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John Deere has future-focused machinery

John Deere

As part of the effort to make quarrying more sustainable, heavy machinery manufacturers like John Deere are rolling out all-electric and hybrid versions of their traditional vehicles.

Low-emission driving and working is currently one of the main development goals of the heavy machinery industry, with an international focus on all-electric and hybrid drives.

This was evident at Bauma 2022, one of the world’s leading trade fairs for construction machinery, which was held in Germany in October this year. 

Amy Asselin, John Deere’s Manager for Aggregate and Material Handling Solutions observed that development of electric construction machinery was on the rise.

“It’s exciting to see so many electrification options coming to market. A lot of it, of course, is still at prototype and concept stages. But it’s interesting to see the approaches and the types of vehicles that are coming to market with different solutions.”

John Deere has experience innovating in this space with products like its hybrid 944K wheel loader. The hybrid wheel loader was introduced in 2015, and as Asselin observed, has been gaining traction among John Deere’s customers.

A hybrid wheel loader

The 944K wheel loader uses a hybrid-electric drivetrain, consisting of the John Deere 13.5L engine, gearbox, two three-phase Alternating Current (AC) permanent magnet generators, power electronics or inverters, four three-phase AC Switched Reluctance (SR) motors, four two-stage reduction final drives, and two brake resistors. The electric drive components are backed by an eight-year, 20,000 hour warranty.

According to Asselin, the 944K is the most fuel-efficient machine in its size class; meaning that it can move more material while burning less fuel. 

“This loader is unique in that it runs four electric wheeled motors, which allows the system to recover energy and send to the power electronics to manage where the most efficient path for energy to go. This allows the machine to be highly productive in the pit face while managing wheel slip. This means operations can process more material while burning less fuel. It also helps reduce the 944K’s overall environmental impact.”

Apart from productivity benefits, Asselin said the 944K loader offered advantages in terms of serviceability and lifecycle costs.

“The hybrid electric drivetrain on the 944K helps prevent excessive tire spin resulting in increased tire life. This means the 944K will require less tire changes over its life also contributing to reduced environmental impact,” she explained.  

To put that into perspective, one less set of tires prevents over 90,000 kilograms of CO2 from entering the atmosphere that would have occurred through the cost of manufacturing and disposing of the extra tires.

From a maintenance perspective, the 944K requires lower volumes of oil and fluids when performing recommended preventative maintenance translating into 11,000 kilograms of CO2 less over the life of the machine when compared to a traditional drive loader. There is also a six per cent reduction in global warming potential impact related to manufacturing when the machine undergoes a mid-life and re-life servicing.

John Deere
The hybrid 944K wheel loader runs four electric wheeled motors.

Sustainability vision

The 944K wheel loader will be showcased at CONEXPO in Las Vegas in March next year, along with a suite of new products from John Deere. The focus for these new machines will be on hybridisation and electrification of the company’s traditional fleet, with roll-outs expected in the next couple of years.

More broadly, Asselin said the journey to hybridisation and electrification was part of John Deere’s multi-faceted approach to achieve 30 per cent carbon emission reduction by 2030. The journey also includes focus on improving diesel engine and vehicle efficiency, as well as technology to support use of renewable fuels.  

One of the challenges, she noted, was getting the required infrastructure in place to support low or zero emission equipment. 

“As we go down this journey, whether it’s in a quarry or a construction job site, we will work with our customers on the infrastructure needed to get the required power to charge the machines at the right time, in the right place,” she observed. “John Deere has already made investments in some of those technologies. We recently purchased a battery company called Kreisel Electric, which produces innovative battery technology for e-mobility and stationary systems,” she said.

Retrofit options

While the full-battery driven options have proven their lifecycle benefits for smaller machines, Asselin noted that the diesel and hybrid versions remained a feasible choice for the larger machines relevant to the quarry industry.

As such, she said John Deere was looking at adopting technologies to allow diesel engines to work with renewable fuels that emit less harmful gases. 

“Additionally, we’ve also made investments in a company called ClearFlame Engine Technologies, which is an Illinois-based start-up dedicated to the development of clean engine technology. ClearFlame’s solution enables low-carbon fuels such as ethanol or other renewable fuels to be integrated into compression ignition engines, offering a sustainable solution without compromising engine performance.”

Realising that many quarry and construction companies already have a large fleet of machinery, Asselin said part of John Deere’s focus was on bringing options to the market that allowed for existing machines to be retrofitted to reduce carbon emissions.

The investment in ClearFlame Engine Technologies was in line with that strategy, she said.

“We’ve made good investments in this space, and we’ll continue to work with the likes of ClearFlame to see what options we can make available over the near future, allowing existing machines to run on renewable fuels with lower carbon emissions.”

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