Deutz Talks Electrification

NPP talked to Deutz CEO Frank Hiller, about the direction the company is taking in electrifying off-highway powertrains

By Roberta Prandi

We have said it already: no one in the industry of off-highway machines would ever agree that diesel is dead. Dr. Frank Hiller, CEO of Deutz AG, gave some substance to this statement by saying that his company estimates that in 10 to 15 years the market of mobile working machines will be still powered by up to 85% by diesel fuel.

Yet Deutz is also riding the wave towards the development of alternative powertrains and in 2017 announced the acquisition of Germany’s Torqeedo, a specialist in marine electric drives.

“We had intensive internal discussions about future drive concepts,” said Hiller. “We decided that as a company involved with combustion engines, it would be an opportunity to enter this field at this point in time.” In other words: the right thing at the right time.

According to Hiller, the decision on how to proceed in this direction was taken when Deutz found the right company to acquire in Torqeedo. “They already offer all-electric solutions for the marine market and we are convinced that they will do very well in their activity, with or without Deutz,” he said. “This is one of the reasons why we will keep the two companies separated and work together on different projects that have been defined to bring electrified solutions to the core businesses of Deutz, that is agriculture, construction, and material handling equipment.”

Among the common projects that have been put on the table is the creation of a standardized toolbox on electrification solutions, to try and have as much of a standard solution as possible across all Deutz’ applications.  On the other hand, another project assesses specific solutions for various applications.

“One of the first projects we started during the due-diligence phase of the Torqeedo acquisition, was a technical evaluation on the advantages of a diesel/electric hybrid drive in comparison with one powered by a combustion engine.” Hiller explained. “We created a business case and analyzed the opportunities in the market.

“There we defined some projects where we could see opportunities for success with electrified solutions. What we are doing now is making those projects happen. Of course, it is not as simple as it sounds.”

The first prototype will be a hybrid solution to be presented in 2018 which will demonstrate the advantages of this system. Deutz expects to have solutions available for the market around 2020.

In terms of applications that are more likely to adopt these solutions first, Hiller identified agricultural tractors, currently using mechanical or hydraulic PTOs to power the implements. “We think that electrically-powered implements will be easier to control and less challenging in maintenance.”

Construction equipment is also an interesting segment, especially for compact vehicles that are used in urban environment and could have an advantage using a pure-electric drive. “Skid steer loaders and telehandlers would also benefit of hybrid solutions since they usually need peak power for a limited time.  For these machines, a downsized combustion engine could be boosted by an electric motor. Furthermore, these machines could present possibilities for energy recuperation and we are investigating this field too.”

At this stage, Deutz is discussing with customers and analyzing machines’ load profiles, which are an essential element to determine if an electric solution could be better than one with a conventional combustion engine.

“We thought the timing is right for these developments, and Deutz definitely wants to be the first mover in electrification,” Hiller added. “At the same time, our mission is to become more neutral as far as technologies are concerned, in order to be able to offer the best to our customers. These technologies will be diesel, gas, electric, but also hydrogen and alternative fuels, although these two are still at a very early stage of evaluation.”

At the Intermat show for construction and mining machines in Paris this April, Deutz will show an electrified off-highway drive solution as a sort of technical demonstrator. “This is not a prototype but rather a display to show to visitors how the system can use the batteries, how the electric motor can be integrated into the drivetrain, and so on,” Hiller said.

The innovative drive solution will be composed of a combustion engine and an e-motor; power electronics; and a battery pack specially designed for this combination using the high-performance BMW i lithium-ion technology which is already successfully employed in automotive applications (Torqeedo has already a strong cooperation with BMW i on batteries).  The system will be scalable in power output and capacity, so that each component can be tailored to meet customers’ requirements.

According to Hiller, the market areas which are most interesting by the trend towards electrification will be Europe, China and the USA. Some niche applications also show a strong push for these technologies, for example aircraft tow tractors, that need high torque and high power for short periods of time.

Deutz sees the most potential for full electric solutions below 37 kW power output and for hybrid solutions below 4L engine displacement, in the first steps. This means developments in this direction will start from the 19 kW TCD 2.2 diesel engine and move upwards in the engine range.

This whole strategy is bundled into Deutz’ program for electrification: E-Deutz, which has its own organization of about 30 people, who will be responsible for the design of the electrified solutions, engineering and package of the system.

Hiller said that in future, depending on market figures, there might be a revision of the vendor strategy and move towards some more components being produced in-house.

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