BLOG: Turbine-Electric Technology Headed to Construction Sites

A Utah manufacturer, Nikola, is introducing a partly battery-powered Class 8 semi-tractor unit.

Mon July 18, 2016 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson


The sleek body of the long-haul tractor encloses turbines that charge a 320-kWh battery pack, which powers six electric motors totaling about 2,000 hp.
The sleek body of the long-haul tractor encloses turbines that charge a 320-kWh battery pack, which powers six electric motors totaling about 2,000 hp.

Industrial design is a wonderful thing, taking something basic like a hammer, for example, and over the years stylishly forging new functions for it, giving us such hammer variations as ballpeen, claw, framing, upholstery, and rubber mallet.

Heavy machinery evolves the same way, always with form following function. One of the latest examples is in the over-the-road category, but it has implications for off-the-road machinery.

A Utah manufacturer, Nikola, is introducing a partly battery-powered Class 8 semi-tractor unit. The sleek body of the long-haul tractor encloses turbines that charge a 320-kWh battery pack, which powers six electric motors totaling about 2,000 hp. The combo engine is said to accelerate the truck quickly, carry a load uphill at 65 mph, and use 2-3 times less fuel than traditional diesel-powered over-the-road trucks. Natural gas is a fueling option.

The truck's aerodynamic body offers a mid-body sliding entry door and, inside, operators will have a refrigerator and freezer, full size beds for long hauls, and a 42-inch television set. Rest stops sound restful.

What is more pertinent is that the Class 8 truck rating that includes “Nikola One” also includes three- and four-axle dump trucks. This means that relatively quiet and fuel-efficient off-the-road trucks may be coming that incorporate the Nikola lithium-ion battery pack technology and onboard turbines.

The turbine-electric technology eventually can be expected to move to other construction equipment on a work site, joining hybrid equipment already working there. The same requirements for quick-torque, low-emission, fuel-efficient engines exist for a variety of dirt-moving heavy machines.

Not making the transition to construction are the full-size beds and well-stocked fridges, mostly because many future construction machines won't even have operators. Repetitious work patterns ideal for programmed GPS signals and laser beams are designing operators right out of the picture, so cab areas on the equipment will disappear altogether…as have some hammers. It's called progress.




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