The Technological Shift To Battery Powered Power Equipment

It is inevitable in 15 years all power tools will be battery powered.

We already see popular battery powered lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, chainsaws, leaf blowers, drills, saws and impact wrenches on the market today. And those machines tend to be more expensive and less powerful than their gasoline powered versions yet people still buy the zero emission, cleaner power equipment. In 15 years, the electric version powered by batteries will be cheaper, lighter and more powerful given the current rate of battery advancement.

Tesla, other big car companies like Toyota and Honda and Universities around the world are driving the research and development of batteries 7 times more energy dense than current Lithium-Ion batteries in electric vehicles. With that kind of energy density we will start to see battery powered electric pressure cleaners and water pumps. Pumps take a lot of energy to run because they are moving heavy water instead of just moving a mower blade to cut grass or turning a fan to blow leaves.

In this article we will look at what is driving this shift towards electric power equipment, how far we have come in terms of the technology and forecast what the industry will look like in 15 years.

Shift in Mentality To Green Energy

Electric tools are not a new thing. In 1916, Black & Decker had an electric drill – it was heavy and expensive but it was available. An electric drill is one thing but until recently you couldn’t practically power a lawn mower with battery power because it would have been too heavy and the batteries would not last long.

With the rise of climate science and the knowledge of climate change in recent years the majority of people want to help the environment by limiting their carbon footprint. What’s the proof of this?

Well, the Wikipedia article on Global Warming currently has 259 citations, 26 references and many more links to further research from NASA, the UK National Weather Service and books by experts. The article is edited multiple times daily and is one of the most 100 looked at and linked to articles on all of English Wikipedia (it gets around a quarter million unique visits per month). People are aware of global warming and a huge percentage want to personally do something about it. One way is to buy electric power tools with zero emissions. Tool companies are listening and providing more and more options for battery powered electric power tools.

The Current State of Battery Powered Power Tools

Let’s take a look at the current batteries being used in a popular brand of power tools – GreenWorks Tools. GreenWorks uses a 40V 4.0 Ah (146 Wh) Lithium-Ion battery that can be fully charged in 2-hours and weighs 2.6 pounds. Sometimes their tools have 2 of these batteries. Compared to a gasoline engine, 146 Wh is terrible. A common 1 hp Honda engine with a small fuel tank has easily 5-10x that running time and power.

But electric machines have other advantages:

  • Quieter
  • Less maintenance
  • No fumes
  • Can use indoors
  • Green energy

Power aside, I believe the fact they are more expensive is the main setback. In a few years time when the batteries become more affordable the evolution to an all battery powered power tool industry will begin.

Increasing Energy Density of Battery Technology

Take a look at this chart from Tesla Motors. It shows the trend over time towards a much better battery:

tesla image

In 15 years we’ll have a battery twice as powerful and half the cost of the current ones used in power equipment.

Electric Motor Cost and Weight

A battery’s energy is used to power an electric motor to turn a shaft and transfer the electric energy to mechanical/moving energy. The cost and technology of electric motors go hand in hand with battery cost and weight. Since batteries provide DC electricity they need DC motors. The technology hasn’t changed much over the years but as cost of manufacturing and materials goes down so does the cost of the motors. What this means is a cheaper motor and thus a cheaper piece of equipment. And as demand raises that will drive the price further down.

Battery Technology 15 Years From Now

You can not predict battery technology as you can computer speed via Moore’s Law. But we can estimate. 15 years from now we will have a battery at least twice as energy dense as current batteries. They will also be more affordable. Given how popular current battery powered tools are and the fact that in 15 years the shift to Green Energy will be further along – it is inevitable that power equipment will all be battery powered.