Why companies are turning away from diesel powered machines

Ahh drill rigs. They’re the pride and joy of any geotechnical consultancy.

Geotechnical Engineers and Drilling Operators all have their own preferences when it comes to the equipment they use to conduct site investigations. Whether it’s using a truck mounted drilling rig, or a smaller track mounted one, these rigs all have different advantages and best use cases.

What is consistent throughout the industry is that most of these drilling rigs are powered by diesel engines and generators. But this could all change over the next couple of years.

With so many large professional services firms looking to reduce their greenhouse emissions (see our previous blog article about this here), one way companies are looking to do this is by switching their fossil-fuel based machinery over to electrical/battery powered options.

Who’s making electric drill rigs?

In September 2022, Epiroc, a leading productivity and sustainability partner for the mining and infrastructure industries, began working with Swedish construction company Skanska to field test the world’s first battery-electric drill rig for surface mining operations. If successful, the trial will be a significant milestone on the journey towards zero-emission drilling in surface mines and quarries around the world.

The design of the rig is based on the well-proven SmartROC T35 surface drill rig and aims to enhance the environmental standards of quarries and larger construction sites. Besides the low emissions, the rig comes with a range of smart features, options and enhanced automation solutions for high safety, reliability, and performance. More information on the detailed specs of the rig can be found here.

In addition, drill rig manufacturer Bauer unveiled their first electric drilling rig, the eBG, back in July. This rig falls in the mid-range segment of the drilling rig series with a drive power of more than 400kW.

Massenza Drilling Rigs unveiled their first zero emission electric drilling rig – the MI55 – which is driven by two electric motors, and Liebherr also released the LB 16 – the first battery powered drilling rig in the world, in early 2022.

Who is leading the pack?

Laing O’Rourke subsidiary, Select, recently purchased the world’s biggest electric drill.
Having already owned six battery-powered crawler cranes made by Liebherr Nenzing in Austria, it now has an electric drill rig from the same factory, with Select saying that emission-free plant – or at least machines with no tailpipe emissions – now make up 80% of its fleet.

The rig arrived in the UK recently and is currently undergoing operator and technician familiarisation, ahead of it being deployed to work on a major UK project.

But are electric drill rigs any good?

Besides reducing construction related emissions, these electric drilling rigs are far more quiet than traditional diesel-powered machines. This makes them far more suited for use in urban environments, and can also enhance communications on site where field workers don’t need to yell to be heard.

In underground mining operations, the ability to use EV drilling equipment will not only reduce heat, will also produce fewer diesel emissions – helping to maintain air quality for workers.

Most importantly, electric drill rigs still boast the same specs in terms of torque and RMS when compared to diesel powered machines.

As an example of their effectiveness, Liebherr claims their new LB30 piling rig can be used for all common applications in the field of deep foundation. Thanks to the optional extension of the drilling axis, the machine can be deployed for drilling diameters of up to 3.4 metres and has the same performance as its diesel-powered counterparts. It can carry out tasks with equal power either plugged into a power source for charging or unplugged and operating off its battery pack, which has been designed for a working time of four hours in Kelly operation.

Are there any negatives?

The obvious downside with electric drill rigs is their reliance on nearby power sources to charge them. This makes them less capable to use in remote work areas than diesel drilling rigs.

With many prominent manufacturers all unveiling their first electric drill rigs within months of each other, it’s clear the industry is beginning to make new machinery to meet the demand of carbon-conscious clients.

We look forward to watching these advances trickle down to Geotech rigs over the coming years.