Perkins Tackles Decarbonization of Off-Highway Machines

SAE Media sat down with Perkins to discuss the company’s decarbonation strategy as well as its electrification offerings.

Perkins offers a 48-volt system as well as 300- and 600-volt systems for their electrified powertrains. (Perkins)

Decarbonization is currently one of the biggest buzzwords in the off-highway sector. OEMs around the globe are now offering and researching solutions for their customers so that they can meet future and current regulations for cutting greenhouse gas emissions while still providing the required uptime and capacity necessary to get the job done.

Perkins EU-spec Stage V diesel engines can run on low-carbon fuels like HVO. Their lineup of Stage IV and V engines is certified for HVO in North America. (Perkins)

This was a major talking point at Bauma 2022 in Munich, Germany, where SAE Media had the opportunity to sit down with representatives from Perkins. We spoke with Mark Borst, global product marketing, industrial power systems for Perkins, and discussed the company’s electrification strategy, how it intends to help its customers field zero-emissions fleets and how they use data from the field to help properly scale machines that will meet a customer’s true needs.

What was the catalyst that led Caterpillar/Perkins to develop their all-electric solution?

It was a mix of customer demand and looking into the future. We know that our customers want to have zero-emissions solutions, and we see electrification as one aspect of that energy transition. To provide those solutions, in addition to our electrified products, we’ve got a lot of flexibility to offer other combinations and capacities. Our electric solution is also completely designed for off-highway applications. We’re not just taking an on-highway battery and converting it. We’ve designed it for the rigors of off-highway machines.

What other solutions are you currently offering to customers who want to reduce their carbon footprint?

Our [EU] Stage V diesel engines can run on low-carbon fuels like HVO [hydrotreated vegetable oil] and synthetic diesels. Our lineup of Stage IV and V engines is certified for HVO in North America and the EU, and we will soon have an offering for China in non-road IV [emissions standards] as well. But we can already use B20 and HVO in these engines as a direct drop-in. For HVO, we can burn it at 100-percent or in any blend below that. For engines sold in markets that don’t require aftertreatments, such as Indonesia, we’re capable of running on up to B30 biodiesel. We try and meet the levels of the customers we have in various locations and make changes to keep up with whatever new standards come along.

We want to continue supporting our customers with engines that use fuels they can buy, because there’s no point in us having an engine that runs on a fuel they can’t get ahold of. It’s also not just our Stage V engines that are HVO compatible. That compatibility goes back to our Stage III engines. We haven’t just added HVO capability to our engines going forward; we can serve customers by lowering the carbon intensity of their current fleet not just in the future but also today.

Given the diversity of regulations for off-highway emissions around the globe, how will Perkins continue to supply solutions for all its customers while still aiming for net-zero emissions?

We’re not trying to push a single solution to customers; we are trying to offer a wide range of solutions. We don’t see a single solution working for every customer all the time. You can reduce your carbon footprint by having current engines that have the capability to run on other fuels and then having electrified solutions means you can get to zero emissions. We’ve also continued to work on the hybrid solutions we showed at Bauma back in 2019 . Those powertrains have a 20-kW electric motor that allows us to run the engine in zero-emissions mode or in tandem with the engine and the MGU [motor generator] to support it. So, we continue to refine those concepts and the control systems behind them.

What’s the scalability of your batteries and electrified systems that you’re offering, and how are you managing them from a functionality standpoint?
Perkins hybrid powertrains feature a 20-kW electric motor that allows us to run the engine in zero-emissions mode or in tandem with the engine and the MGU. (Perkins)
Mark Borst, global product marketing, industrial power systems for Perkins. (Perkins)

We’re currently offering the 48-volt system as well as the 300- and 600-volt systems. We’re seeing those as keynotes for the industry for various reasons. With the 48-volt system we can make some things easier by using automotive-grade components, for example. One of the unique aspects of our battery management systems is that our BMS can talk to other batteries on the same machine. So instead of having just one battery on a single machine, we can have multiple of our packs on one machine that will talk to each other and work seamlessly between themselves to manage their state of charge and ensure the right one is being charged when the machine is plugged in.

The batteries will also have telematics systems on them as well to make sure we’re managing their state of health and getting the max run time out of them, while also maximizing their life by informing operators that maybe they’re not charging them in the best way. We also spend a lot of time thinking about the whole lifecycle of the batteries like how we assemble them. We need to make them robust for off-highway use, but also how we move them through their lifecycle in terms of reman and recycling, which is only going to become more legislated.

With these new solutions, many of your customers are going to be working with tech that they may not be familiar with. Is it the OEM’s job to educate their customers on how to use a machine with these new powertrains?

It’s about trying to give hints. We don’t want to outright tell their customers how to use their machines, but if we can inform them about what might improve their experience, that can only be a positive. So that’s what we use our telematics systems to try and provide that info and pull data back. This is how we already use the systems on our diesel engines where we try to use that information to inform customers how to improve their experience and give them longer uptime. Our vision is to make the information understandable. Let them work with their machine without suddenly having to become a battery expert and help them with information that they can use.

How are you using the telematics data to improve your products based on any issues you’re seeing in the field?

When we pull the data down from the telematics systems, we’re also able to pull a product status report as well and turning that data into information that our engineers can use. For example, we can look at how our engines get used, how many hours they get run, what load factors they are running under, the ambient temperatures they are running in, really the whole gamut. We then feed that back into our product development cycle.

That engine data is also used in the electrification space. We can then say to customers, ‘For your application we know how it runs and we know you’re going to use it like this, so we think that this is the size of the battery and capacity that you will need.’ It’s really about taking data and turning it into information. We’ve also been working with partners to build customized dashboards for customers. And we’ve really been able to give them insights into how their machines are being used that they weren’t aware of.

What’s a practical example of how this data helped develop electric powertrains?

If you ask any operator how they use their machine, they’ll always tell you that they run it at 70- to 80-percent load factor. Then you pull data down and its 35 percent. So, if you were going to size a battery system to work at 80-percent load factor for eight hours a day, you’d need a trailer on the back of whatever machine it is to carry all the batteries. But 35 percent is a whole different story. Being able to use that data really helps. Also, when we look at load factor data it includes a lot of idle time. But an electric machine doesn’t use any power at idle other than maybe running the radio in the cab. Using that data really helps us understand what our customer really needs for their application.