Battery powered equipment - advancements in technology

John Colemanin Battery/Electric Power

Recognising the health benefits and brand value that can be gained from putting sustainability under the spotlight, manufacturers have been working closely with turf managers to provide tools that are keeping pace with the demand for ever-cleaner practice. Arguably, the largest of which is the drive towards battery powered equipment. John Coleman, inventor of the electrically driven INFINICUT® range of pedestrian mowers, explores the current and future developments in useable energy sources.

There is no denying that global warming is very much a prominent topic in the news once again and is a key focus on the agendas of those maintaining stadiums and leading sporting venues around the world. Fossil fuels have long served as a cheap and readily available source of energy. The high energy-to-weight ratio in terms of net calorific value (NCV) make it an effective fuel for most applications. Traditionally, apparatus that has the primary purpose of transferring between different locations has been powered by some form of hydrocarbon. When considering turf maintenance equipment, with a surface area to cover which requires a certain length of run time, most equipment in this sector was also designed to be powered by hydrocarbon fuel. We've become conditioned that this type of fuel is a source of power that is available on tap anywhere, at any time.

It is well documented that the utilisation of fossil fuel is bad for the environment and can also be less than ideal for the individual operating the machine. In addition to the obvious issue of harmful emissions, there are other factors to bear in mind such as the health & safety implications of using and storing the fuel and the vibration and noise emitted from a traditional combustion engine. In today's society, the use of fossil fuels by those in the public eye could be viewed as adversarial and potentially damaging to the reputation of the particular user group. When this is coupled with UK governments remit to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by the end of the decade (compared to 1990 levels), it is no surprise that alternative types of energy are coming online.

Within the last ten years, developments in battery technology have come on a long way. The resultant quiet and smooth operation a battery can provide is not only less harmful to the immediate environment, it also makes for a more pleasant overall user experience. In addition, the reduction in moving parts should also translate into more reliable equipment that offers more scope to deliver further features and benefits. Whilst battery powered equipment may come with a higher initial price tag, it should be considered as purchasing the fuel upfront, with lower ongoing costs another plus point.

Left: New 60Ah battery Right: John Coleman

The first working design of the electric INFINICUT® pedestrian mower came to fruition in 2014. Whilst not the first electric designed pedestrian mower, it is generally regarded as the first for Sports Turf applications. Being the first of its type in a market segment can generate a fair degree of user reticence, particularly as the INFINICUT® was so radical in its design compared to the incumbent machines. The change of power source to a battery module meant the INFINICUT® was still very much in the early adopter phase, with those individuals who were leaders in their respective industries becoming the first to purchase one.

Our clients continue to produce ever more technical and superior surfaces and it is vital that we, as manufacturers, are providing them with the tools to help them accomplish their goals in the best, and most efficient, way possible. It is testament to the emphasis they now place on environmental sustainability that the range of battery powered equipment and machinery has grown to cover most tools in daily use by grounds and course managers.

As part of our continuous product development programme, power across the INFINICUT® range is delivered by a lithium power source - available in both 30Ah and 60Ah to offer flexibility to suit the application. The recent addition of the 60Ah module offers the operator a run-time of up to 390 minutes (dependant on machine, set up and conditions).

Whilst developments in battery power are emerging all the time, some limitations in its application currently remain. Its NCV is lower than that of traditional fossil fuel and operators have to put in extra consideration regarding both run and charging time. It is also, currently, limited by its scalability - it will be a while before we can power, say a Boeing 747, on battery power alone!

One emerging alternative to lithium battery power is Hydrogen. Hydrogen uses a chemical reaction to generate power, producing only water and heat as by-products. When utilising co-generation, hydrogen fuel cells can attain over 80% energy efficiency backed up with good reliability that does not degrade over time - making them a popular choice for automotive applications. The fuel cells are significantly lighter and more compact and deliver a smooth and quiet alternative to conventional forms of energy production.

The main drawback to Hydrogen as an energy source, currently, comes down to cost. The high cost of catalysts (platinum) make fuel cells expensive to manufacture, together with a general lack of infrastructure around the distribution of hydrogen, restricting its availability. A lot of the fuel cell technology currently available also remains in the prototype stage and is not yet validated. Because of this, manufacturers are reluctant to invest in the technology at this stage.

Left: SM34 rotary Right: 30Ah + 60Ah

For larger propulsion systems, it would appear that fossil fuel will continue to remain the only viable option for the foreseeable future. Hydrogen promises to be an excellent power source for golf and sports turf equipment, however, the infancy of its research and issues regarding its availability make it a long way from being a conventional energy source. With our industry now evidently aware of its role in preserving the environment and promoting an environmentally responsible status, lithium battery technology will continue to emerge as the preferred fuel choice for many items of maintenance equipment.

Utilising an electric drive for the INFINICUT® was the natural option to offer the configurability that is the very essence of the machine. Embracing the technology early on has meant we can now look to pool the knowledge and expertise we have gained over the years to realise a number of exciting developments. Within the last 12 months we have completely overhauled the electrical architecture of the INFINICUT® by moving over to CANbus and wireless Bluetooth connectivity. We have also expanded the INFINICUT® family to include a professional Rotary Mower (SM34) and the MK6 model of INFINICUT® 22" mower.

These improvements have really allowed us to develop machines that are "tomorrows design, today" and we will only continue to invest in electronic technology, developing equipment that delivers even more superior results - and is better for both the user and the environment.

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