The Construction Industry Dreams of Electric Machines

As eco-consumer rates expand, companies must adopt sustainable practices to remain competitive in their fields. This demand is even hitting the construction industry, a traditionally slower-paced field when it comes to technological innovation.

The construction industry plans on enhancing its sustainability by limiting its reliance on fossil fuel-reliant machines. While using electrified equipment once seemed a dream, advancements in technology and manufacturing have made this a reality for many construction projects.

Where does the industry stand with electric machines?

The Case for Electric Equipment Innovation

Diesel fuel powers most construction machinery. During combustion, the energy source generates greenhouse gas emissions. The elements alter the atmosphere’s composition, decreasing the efficiency of Earth’s temperature control features.

Drilling machinery (Credit: Pixabay)

It’s critical for fossil-fuel-reliant industries to consider alternatives for the sake of the planet. This is where electrifying machinery can come in. There’s lots of opportunity for improvement — the construction industry generates nearly 38% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing construction companies’ emissions can have a significant impact on sustainability goals worldwide.

Not only is it sustainable, but it’s often good business. Transitioning away from fossil fuel-powered machines offers various benefits to the industry, too. Electric machines require less maintenance because they have fewer components. They also have a longer life expectancy than diesel-powered devices. If electric equipment is up to par with existing diesel options, then it’s likely to be embraced by many construction companies.

Electric Construction Equipment Hitting the Market

Where is the industry at in developing electric machinery? Environmental engineers and scientists evaluated pollution challenges in the construction industry and developed sustainable solutions. Many of these machines can rival their diesel counterparts in performance, and the technology is only getting better with each new year.

Case created an electric backhoe with 90% lower operating costs. It contains a 90-kilowatt-hour battery, performing as efficiently as diesel versions. The machine helps dig and move materials on a construction site. Its mass lithium-ion battery remains charged throughout an eight-hour workday. Additionally, it generates zero emissions when in use.

Construction giant Caterpillar developed an electric forklift that moves heavy materials in and out of racking. They also transfer construction components on-site. Electric versions generate zero greenhouse gas emissions in use, enhancing a project’s sustainability.

These forklifts have been on the market long enough to be available secondhand as well, making the new technology affordable for more construction projects and industrial sites. This is critical for sustainability initiatives, considering that electric machinery needs to be available for businesses with tighter margins to become a widespread tool.

Another equipment manufacturer, Bobcat, rolled out electric mini-excavators. Workers on a jobsite can charge 80% of their lithium-ion battery in less than two hours. The machine holds enough power to function throughout an eight-hour shift.

The manufacturer developed a diesel version alongside the electric mini-excavator, evaluating their efficiency differentiations. They found that both machines function equally, and sometimes the electric version performs more efficiently.

Electrification Still Has Challenges to Overcome

Transitioning away from fossil fuel-powered devices towards electric versions presents challenges in the construction industry. First, there’s the question of charging options. Companies must have on-site access to charging stations, meeting energy demands. There are currently 41,400 powering stations for electric machines in the U.S., and these are typically built for cars.

What’s the solution? Engineers must develop portable, fast chargers to fuel construction devices on-site. However, a significant portion of the country’s electricity derives from fossil fuels, limiting the sustainability of charging. Increasing the importance of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy to the electric grid could make a critical difference in environmental outcomes.

Then, there’s the challenge of developing batteries. Lithium-ion batteries in electric machines can help with power, but acquiring this resource currently has ethical concerns. Lithium mining occurs in the Congo and uses nearly 40,000 children for labor. Even for adult workers, the mining process exposes workers to cobalt, generating health deficiencies.

The batteries also have low recyclability rates, limiting their compatibility with eco-consumer values. Electric machines end up generating waste after reaching their expiration dates. Researchers are working on developing efficient recycling techniques, decreasing landfill accumulation.

Electric Machinery in the Construction Industry

Construction machines currently overwhelmingly rely on diesel-powered engines. We will always need this machinery to help us develop homes, roads and other structures essential to navigating life. However, switching to electrified options can greatly reduce the construction industry’s emissions and result in environmental progress for the world.

No technology is perfect, and we have a long way to go in developing alternatives to diesel-reliant machinery. However, the future looks bright for electric equipment.

The Construction Industry Dreams of Electric Machines