This hybrid is a pure blood

On a crisp Hunter Valley morning, Komatsu unveiled an Australian first that is set to change mining.

On a site crowded with some of the newest machines in construction and mining, Komatsu launched the country’s first Hybrid Excavator to an impressed crowd of journalists and customers, demonstrating this new technology at its recent Boots On event at Cessnock in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales.

These two new earthmovers, the HB 205 and HB 215 (Long Carriage) "are pretty much the exact same machines (as regular diesel excavators), but are powered slightly differently," Komatsu managing director Sean Taylor told Australian Mining.

And it is the way they are powered that makes them so unique in the market.

Featuring a four cylinder engine, instead of the standard six cylinders, the new hybrid excavators have managed to "reduce carbon emissions by around 25% over the PC200," Australian Mining was told.

This equates to approximately a 10 kilogram per hour reduction in carbon dioxide emissions as compared to diesel only excavators.

On top of this, it provides fuel savings of around 25% to 41%, Taylor said.

The key factor in these new vehicles are the diesel electric drive.The new hybrid earthmovers swing function is driven by an electric motor, and feature an inverter and a solid state capacitor.

These work on the principle of swing energy regeneration and energy storage.

The energy used in the swing braking phase of the excavators’ operating cycle is converted to electricity, which is sent through the inverter and then stored in the Ultra Capacitor, which in turn uses the energy to power the excavators’ electric swing motors next rotation.

The HB 205 and HB 215 use Ultra Capacitors instead of the nickel metal batteries found in hybrid cars, for faster energy storage and transmission back to the motor.

The hybrids contain two motors – a slew motor, and a generator motor which assists the engine.

These excavators use 550 Volts AC between the swing motors and motor generators, while the capacitors store energy at 300 Volts DC.

The hybrid electrical system itself is fully insulated "so there is no chance of a high voltage accident," Komatsu Australia national business manager construction and excavation Chris Moroz told Australian Mining.

In the case of any voltage surges, the hybrid system automatically shuts down when problems are detected.

Despite replacing the six cylinder diesel engine with a four cylinder engine power has not been sacrificed.

According to Moroz, these hybrid excavators "run the same hydraulic breakout as normal excavators and the lifting capacity is the same as the PC200.

"When running a digging application, the hydraulics are assisted by the electric motor."

This makes operation much quieter.

Operators in the cabin only have to deal with noise levels of around 68 decibels.

Due to its electric motor, the hybrid excavators also have a much lower rpm, with a super low idle of only 700 rpm as opposed to the higher idle speed of 1400 rpm for the PC200.

This has also made the noise of the hybrid recognisable as "diesel engines sound different at super low idle rates".

Speaking to Oliver Diprose the CEO of Tasmanian civil and mining contractor Gradco, which bought the first hybrid in Australia, he told Australian Mining they purchased the excavator as "our company is always on the lookout for innovative products, as there are a lot of similarities between contractors, and having a greener machine such as this is really a point of difference for us.

"We’ve already seen a positive response to purchasing them. On top of this are the diesel savings, as owning 180 pieces of plant equipment, we go through two to two and half million litres of diesel fuel every year," Diprose added.

While the excavators showcased at the Boots On event were the first in Australia, there are currently 700 machines globally, with approximately 500 of the hybrid earthmovers operating in Japan.

Despite the differing power system, users can learn to operate the machine in a single hour long handover.

Extra training is not needed.

However, training the next generation of mechanics and diesel fitters is something on which Komatsu has heavily focused.

Managing director Sean Taylor said its training scheme, the Apprentice Development System (ADS), has been a key issue for the company.

"It’s our responsibility to train plant and heavy machinery technicians for our industry," Taylor said.

As reported in Australian Mining in February, Komatsu has been working in a partnership with TAFE to give apprentices skills in plant maintenance and repair.

To date there are more than 120 apprentices in the program, "with 140 expected in the next round," he said.

"We are aiming to constantly increase apprentice numbers," Taylor added.

He went on to say that Komatsu is working on building capacity to support the upcoming mining boom, and being a technology leader in the industry.