You call that a hybrid?
FUEL-SAVING hybrid technology designed to save the planet is now being used to dig it up.
Earthmover maker Komatsu has adopted a hybrid system to save money and fuel on worksites around the country.
Weighing a pinch over 21 tonnes, it’s a far cry from the Toyota Prius C, one of Australia’s cheapest hybrid cars. Its bright yellow arm (capable of carrying a 2450kg load) could lift two of the tiny-tot Toyotas in one deft swing— and still have room to dig some dirt.
The Komatsu is $240,000 with a few options— a 20 per cent premium on a non-hybrid excavator— or equal to 10 Priuses or one Porsche.
It has a top speed of only 5.5km/h.
Keeping these machines running isn’t cheap either. A new track costs $15,000, compared to about $800 for four new tyres on the Toyota. The Komatsu has one advantage over its tiny technical twin: it has a tighter turning circle because it’s able to spin on its own axis, equal to the length of its tracks (3.7m plays the Toyota’s 9.6m turning circle).
The Komatsu’s hybrid system is used only to rotate the upper bod because these machines spend most of their day in one spot digging holes and dumping the rubble. So when the body swivels it’s almost silent, powered by the current stored in a massive onboard capacitor. Never mind the silent menace of hybrids in car parks— fancy an 830kg bucket coming your way at head height?
When the capacitor needs recharging, the Komatsu’s turbo diesel engine kicks in. Following the downsizing trend with cars, this is a fourcylinder engine when most excavators of this size have a six. The diesel also operates at lower revs than regular models (1300-1400rpm versus 1800-2000rpm) because the electric motor provides extra boost.
Most machines of this size consume 21 litres of fuel an hour in heavy use or 15 on average; the hybrid uses 11-15.
Komatsu bravely let me behind the wheel to leave my mark on it. I’ve been lucky enough to drive Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis, but I was more nervous climbing— literally— into this.
A large screen shows how much energy you’re using or saving, with the same type of digital readouts as in hybrid cars. The controls are fairly straightforward. The lever is similar to that of an arcade game, except out here the consequences are real, hence a panic button to shut it down instantly.
Not being brave enough to break new ground, I ended up with a deeper hole in the same spot. Eventually I got the swing of it and the machine’s minders had to bang on the soundproof door to get me out.
And to think— people get paid to have this much fun.