Hello, Hybrid-Powered Aerial Lifts

Hello, Hybrid-Powered Aerial Lifts
One of the lifting industry’s hottest current buzzwords is hybrid. In its broadest sense, hybrid means a blend of two different things. But in the aerial equipment industry, it is generally accepted to mean a piece of equipment that has two different onboard power sources to energize the drive train. In aerial lifts, those sources are most often an internal combustion engine and batteries.
Nearly all hybrid systems that power aerial lifts fall into one of two basic categories: series or parallel.
In a series hybrid system, one source of power is always connected to the drive train and is supported by the second source. In aerials, the most common series hybrid system uses an internal-combustion generator to recharge deep-cycle batteries that supply electric power to run the machine’s functions, such as boom raising, boom extension, swinging, and traveling.
Electricity from the batteries may power electric motors, hydraulic pumps, or both, depending on which functions are hydraulic and which are electric. The batteries can run the machine with or without the generator, but the power always flows directly from the batteries to the power train. The internal-combustion generator is used to recharge the batteries, and in some cases, it provides exportable power to run tools.
In contrast, a parallel hybrid system is set up so that either source of power—and in some cases, both together—can power the machine’s drive train directly. All Omme Lifts sold in North America, for example, come with both an IC engine and batteries. The batteries power one hydraulic pump, and the engine powers another. Both pumps are plumbed into a common valve block that feeds the lift’s operating systems. If the engine is running, the valve uses flow from its pump to run the machine. If the IC engine is not running, the valve uses flow from the battery-powered pump instead. In addition, an electric generator driven by the engine can recharge the batteries while the engine is running.
Fans of parallel hybrids say that that kind of system provides more power and offers the security of redundancy. If something goes wrong either with the batteries or the IC engine, a user can still run the machine from the remaining power source.
Fans of series hybrids, on the other hand, say that the series arrangement costs less to buy and maintain, weighs less, and takes up less space on a machine.
Manufacturers that offer series hybrids on models sold in North America include Genie, JLG, MEC, ReachMaster, and Skyjack. OEMs with parallel hybrids in the market include BlueLift, Easy Lift, Haulotte, Niftylift, Omme Lift, and Platform Basket.
Two custom manufacturers, Bailey Specialty Cranes & Aerials and Man Lift Manufacturing, offer custom-tailored conversions that can turn IC lifts into hybrid machines. Both companies can convert machines to either series or parallel hybrids to meet a customer’s preference.
“Most MLM hybrids are purpose-built specialty lifts,” says President Phil Sprio. “Some are parallel, and some are series. The most common applications are industrial work and tree care, but rental is starting to grow.” 
Jeff Bailey, founder and CEO of Bailey Specialty Cranes & Aerials, says that although many conversions are custom, his company has standard hybrid packages already set up for many JLG and Genie boom lifts. 
“They are battery powered and can include an optional Kubota diesel or dual-fuel engine,” he says. “The converted lift operates exactly the same as the standard unit, but with the ability to turn on the engine automatically or wait until the operator commands it.”
North American machines
A number of manufacturers offer hybrid aerial lifts in North America. The types include compact tracked lifts, rough-terrain scissor lifts, articulating boom lifts, and telescopic boom lifts. Here’s a brief, alphabetical, rundown of the manufacturers and models.
• BlueLift offers five compact tracked lifts that can be hybridized. All use a parallel hybrid system that includes an IC engine and lithium batteries. Platform heights range from 40 to 66 ft., horizontal outreaches from 21 to 36 ft., and platform capacities from 440 to 507 lbs. BlueLift has been a leader in the use of lithium batteries on compact tracked lifts. The brand is distributed in North America exclusively by ReachMaster in Kingwood, Texas.
• Easy Lift offers 14 models of compact tracked lifts, all available with hybrid power. Maximum platform heights range from 34 to 129 ft., horizontal outreach from 21'4" to 47'6", and all have 440-lb. platform capacity. The smaller models use a series hybrid system, and the mid-sized and large models use a parallel hybrid system. The Easy Lift equipment is manufactured in Italy and distributed in North and South America exclusively by UpEquip, Vercheres, Quebec.
• Genie’s family of three 69-in.-wide hybrid rough-terrain scissor lifts have platform heights of 26, 33, and 40 ft., and platform capacities from 800 to 1,500 lbs. Designated the GS-2669 BE, GS-3369 BE, and GS-4069 BE, Genie’s three hybrid scissors offer the same performance speeds and gradeability as its all-diesel scissor lifts of the same size.
• Haulotte offers two lightweight, self-propelled boom lifts that come standard with hybrid power. The 45 XA and 55 XA use a parallel hybrid system that combines an IC gasoline or diesel engine with batteries. The IC engine and batteries work together to power the travel function, and the batteries power the boom functions, with recharging provided by a generator that’s driven by the IC engine. The 45 XA has a maximum platform height of 45 ft. and maximum outreach of 27 ft., and the 55 XA has a maximum platform height of 55'3" and a maximum outreach of 33'5". Both have a maximum platform capacity of 550 lbs.
• JLG has several models that combine battery power with an onboard recharging generator. Its long-established, hybrid-powered articulating boom lifts include the E400, E450, M400, M450, E600, and M600. They offer maximum platform heights from 40'0" to 66'4", horizontal reach from 21'2" to 44'5", and 500-lb. platform capacity. JLG’s newest hybrid lift, introduced at Conexpo last spring, is the H340AJ articulating boom lift. It is the industry’s first four-wheel-drive hybrid boom lift with all-electric travel drive. It delivers up to 33'9" platform height, 19'11" horizontal reach, and 500-lb. platform capacity.
