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One important step toward a carbon-neutral future is power and air supply solutions that curb or even eliminate CO2 emissions. Going electric is the obvious choice.
Imagine a metropolitan construction site free from noise, harmful fumes, particles and carbon emissions. And imagine being able to store energy in a zero-emission way and supply power to off-grid applications, or to complement a peak in demand. With its electric-powered solutions, Atlas Copco has come a long way toward realizing this vision.
A prime example is the electric-powered E-Air VSD compressor family, designed to be used in the same applications as a standard diesel compressor, but with significantly lower emissions. A prominent member is the plug-and-play, robust H250 VSD compressor that withstands heat, dust, humidity, vibrations and other heavy-duty conditions. Luc Linart and Gill Dhooghe were both part of the development process and know this yellow machine by heart.
“This compressor gives construction companies access to a much broader range of applications. Because it’s electric it can be used in low-emission zones and at indoor sites,” says Luc Linart, Product Manager at Atlas Copco’s Portable Air factory in Antwerp, Belgium. “It also offers a bigger performance in a smaller canopy. And it’s easy to move.”
“On top of that it’s so quiet that the first time we showed it to a customer they said: ‘What? Did you turn it on already? Is it running?’ You can have a normal conversation right next to it when it’s on, unlike old diesel-powered compressors.”
Gill Dhooghe, Vice President R&D in Atlas Copco’s Portable Air division, explains why this is a crucial step on Atlas Copco’s journey to sustainability, a path that he himself feels a personal investment in.
“I’m lucky to be in a position with more possibilities to contribute than some others and it’s really my obligation to do so,” he says. "This new product family is a vital step toward Atlas Copco’s ambition for a sustainable future."
Moving away from diesel
It’s clear that the E-Air is a worthy addition to Atlas Copco’s canon. Stationary electric air compressors have long been used in hospitals and factories, but portable air compressors have traditionally been diesel powered because outdoor construction and mining sites have not often had electric grid access or the right power outputs.
However, an increased focus on carbon emissions, the rising cost of diesel due to ever-tightening emissions legislations, new regulations on work-site noise levels and the increasing electrification of mines and construction sites mean that diesel power is becoming less and less attractive.
“These combined trends made us see the possibility of moving away from the diesel-driven market and investigate how we as a market leader in portable compressors can lead the way to zero emissions and support our customers in the transition,” says Gill.
“And the total cost of operation is unbelievably economical,” adds Luc. “While the initial purchase cost is more or less the same, the cost of running an electric machine is about half the price of using a diesel one.”
E Air H250 VSD portable compressor
Main feature: Portable, plug-and-play air supply for rough conditions.
Super powers: Tough, silent, portable and emitting 46% less CO2 compared with a traditional diesel compressor.
Used at: Underground, at construction sites and other places where clean and silent operations are needed.
Meet our innovators
Luc Linart
Factory Product Manager
How did you end up working for Atlas Copco? I was working for a pneumatic automation company. Most of the time, the air we were using came from an Atlas Copco machine. I said to myself, ‘Darn, those guys are everywhere!’ I applied for a job and me and the company clicked straight away. This was what I wanted to do.
Gill Dhooghe
Vice President R&D, Portable Air
What drives you? To see a big organization going in the direction of sustainable technology is extremely rewarding. We have a lot of successes globally and to work with all those nice, passionate people and create such innovative products that help make the world a better place is fantastic.
Bárbara Gregorio
Product Marketing Manager
What motivates you? Sustainability is very important to me and it made me so happy that Atlas Copco has placed its bet on this idea, which seemed a little crazy at the beginning. It was a new technology, customers didn’t know about it, but it was the support of our managers that pushed this idea.
Rubén Trevejo
Design & Development Manager
Why did you join Atlas Copco?
I started in 2019, after working for 17 years with another multinational company. It was a difficult decision to change companies, but one of the things that was important to me was Atlas Copco’s values, mission and commitment with regard to sustainability. In each engineering department we have a KPI to improve our emissions and carbon footprint in every machine.
