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New battery-powered tower cranes turning heads

May 9, 2023  By Emily Newton

With the push to “go green,” a shift to emission-free cranes in downtown Toronto would be a healthy move

Battery-powered tower cranes are spearheading innovation at a major redevelopment project in the heart of London, England – the first of their kind to be used in the UK, using cutting-edge charging technology, which significantly reduces GHG emissions.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority here at home in Canada – but just how effective are these electric cranes, and are there any benefits other than not producing exhaust?

Battery-Powered Tower Cranes in Operation

A major redevelopment project in London is taking a step toward sustainability using battery-powered tower cranes. This is the first project in the UK to use battery-powered cranes, marking a turning point for the British construction industry.

The Future Olympia project is valued at £1 billion (CAD)$1.67 billion. It includes offices, hotels, a live music venue, restaurants, retail space, a school and public spaces. The battery-powered tower cranes will be used throughout the project.


Electric Generator Power for Construction Equipment

How does a construction project of this scale run its cranes on batteries? The construction company behind Future Olympia — Laing O’Rourke — is using large portable batteries made of recycled shipping containers. The batteries are Amped Energy’s “Enertainers,” specifically designed to power electric construction equipment.

Enertainers are estimated to be 30 times quieter than a diesel generator and create zero air pollution. The cube design of the electric generators allows them to be easily stacked or tucked away on crowded construction sites.

Ian Flemming — one of the Olympia Redevelopment’s project leaders — explained a few of the top benefits of switching to an electric generator in an interview on the project. “Not only does [the Enertainer] enable us to power the crane on a small grid connection, but the innovative design allows us to feed it with small power cables and charge it when site demand for power is low.”

Enertainer electric generators are being used to charge three battery-powered tower cranes at Olympia. The redevelopment project began in December 2022 and is slated for completion in 2025.

Benefits of Battery-Powered Construction

Why use battery-powered tower cranes? This is a question that more and more people in the construction industry are asking today. Electrification is becoming more common and effective for large construction equipment. Switching to battery-powered equipment has several benefits, including lower reductions and cost savings.

These benefits don’t just apply to construction, either. Tower cranes are essential equipment in many industries, including telecommunications, the steel industry and even shipping. Businesses in any of these niches can benefit from electrification by adopting battery-powered tower cranes.

Emissions Reduction

One of the top benefits of electric construction equipment is lower greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainability is a top priority for the Olympia Redevelopment project, so it’s no surprise the developers opted for battery-powered tower cranes.

Experts estimate 25 per cent of global GHG emissions are created by construction. Switching to fully electric construction equipment can significantly reduce the emissions produced on construction sites. This is particularly true for large equipment like tower cranes, which typically need hundreds of gallons of fossil fuel.

Reducing emissions in construction isn’t just good for the planet, either — businesses can improve their ESG portfolios by reducing their carbon footprint. Construction companies can even impress clients by advertising their use of electric equipment, which enhances the sustainability of new construction projects.

When you consider the amount of active operating tower cranes in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Toronto, Ont. and Montreal, Que., the reduction in GHG emissions would be considerable.

Lower Fuel Costs

A clear benefit of shifting to electric battery-powered tower cranes is a reduced need for diesel fuel. This is important to note, given rising fuel costs around the world. For example, diesel prices in Canada hit almost $3 per litre in 2022. While they have decreased somewhat over Q1 2023, prices remain higher than in Q1 2022 and nearly double those of Q1 2020.

Electricity prices are not only lower than fossil fuel prices but also tend to be more stable. Of course, construction organizations still need to invest in electrical equipment and charging infrastructure. However, the cost of this equipment will be lower than the fuel costs for conventional diesel-powered equipment over time.

Additionally, construction enterprises can reduce their energy costs and carbon footprint depending on where they source their electricity. Portable solar panel arrays can supply some of the electricity necessary for battery-powered tower cranes and other electric equipment. This reduces energy costs even more and ensures electricity for construction projects comes from a renewable source.

Energy Resilience and Independence

Investing in equipment like a portable electric generator for battery-powered equipment might sound like an unnecessary expense to some. However, this new infrastructure comes with many benefits. For example, the primary use for an electric generator might be to charge battery-powered tower cranes on-site. The generator can also power additional electric equipment, such as hand tools.

The need to have a generator on-site for electric equipment also allows construction sites to be energy independent. Some critics argue electric vehicles — especially large construction equipment — will strain local power grids too much. The Olympia project proves these vehicles can run primarily off external power supplies like the Enertainer, minimizing their impact on the power grid.

With electric construction equipment, construction companies can be more resilient to fluctuations in diesel fuel costs. They can also reduce reliance on local power grids with an external power supply for charging.

Cleaner Construction Zones

Construction projects can significantly impact the neighbourhoods surrounding them, including the people and wildlife living there. Electric equipment like battery-powered tower cranes lowers the negative effects of construction on local communities.

In fact, conserving the local ecology is key to achieving net-zero status in construction. This applies in urban environments, too, not just rural areas. Many types of plants and wildlife thrive in cities, which can be even more welcoming to the natural world by reducing harmful emissions.

Battery-powered tower cranes and other electric construction equipment help new urban development benefit communities while decreasing pollution. Cleaner construction zones help everyone breathe easier as infrastructure is expanded and revitalized – especially for urban centres like Toronto, which leads North America in active crane construction.

Powering the Future of Construction

Battery-powered tower cranes are leading the way in innovation in the construction industry. The successful implementation of fully electric equipment at the Olympia Redevelopment project is an inspiring proof of concept for construction leaders worldwide. Adopting this emerging technology can reduce projects’ carbon footprint, lower energy costs and minimize the impact of construction on local environments.

Emily Newton

About the author: Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She regularly covers news and trends in the construction and industrial sectors.

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