applications.

TC 69 liaises and collaborates with TC 21 and TC 105, as well as with other IEC TCs and SCs involved in electromobility. These include SC 17D: Low-voltage switchgear and controlgear assemblies, SC 23E: Circuit-breakers and similar equipment for household use, SC 23H: Plugs, socket-outlets and couplers for industrial and similar applications, and for electric vehicles, and TC 64: Electrical installations and protection against electric shock.

IEC standardization work for EVs supports an industry which is set to reach a global gross value market of USD 334 billion by 2023.

yale_org FC systems can easily be retrofitted to replace lead-acid batteries into forklifts, like in this machine (Photo: Yale)
schopf_f110_org Four-wheel drive / four-wheel steer SCHOPF F110 electric tractor designed to move aircraft up to 150 tonnes (Photo: SCHOPF)
Cat336E This Caterpillar 336E H hybrid excavator uses up to 33% less fuel than its 336D diesel equivalent (Photo: Caterpillar)