While emissions reductions in other markets are driven by ever-more-stringent regulations, in Australia it’s the customers who are spearheading change, says Dean Gaedtke, Chairman of the Construction and Mining Equipment Industry Group (CMEIG), who predicts construction equipment could be run on electric engines in just a few decades.
CMEIG is working with government on a project to help assess where and how the off-road vehicle sector is supporting the net-zero emissions goal. This will include understanding how the regulatory framework might better support the transition to net-zero.
“Europe and the US have been pushing forward with legislation, with a big step-change accompanying the introduction of Tier 3 standards nearly two decades ago now. Some markets are now up to Tier 5, but we have taken a different approach in Australia and even without that same legislative framework, customers are pushing OEMs to go faster and faster on lower emission technology. They want electric machines, they want hydrogen fuels,” Mr Gaedtke says.
“Part of that drive is coming from banks and financiers, and from corporate customers with specific requirements to meet their corporate social responsibility obligations. And part of it is simply that OEMs, as they design for new emissions standards, are also always designing for more power, for more fuel efficiency.
“Australians have always been early adopters. Our industry is hungry for the latest technology. Australian resellers and distributors are always working hard to get the voice of our customers into the factories.”
Mr Gaedtke notes that the machinery sector, especially at the big end, has some significant challenges to overcome on the road to net-zero.
“You can buy a car that plugs into your wall socket but it’s not a simple matter to translate that tech for heavy equipment. A high horsepower machine works 10 or 12 hours on site. A plug in battery pack is not going to cut it.
“The technology is not here yet – but it will be.”
Mr Gaedtke believes the internal diesel combustion engine could be phased out in industry within 30 years.
“It’s not a stretch to say we could well have high horsepower electric machinery by 2050. There are lots of possibilities already being tested, included hybrid diesel electrics, which will be the mid-way step. We’re also already seeing concept machines with hydrogen fuel cells, trolley-assist electric power already exists for electric dump trucks and could well be expanded, and we’re seeing energy capture where, for example, the lowering weight of overhead cranes is being used to generate electricity.”
Customer demand is only part of the solution.
While it’s encouraging to know customers are keen for new technology, Mr Gaedtke says the lack of clear emissions standards for the sector in Australia does provide challenges for OEMs that could hamper the race towards net-zero.
“Because we don’t have clear regulatory guidelines, we find OEMs are producing all kinds of machines for our market – a mix of different tiers. And that makes it difficult for factories to plan, and difficult to focus on specific strategic directions. The knock-on effect is huge as we have to almost guess what to stock.
“We’re excited to work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to help create a transition plan that will help get the industry where it needs to be. Our members are committed to lower-emission equipment and they want to move in this direction.”