• MEC’s entry into the hybrid market is its Model 4069ERT scissor lift, which uses a series hybrid system that combines battery power with a recharging genset. It has 40-ft. maximum platform height and 800-lb. total lifting capacity.
• Niftylift offers four hybrid-powered articulating boom lift models, the SP 45 hybrid 4X4, SP 50 hybrid 4X4, SP 64 hybrid 4X4, and SP 85 hybrid 4X4. The SP family’s maximum platform heights range from 45'0" to 85'6", and horizontal outreach ranges from 30'6" to 62'0". The SP45, SP50, and SP64 have 500-lb. capacity, whereas the SP85 can lift a maximum of 620 lbs.
• Omme Lift, as mentioned earlier, has seven models of compact tracked lifts that all use a parallel hybrid power train. Five models feature telescopic booms, and two use articulating booms. The family’s maximum platform heights range from 65'0" to 131'8", horizontal reach runs from 40'0" to 50'0", and platform capacities go from 440 to 551 lbs. The exclusive distributor of Omme Lifts in North America is Tracked Lifts, East Berlin, Pa. • Platform Basket compact tracked lifts are also distributed exclusively by Tracked Lifts. The company offers two models with hybrid power. Both use a parallel system. The model 22.10 has 64'7" maximum platform height, 34'0" maximum outreach, and 440-lb. capacity. The model 33.15 offers 100'0" platform height, 50'0" outreach, and 440-lb. capacity.
• ReachMaster Inc., Kingwood, Texas, sells eight models of Falcon compact lifts. The two smallest are serial hybrids. The larger six are parallels. Four models are wheel mounted, and four are track mounted. They offer maximum platform heights from 89 to 164 ft., maximum outreach from 46 to 52 ft., and 440-lb. platform capacity.
• Skyjack rolled out its first hybrid lift at Conexpo last spring. The SJ6832 RTE electric rough-terrain scissor uses a series hybrid system. It can be purchased with all battery power, or with battery power backed up by an onboard gasoline generator to recharge the batteries, even while the machine is working. Ithas 38-ft. platform height, 1,000-lb. capacity, and can climb a 45% grade. According to Skyjack scissor product manager Barry Greenaway, it uses almost all the same key components as the diesel and dual-fuel versions of the SJ6832RT.
Another tool in the kit
Neither manufacturers nor customers foresee hybrid lifts completely replacing diesel- or gas-powered lifts. “Hybrid lifts are another tool in the kit,” says Genie’s Hislop. “They offer customers an option and versatility.”
Hertz’s Shafer says, “The key consideration is the intended use.”
He notes that in the cold Canadian climate, hybrids do not do well outdoors for about half the year, but, he says, they are fine the other six months and are a great replacement for dual-fuel-powered lifts indoors. “They are cleaner and quieter than dual-fuel machines and give off fewer odors,” he says.
MLM’s Sprio says that one application ideal for hybrid lifts is large industrial plants, where lifts travel long distances between work sites in different buildings. “Travel is what really kills battery life,” he says. “You can sit in one place and go up and down all day without really running the batteries down, but traveling discharges them pretty quickly. Hybrid lifts can use the IC engine to recharge the batteries as the machine travels.”
Another excellent application for hybrid RT scissor and boom lifts is construction of large warehouse and institutional buildings. They are powerful enough to handle rough-terrain travel, self-sufficient enough that they can recharge themselves without needing plug-in power, and versatile enough to work outside early on and inside later. In some cases, the generator on a hybrid lift can also provide power to run hand tools, eliminating the need to rent a separate generator.
The indoor-outdoor versatility is an important advantage for compact tracked lifts, too. Many of the manufacturers interviewed for this article said that maintenance and tree care companies are using their hybrid lifts. 
“It is a real advantage outdoors for companies that need to move a lift frequently around a large site, but also want to work inside,” says Mike Hrycak, president of Tracked Lifts, which distributes Omme and Platform Basket compact lifts.
Ebbe Christensen, president and CEO of ReachMaster, says: “Rental companies go for hybrid lifts because they double the potential customer portfolio. But contractors and maintenance companies also seem to like the indoor-outdoor versatility, compact size, and quiet operation, too. We’ve seen interest from schools, mills, commercial facilities, hospitals, and universities.”
With the new generation of hybrids being in the field for so short a time, data about fuel savings, maintenance costs, and total cost of ownership is hard to come by. But it stands to reason that a hybrid lift with an IC engine that is smaller than one on a diesel- or gas-powered machine and runs only periodically will use less fuel and reach maintenance points more slowly.
Hertz’s Shafer says: “A hybrid’s battery pack is larger and more expensive, but that’s offset somewhat by reduced engine maintenance. About 75% of hybrid maintenance involves the batteries and 25% the engine.”
And although manufacturers would not talk specifically about the current price premium a hybrid lift commands versus an all-IC model, it appears that a hybrid can cost anywhere from about 6% to 15% extra.
If hybrids follow the market trends of other equipment, the price should eventually come down as their popularity rises.
JLG’s Raymo says: “The industry is starting to understand the true benefits and value of hybrid lifts. I expect the process to be similar to what has happened with hybrid autos. As buyers and users come to understand hybrids’ value, they will buy more, and as more hybrids are made, the price will come down.”
So say “hi” to hybrids. They are likely here to stay, to the benefit of us all.



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