The future is electric

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Electric cars are becoming a more common site on our roads. Now it is the turn of the heavy industrial vehicles to be electrified to reduce emissions and fossil dependency. “You don’t need any advanced calculations to understand that electrification is a crucial component of our development,” Anders Petersson, director of innovation and sustainability at SCA Wood.

S TEAM RISING FROM THE HIGH STACKS of timber packets outside the kiln at the Bollsta Sawmill makes for a dramatic setting. After a brief thaw, the cold of northern Sweden is back with a vengeance and an icy blanket once again covers the ground. It is afternoon by the time Robin Söderholm goes out to kick the snow loose from the forks of his forklift truck and begin his shift. From the cab, Robin can hear the rumble of his colleagues forklifts whizzing past, but his own remains silent. When he turns the key in the ignition, nothing happens. At least, nothing audible or visible from outside.

“It feels a bit like a spaceship,” he says, a smile playing on his lips as he jumps down again to inspect the wheel nuts and brush a little more snow away while waiting for his truck to tell him that everything is working correctly. 

This is a new and somewhat unusual division of responsibilities that clearly illustrates a future that potentially awaits Robin and his colleagues. All around society, there are unmistakable traces of the electric wave that has rolled over the world in recent years. Self-driving cars, charging stations outside supermarkets, gigantic battery factories: one of the most important transformations of the modern age is undoubtedly in full swing. 

“You don’t need any advanced calculations to understand that electrification is a crucial component of our development. For example, a standard forklift of the same type we arecurrently testing at Bollsta consumes between eight and nine litres of diesel an hour. That soon mounts up to a lot of litres a day given the number of forklifts we operate and how many hours they are running,” says Anders Petersson, innovation and sustainability manager at SCA Wood.

Reducing fossil-fuel dependency

For Anders and his colleagues at SCA, the objective has long been clear. The forest must continue to grow, binding more carbon dioxide, and fossil materials must be replaced by products manufactured in wood. However, a circular business system and the vision of a more sustainable future are still impeded by a certain dependency on fossil fuels.

“Thanks to our ability to make use of those parts of the tree that do not become sawn timber products to power our mills, we already generate relatively modest carbon emissions. To date, the challenge has been more to do with the fossil dependency of our logistics machines. We now see significant potential for further increasing our climate benefit,” Anders continues.

In the absence of engine noise, the crunch of snow compressed between wheels and ground is clearly audible as Robin depresses the accelerator and the forklift begins to roll. The battery alone weighs eight tonnes and the packets the machine lifts day in, day out double that. It is this challenging load that has left not only SCA but much of the 

heavy-goods haulage industry waiting patiently for technological development to catch up long after electrification was identified as a key component for achieving climate goals. However, the once limited range of battery-driven alternatives for heavy industrial vehicles is now expanding exponentially. 

“It’s inspiring to play a part in developing tomorrow’s machines. We’ve set ambitious sustainability goals and to achieve them we need to have the courage of our convictions and be involved from the start. The project and trial we are now conducting at our sawmill in Bollsta is one of several that provide unequivocal proof that SCA means business,” says business area manager Jerry Larsson of SCA Wood.

Trail for the future

As a further contribution to a fossil-free society, SCA and Scania are also developing the first electric timber truck. This is an investment in a transport category that, until recently, was deemed nigh on impossible to electrify given the enormous weight of timber.

“Our collaboration with Scania is vital to jointly identifying innovative solutions for sustainable transport. Electric timber transport will make an important contribution to SCA’s sustainability efforts, making us part of the solution for a fossil-free world. A single electric vehicle on the route between Gimonäs and Obbola will reduce our annual carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 55,000 kilograms,” says SCA’s director of sustainability, Hans Djurberg.

“The other day I intentionally ran the battery flat just to test it. No one has done this before so everything is new to us. Even the challenges. And it’s those we need to identify, understand and learn to deal with now if this is to be as good as we hope,” says Robin, as in the twilight he silently lowers the forks to the ground after lifting another 16-tonne packet of timber in the warehouse.

So far, he is one of the few who have tested the new electric forklift but, together with a project group, over the course of the year he and a handful of other forklift operators will do their utmost to put their new electric sidekicks to the test, in the hope that they will meet the sawmill’s needs and offer yet another solution to the company’s, the industry’s and the world’s most important problem.

“We are at the beginning of the journey. In our business area, this type of somewhat larger logistics machine is still relatively new. Lifting and moving logs and sawn timber puts an enormous strain on machinery and demands powerful solutions. Naturally, we hope that we have reached the point where this no longer need be associated with large diesel engines,” says Magnus Wikström, manager of the Bollsta Sawmill, who is responsible for the electric forklift pilot project.