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Liebherr is looking to lead the way in sustainable construction practices, and one of the ways it’s doing this is by introducing new electric versions of its piling rigs. The first one – the LB 16 Unplugged – has already been put to work in Europe and could be available in Canada this year.

By Mark Halsall

 

Battery-powered electric cars have been around for a while and will play an increasingly important role in the future as more and more jurisdictions around the world introduce zero emissions policies as a way to curb climate change.

While they’re becoming more common on our highways, electric vehicles are anything but that on construction sites. However, this may be about change as some manufacturers have started moving toward electrifying construction equipment.

Liebherr, a global leader in building heavy-duty construction machines, is one company that’s ahead the curve. The European-based multinational company with numerous sales and service locations in Canada, recently unveiled what it says is the world’s first battery-powered drilling rig – the LB 16 Unplugged – and it plans to introduce more models this year.

“It was important to us to prove our innovation leadership in the market, and therefore the development of the LB 16 Unplugged got highest priority,” said Roland Noestler, head of product marketing, deep foundation equipment for Liebherr. “The trigger was the requirement from the market looking for alternative sustainable solutions.”

The new machine is an electro-hydraulic version of Liebherr’s diesel-run LB 16. The LB 16 Unplugged can operate using a cable connected to an electrical power source on a construction jobsite or it can run solely on battery power – hence, the unplugged label.

The 50-ton LB 16 is the smallest machine in Liebherr’s LB drilling rig series. Both the electric and diesel versions can achieve a maximum drilling diameter of 1,500 mm and can drill to 34.5 metres deep.

In the LB 16 Unplugged, the internal combustion engine is replaced by two electric motors with a combined system performance rating of 265 kW. Noestler maintains the LB 16 Unplugged performs just as well and can be used for the same applications as its conventional counterpart.

Noestler says that one motor in the LB 16 Unplugged powers the main operational elements of the machine such as the drilling tool, winches and swing gears, while the second one is for other components such as the heating and cooling systems. He adds that the hydraulic system on the electric rig has been modified as well to increase efficiency.

Michael Rajek, product manager, deep foundation equipment for Liebherr, says the battery on the LB 16 Unplugged is designed to last for a 10-hour day and it can be recharged in about seven hours using a conventional electrical supply found on most jobsites. He adds if the rig is required to work more than 10 hours, it can be connected via cable directly to a power source to keep it running.

The absence of a diesel engine in the LB 16 Unplugged means zero emissions are produced while it’s operating. This spares workers from breathing in noxious diesel fumes, but more importantly, it reduces the environmental footprint of drilling operations. Noestler maintains this makes the LB 16 Unplugged a great fit for the growing number of jurisdictions around the world implementing emissions restrictions.

 

Noise reduced

There’s another significant advantage as well: far less noise. Noestler says the alternate electric drive, combined with the machine’s Kelly-auger cleaner, which quietly and effectively removes material from the drilling tool, enables the rig to operate in almost complete silence.

Noestler believes this makes the LB 16 Unplugged ideal for work in noise-sensitive areas such as crowded urban areas or during certain times such as nightshifts, when the use of conventional drilling rigs may be restricted. He points out that a quieter drilling rig is also a lot easier on the ears of workers and can improve communication on jobsites.

Another attractive feature of the LB 16 Unplugged is a state-of-the-art operator assistance system that makes the machine safer and simpler to run. The rig’s ground pressure visualization system can alert the operator when the machine is situated in or nearing a critical area where it may be in danger of overturning due to excess ground pressure.

Noestler notes the LB 16 Unplugged has a sleek, elegant appearance, thanks to a new cabin design that also boosts operator comfort. This is achieved through an optimized field of vision, an improved air-conditioning system, a new orthopedic operator’s seat with integrated heating and cooling features, and enhanced noise protection within the cab.

“The new design conveys a completely new driving experience through massive noise reduction during operation,” said Noestler. “The machine is very quiet and smooth to work with as well more powerful, as the electric engine provides full torque immediately.”

Noestler points out no special training is required to operate the LB 16 Unplugged as it handles the same way as the diesel version of the LB 16.

The same goes for repairs to the machine’s hydraulic and mechanical systems, although some training is required to service the high voltage electrical system in the LB 16 Unplugged.

 

Global interest

Liebherr’s new electric drilling rig was introduced to the deep foundation industry at Bauma 2019, one of the world’s largest construction machine trade fairs, which is held annually in Munich, Germany.

“The interest was by far more than we expected,” said Rajek. “We had inquiries from all over the world.”

The LB 16 Unplugged can now be found on jobsites in Austria, Norway, and France, and could be available in Canada as soon as this year or early next year.

“We are working on the certification for the North American market,” said Noestler. “We expect to get this within 2021.”

Noestler says diesel-powered LB 16 drilling rigs are already being used on construction sites in Canada. Once it’s certified for the Canadian market, the LB 16 Unplugged will be available for sale or rental through Liebherr’s locations in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.

According to Noestler, Liebherr is working on expanding its electric options with new, unplugged versions of two more machines in the LB series – the mid-class LB 25 and the LB 30 drilling rigs – slated to be unveiled in Europe in early 2022. Noestler says the company is hoping to have the machines certified for the North American market shortly after that.

A battery-powered version of Liebherr’s LRH 100 pile driving rig is slated to be unveiled in Europe this year. Noestler says the company is planning to launch another pile driving rig, the LRH 200, in late 2021 or early 2022, that will be available in both conventional and unplugged versions.

In addition, an unplugged version of Liebherr’s LR 1250 crawler crane, which the company unveiled in December, is already in operation in Europe, and there are plans to release unplugged versions of the other cranes in the LR series as well.

“The different LBs, LRBs and LRs will complete our unplugged series. Furthermore, we are investigating full electric machines with reduced hydraulic components,” Noestler said.

“It’s always been important for Liebherr to be an innovative leader in technology,” Rajek said, noting that new innovations on the hydraulic and mechanical side of drill rig technology are limited due to the changing market.

 

 

“We believe in sustainable energy and sustainable working processes and we want to be part of it,” he said. “We want to create the future.” 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.