Keeping quiet: Toronto Zoo tests electric equipment for use around animals

In the interest of the comfortability of the animals and further development of environmentally-friendly operations, the Toronto Zoo, through Strongco, tested the effectiveness of Volvo CE’s ECR25 electric excavator and L25 electric wheel loader for use within animal enclosures and public areas.

The equipment

In 2019, Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) unveiled its first commercial zero-emissions electric compact excavator and wheel loader, delivering on its commitment of ‘Building Tomorrow.’

Replacing a combustion engine with 48-volt lithium ion batteries and electric motors, the ECR25 excavator and L25 wheel loader are designed to offer the same performance, but with zero emissions, low noise, less vibration and simpler maintenance requirements.

According to Volvo CE, the batteries that power these machines can store enough energy to power an eight-hour shift in typical applications, such as landscaping and utility work, and can be charged overnight by a regular household plug socket.

Strongco’s search for unique applications

To get a sense of the kinds of unique applications and jobs these machines can be used for, Volvo CE sent demo units to some distributors.

One of these distributors was Mississauga, Ontario-based Strongco—an equipment dealer that has operations across Canada.

Strongco sells, rents and services equipment from its 25 branches across Canada and represents various equipment manufacturers, including Volvo CE.

The company has been putting the L25 and ECR25 to the test, taking them to various operations to see how the machines could be used and to garner feedback for Volvo CE.

One especially unique job site was at the Toronto Zoo.

Testing the patience of the Wood Bison

At the Toronto Zoo, workers separated the bison, as they normally would, in order to add new features to the habitat and perform maintenance.

According to zoo employees, when operating heavy equipment in a zoo, the most important thing is to be aware of is the comfortability of the animals and, in this particular case, it is typical for the bison to begin crying out with impatience after an hour of loud combustion engine operation.

However, after three hours of working with the electric equipment, the bison remained quiet, showing no signs of agitation.

“We can be working in here and there’s no loud noise right now. The animals are still quiet in their exhibit or holding pen,” explained Neil Grant, Horticultural Lead Hand at the Toronto Zoo.

Management and employees were happy with the results of the pilot project and expressed interest in adding some of Volvo’s electric equipment to their fleet in the future.

Outside of animal safety and comfortability, Chris Theodoridis, Transit and Fleet mechanic at the Toronto Zoo, explained the reasoning for his interest in the machines: “The main reason is that they’re environmentally conscious. Also, [lower] maintenance costs and ease of serviceability. It’s the direction of the future. So we’re trying to get it done with the entire fleet.”

In terms of how the electric machines would be applied, Grant said: “We would use them for inside exhibits, building garden beds. Sometimes we have issues with water mains, so it would be perfect to be able to use them around the public.”

Ben Waldron, Territory Sales Manager at Strongco, who led the pilot project for Volvo CE along with another Territory Manager, Geoff Mokry, said that the Volvo L25 wheel loader and ECR25 excavator have also garnered interest from other animal handling facilities, such as horse stables.

The idea of replacing traditional combustion engine-powered equipment with new, unfamiliar battery-powered equipment is often mocked or scoffed at. However, according to Waldron, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives, especially in this case. Waldron remarked, “If we can bring less stress to a job site, I don’t think there’d be anybody laughing at that.”