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Diesel or not to diesel? That is the question.

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Atlas Copco Rental’s pricing strategy places diesel-powered and electric-driven equipment in virtually the same category. Meaning that, contrary to popular belief, a sustainable option isn’t the most expensive option. From Stage IV to Stage V, diesel technology and performance has improved dramatically. However, we always want to suggest electric-powered solutions first. However, the advantages of this equipment are irrelevant if a power supply isn’t available on-site.

2020 Juni 22

For instance, an infrastructure improvement project located in an urban area will probably feature an established power source. However, a new construction site that is located remotely will most likely not have access to grid electricity.

Things to consider

Electric units are inherently safer. There is no risk of injury from hot parts, such as an exhaust pipe or muffler; and there is no need to transport combustible fuel around a hazardous environment. Furthermore, environmental issues – such as ground contamination from diesel spillage – are avoided. An electric unit might be safer overall – but on the other hand, diesel machines do not need to be plugged in like their electric counterparts (where electric cables around a site can be tripped over if not managed properly). It is also important to ensure that cabling is of the right quality to eliminate any possibility of insulation stripping and exposure to live line power.

Electric-powered machines are generally smaller in size than diesel models, as there is no need for a fuel tank, radiator or intercooler. However, the running weight would be similar to a diesel equivalent, as electric motors are relatively heavy. What’s more, diesel-driven compressors have no cables to unplug and clear when the machine needs to be moved. In the past, electric machines were not really focused on movement across the site; they were more suited for ‘drop and run’ type applications. Current models of both types invariably offer the same movability features, such as wheels, lifting hooks and forklift slots. Because electric units don’t feature any removable engine parts, service intervals can be extended significantly.

Routine maintenance on the motor is a simple procedure and just requires changing the grease. However, even this requirement is becoming easier, as manufacturers have striven to make maintenance procedures much simpler and quicker to complete. There is no doubt that, if fuel prices continue to rise, the arguments for using electric machines will increase in the coming years. Although the cost of running electrical units varies according to the size of the motor, this outlay is likely to come down as new high-efficiency models are being launched to cover larger power ratings. Furthermore, electric machines typically have a clear advantage over diesel equivalents.

Natural choice

Diesel engines do produce additional nitrogen oxides (NOx) and other pollutants that are linked to a variety of climate change and health issues. For this reason, governments and manufacturers have made huge investments to clean up diesel engines. However, they can never be as clean as electric motors when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. With regard to environmental concerns, electrically powered compressors have no competition. When it comes to noise, electric machines can be up to 5 decibels quieter than diesel. There are some claims that electric compressors are emission-free – and, although that can be considered technically correct to a certain degree, they need to plug into a source of power, which itself generates CO2.


There is no right or wrong answer. Differences between the two technologies depend mainly on the availability of power and energy costs. Electric portable machines are gaining traction in the 4 large emerging ‘BRIC’ markets – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – due to improvements in the power infrastructure, relatively low electricity costs, and the fact that the equipment has a lower initial purchase price. However, diesel remains largely the power of choice in most of Europe, North America, the Middle East and Africa due to the ‘stand-alone’ nature of their power source and the improved ecological performance of the latest regulated diesel engines.

Looking to the future, we are clearly bound to move further and further away from traditional combustion engines and towards cleaner energy sources. Certainly, the advancements in electric power solutions, battery technology and renewable energy will play a big part in the future. It’s true that electric will usually offer gains in efficiency and lower running costs. However, do check the points made in this article and don’t simply assume that diesel is not the best choice for the end application – because, in the field, it just might be.

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