ZenergiZe Energy Storage System
Main feature: Stores and provides energy in a sustainable way.
Super powers: MZero CO2 emissions, zero noise and virtually zero maintenance needs.
Used at: Construction sites, outdoor events (especially at noise-sensitive locations), solar and wind farms, and telecom applications.
Other major advantages are the compressor’s ruggedness for all weather conditions, suiting it for outdoor applications such as geothermal drilling, sand blasting and concrete blasting; its variable speed drive, which improves the energy efficiency; and its intelligent software, which allows it to be plugged into any power output and automatically adjust to the grid and socket available.
Batteries do the work
Another electric milestone is the ZenergiZe battery-powered energy storage system, providing power at off-grid or outdoor events, remote telecoms masts or construction sites. This new system is quieter, smaller and much cleaner than the traditional diesel hulks, and the lithium-ion battery pack can provide over 12 hours of power with a single charge. The system can also work hand in hand with renewable sources, such as solar panels and windmills, and store the energy they provide, in order to be used at a later date.
The battery-powered solution is the result of Atlas Copco’s customer-focused, "outside in" approach to R&D, where customer insights are fed back into product development instead of the other way around. Rubén Trevejo and Bárbara Gregorio are two key members of the development team of engineers, marketers and technology innovators.
“We saw the market trends toward clean energy and the reduction of CO2, especially in Europe, and wanted to meet that need,” explains Bárbara Gregorio, Product Marketing Manager in Atlas Copco’s Power and Flow division. “Our customers, particularly rental companies and their customers, were starting to think about hybrid systems, especially in metropolitan areas where there are increasing numbers of CO2 and noise restrictions for the use of machinery.”
“I’m proud of the zero emissions, but also of the very good performance,” says Rubén Trevejo, Design & Development Manager at Atlas Copco’s factory in Zaragoza, Spain. “This technology was completely new to us and that made it a bigger challenge, so we worked on the concept a bit longer than we’ve done with other projects.”
“We knew that we needed to create something that could be better for both the environment and cost efficiency,” adds Bárbara. “Customers obviously have to take care of their investment in terms of the total cost of operation as well. So, we wanted to combine these things, and we came up with fantastic savings in terms of fuel consumption and noise reduction.”
Worth the wait
Since its launch in 2020, the initial customer reactions to ZenergiZe have been worth the longer, more challenging development process. “We knew that we needed a zero emissions portfolio but we didn’t know if the market was ready to embrace this,” says Bárbara. “However, one of our biggest customers is using it in telecom applications, with fantastic results.”
But just because ZenergiZe is out on the market, the product development process is not over, as Rubén explains. “We are learning so much from the customers, who come up with all sorts of ideas for the technology’s application. Battery technology will also keep evolving, and that’s exciting.”
“This is just the beginning,” adds Bárbara. “There’s the promise of real progress in the future, and everyone in the team was very happy to develop something so new and different. I think we are brave to do so.”
Eyes on a sustainable future
The E-Air H250 VSD compressor was also many years in the making, but this gave marketing and R&D time to inspire each other to new heights. For Gill Dhooghe, one of the most exciting aspects is the sustainable possibilities it opens up for the future. He mentions hybrid solutions, battery power and even hydrogen as being on the horizon for compressors with VSD technology.
“We are certain of the steps we want to follow,” he says, “and they’re all connected to each other so that we can have the best machines at the end of the process. Our aim is to have an emission-free product for every application that we serve out there.”
“We’re always thinking ahead,” adds Luc. “We want to stay innovative, supplying sustainable solutions and staying ahead of the competition. That’s who we are.”
The ZenergiZe energy storage system can be combined with renewable sources of energy for immediate or later use. It captures the energy and stores it for delivery at any given time. Its intelligent control system then manages the energy offer and demand to increase the efficiency of hybrid power solutions.
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