As a construction industry giant, Caterpillar is best known for moving earth, and now the company seems ready to move the entire off-road vehicle and equipment sector into more sustainable technology that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and cuts reliance on fossil fuels.
With its new D7E tractor, Caterpillar is out to demonstrate that a diesel-electric hybrid tractor can save fuel and beat the performance of diesel-only equipment. If it proves a successful mix of energy-efficient power and maneuverability, the D7E could inspire other manufacturers to adopt hybrid technology for a wide range of offroad vehicles and equipment, including smaller engines that account of a significant chunk of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., such lawn mowers and ATV’s.
Caterpillar’s New D7E Diesel-Electric Hybrid Tractor
Caterpillar has delivered its first D7E to TJ Lambrecht, a major U.S. construction company. The D7E looks like a conventional track-type tractor, but its diesel engine drives a generator that delivers AC current to two electric motors. The system also converts AC current into DC current, which is used to power accessories including heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and water pumps. The company estimates that the electric drives result in improved maneuverability, which in turn enables the D7E to move about 25% more cubic yards per gallon of fuel, and then some. In addition to conserving fuel, the hybrid system involves about 60% fewer moving parts and has a longer lifespan than drive conventional systems.
A new federal report indicates that the roll-out of plug-in hybrid vehicles is building too slowly and will not have a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions for quite some time, but Caterpillar’s new tractor might help light a fire under the hybrid industry and speed things up a bit. UPS and Coca-Cola are two other industry leaders that are beginning to commit their vast fleets to hybrid technology for heavy duty vehicles. On the consumer end, at least one startup company is making a go of converting the ubiquitous Ford F-150 pickup truck into fuel efficient electric hybrids.
Image: Courtesy of Caterpillar.