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CEA’s electric future

JCB Electric machines offer the same performance as their diesel counterparts, but without the fumes and noise.

CEA’s Greg Sealey talks to Roads & Infrastructure about the growing JCB Electric range, and what the machines can offer the Australian market. 

As pressure continues to build on contractors across the world to incorporate sustainability into their operations, equipment manufacturers such as JCB are working hard to provide viable alternatives.

JCB is one of the companies at the forefront of alternative fuel source innovation – a key element of its Road to Zero sustainability strategy and action plan.

The first models in the company’s fully electric range were unveiled in 2018. Since then, they’ve been gradually making their way to Australian shores; starting in 2019 with the arrival of the first JCB 19-C1E – which was the industry’s first fully electric mini excavator.

The JCB HTD-5E electric dumpster is suitable for indoor or underground sites where pollution and noise are an issue.
The JCB HTD-5E electric dumpster is suitable for indoor or underground sites where pollution and noise are an issue.

The mini excavator has since been joined by electric access platforms, an electric site dumpster and most recently, an electric ‘teletruk’.

Greg Sealey, General Manager of Distribution at CEA, says alternative fuel powered machinery is where the global markets are going, but it will be a gradual transformation. 

“When it comes to electric machinery, like it did with motor vehicles, things are starting with smaller equipment,” he says. 

According to Sealey, one predictable barrier to the early adoption of this newer technology is the price – something he says is true for every manufacturer, not just JCB.

“We’re all dealing with that same issue,” he says. “The cost of these machines is certainly up there – sometimes two/ two-and-a-half times the price of the diesel equivalent. 

“But there’s definitely demand building for them, for use in specific applications.”

For some, putting an electric machine on a project could be a simple way to tick sustainability boxes, but Sealey says more contracts for big jobs are starting to demand the use of electric technology.

Part of this, he suspects, comes down to the other benefits associated with electric machinery, beyond a clear environmental conscience. 

“If you’re working in a hospital, an undercover car park without much ventilation, or a shopping centre or school – anywhere where noise or pollution is an issue – that’s where people are looking to these types of options,” Sealey says.

In such environments, Sealey says electric machinery could go beyond “nice-to-have” to being the only viable option. He points to JCB’s site dumpsters – which are available in both diesel and electric models – as an example.

“People may ask why you’d pay twice the price for the electric version,” he says. “But on some of these indoor sites – you’ll either be using an electric dumpster or you’ll be using a wheelbarrow.”

Sealey also sees the potential for strong uptake with customers who work on a lot of tunnel projects across Australia.

“They don’t want diesel engines running in those tunnels, because it can be a real struggle to get rid of the fumes,” he says.

Generating interest

Sealey expects new JCB Electric machines to keep making their way over to Australia as demand increases, along with CEA’s understanding of the local electric machinery market.

“This year, we should see the bigger one-tonne ride-on dumpsters in both diesel and electric, as well as a 2.5-tonne electric telehandler,” he says.

Sealey says CEA is also well positioned to provide the necessary support and service for JCB’s electric range as it gains popularity in Australia. 

“We had two technicians specially trained in the UK, who then came back and trained our team here,” he says.

“You’re playing with electricity, so it’s quite a different thing. You can’t necessarily just train up a diesel mechanic on these machines – they need to be certified to work on electric products.” 

Sealey says CEA was lucky to have a head-start in this regard, with its technicians already supporting other brands within the CEA portfolio.

“That was a big bonus for us,” he says. “We do a lot with generators, so we already had electrical technicians in our service team to start with.” 

The range of the range

Sealey says the first question he’s always asked by customers about JCB’s electric range is about battery life – something he says can be a bit tough to quantify.

“I’ll get asked if the electric mini excavator will run for eight hours,” he says. “JCB’s official answer is that it’ll do a day’s work.”

He says this doesn’t correlate to a certain number of operational hours, as electric technology works differently to diesel.

“Until you’re actually travelling on it or pulling a lever to dump a load, it’s not using any power,” he says. “They don’t idle as such – they just sit there until you actually go to do an action.”

 JCB’s 19-C1E was the industry’s first fully electric mini excavator.
JCB’s 19-C1E was the industry’s first fully electric mini excavator.

For situations where the machines do need to work longer, JCB has solutions available such as fast chargers and portable lithium battery packs – the latter of which can also be used to power auxiliary gear such as light towers.

Branches of innovation

For all the research and development JCB is putting into electric technology, Sealey says the company is also realistic about its limitations.

“Look, if you tried to power a 20-tonne excavator with batteries, you’d need a 20-tonne battery pack being pulled along behind it,” he says. “You can’t do that, at least with the current technology that’s out there.”

This may not be the case forever. But in the meantime, JCB continues its diverse approach to green innovation – which also gives customers the freedom to mix and match to suit their needs.

“No one solution is perfect, there’s no one-size-fits-all,” Sealey says. 

“That’s why, from a JCB perspective, they’re still reducing diesel engine emissions as much as they can, developing a range of hydrogen solutions, and going electric where it’s feasible.” 

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