Monday Oct 02, 2023

Bring out the (electric) Zamboni: The battery-powered revolution hits ice rinks | Local Business

EDWARDSVILLE — There’s not yet ice that beckons to skaters, but Edwardsville’s gleaming new public rink already has a freshly made Zamboni for the job.

Zamboni builds each machine by hand and numbers them sequentially. Edwardsville’s is No. 13,310.

But unlike most, this one is fully electric.

The new set of wheels is another example — this one famously box-shaped, slow-moving and weighing 8,900 pounds when loaded with water — that the electric revolution is not confined to lawnmowers, tools and roadways. It now extends to trucks, forklifts and a growing number of ice rinks as well.

“We’ve definitely seen a rise in it,” said Paula Coony, a brand manager for Zamboni, on the company’s electric models. “It’s just taken off.”

Edwardsville officials said the electric Zamboni was the right choice for the soon-to-open R.P. Lumber Center: The electric engine has no emissions, so it won’t affect runners and walkers on the indoor track above the rink. And while it comes with a higher initial price, it is expected to have far lower costs over its lifetime compared with one with an internal-combustion engine.

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“There’s very low maintenance on them, if any at all,” said Phil Zamora, superintendent of the new Edwardsville facility, set to open in early June.

Zamboni, the California-based company that dominates the industry, invented the “ice resurfacing machine” in 1949 and, like Kleenex, Band-Aid and Jell-O, has become synonymous with the product itself, despite the company’s protests. (Zamboni said in a trademark letter that its name should never be used as a noun — insisting “the machine is not ‘a Zamboni,’ it is a Zamboni ice resurfacing machine.”)

Still, the name has long since conquered colloquial speech. Even radio broadcasts of St. Louis Blues games conclude with the catchphrase, “Bring out the Zamboni!”

The first electric Zamboni prototypes emerged in 1960, for use at that year’s Winter Olympics at Lake Tahoe, California. Later, a 1970s version also used an electric battery, said Coony, before the first “reliable, industry-accepted” electric Zamboni debuted in 1990 and saw some widespread adoption.

But the debuts of rapid-charging and lithium-ion batteries in recent years has helped make the electric machines more popular.

“It’s been kind of a game-changer,” said Coony.

And with the recent rise in fuel prices, she added, “the electric people are all kind of sitting back and smiling right now.”

Edwardsville expects to get eight to nine “cuts” per charge, said Zamora, the ice chief, which should cover a typical day of use at the new rink, allowing them to charge the machines overnight.

“They’ve made quite the leap in terms of quality of battery,” he said.

More of the NHL’s 32 teams are going electric, now, too.

While the Montreal Canadiens have had an electric Zamboni for years, the expansion Seattle Kraken, new to the league this season, went “all in” on the technology, Coony said, ordering five electric Zambonis, including for the team’s practice facilities. The company expects electric Zamboni adoption to pick up as updated orders come in.

“It’s almost a no-brainer,” Coony said.

Competitor Resurfice Corp., the Canadian company that owns the Olympia brand of resurfacers and supplies the St. Louis Blues, sells three electric and two fossil-fueled models, and is seeing electric sales accelerate, too.

“I would say we’re probably getting close to 50-50,” said general manager Steve Kovacevic, and “growing considerably every day.”

Resurfice did research a few years ago comparing energy costs for both types of models and found that propane-powered machines cost customers about $30 per day, compared to $8 per day for electric.

Still, that’s not the primary factor influencing electric sales, Kovacevic said.

“They want to lower their greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “That’s the big driver.”

The company counts six NHL squads among its clients and says the New York Islanders got an electric machine when they moved into a new arena this season. Many such buildings, Kovacevic said, have carbon-reduction goals, as does the league.

“The battery-powered machines,” Kovacevic said, “will definitely take over the NHL.”

At typical speeds of 4 to 5 mph, each.

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