How the electric drivetrain is helping to push industry forward

Electric vehicles are now increasingly common on our roads, but electrifying vehicles used in heavy industry, without sacrificing performance, can present technical challenges. Here we look at how companies like ABB are taking innovations developed in conventional static electric motors used in industry, and applying them to the electric drivetrain.

Transportation of people, goods and raw materials accounts for around 24% of the world’s total energy consumption and almost 30 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide. While the emissions from vehicles like passenger cars are often the first consideration given their high volume, non-rail transport of either people or goods like buses, ferries and industrial vehicles also have a significant impact. For example, in the EU, although trucks, buses and coaches account for less than 5 percent of traffic they account for about 25 percent of vehicle CO2 emissions. In addition, diesel engines emit significant amounts of particulate air pollution, which can be harmful to people’s health.

Given the urgency to reduce the impact on our planet, in addition to ongoing price and supply volatility of fuel, it is critically important for companies to transition to a sustainable transport approach to reduce both their emissions and energy consumption. To prevent irreversible climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculates that we must reduce the current level of carbon emissions by 43 percent by 2030. And to improve air quality, The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests steps that governments should now take, including implementing stricter vehicle emissions standards and modernising public transport.

The electrification of public transport vehicles like buses has already proven to be effective in reducing emissions, and the technology is already mature and growing in popularity. Many of the technologies developed for industrial electric motors are transferable to e-mobility motors, and offer particular benefits for heavy duty vehicles used in industries such as mining and construction.


Motors have long been a cornerstone in industry, keeping fans, pumps and compressors running 24/7, often in challenging conditions. In more arduous applications, motors must be extremely robust, be safe to operate, optimised to the specific machine application and possible to manufacture in high volumes. 

ABB has extensive experience specifically with traction motors. For over a century, it has provided the railway industry with optimised traction motors for applications ranging from small trams to large diesel-electric locomotives.

Now, these skills in traction motors are being combined with experience from the portfolio of industrial motors to produce e-mobility motors for heavy working machinery, such as that used in mining, construction and material handling.

Electric powertrains include several key components including an electric motor, which translates electrical power into motion, and a traction converter/inverter which regulates the voltage and frequency of the electricity that is supplied to the motor. Depending on the power source, other components will be needed. Batteries and charging outlets are required for battery powered vehicles, while DC/DC converters are required for catenary powered vehicles.

Motors in these applications must be able to deliver high torque and perform efficiently at a wide range of loads. In addition, they must be designed to withstand all kinds of weather, a wide range of ambient temperatures, extreme working conditions, and shocks and vibrations. They are expected to have a long and productive working life.


A further development sees the arrival of complete electric drivelines which integrate the motor, drive and digital monitoring system and then optimises the combination for individual machines and working cycles. The e-mobility drivelines are easy to install in new electrified machines and can readily convert existing engine platforms to an electric drive – thus minimising development cost and effort for OEMs. ABB’s driveline solutions are already in commercial operation, for example, in the mining industry, where it has developed optimised driveline solutions in close cooperation with heavy machine OEMs.

On average, electric vehicles have a 40 to 60 percent lower operating cost compared to equivalent internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, while contributing to significantly reduced emissions. Where electricity is provided from renewable sources, emissions can be cut even lower as electric vehicles do not emit any particulate pollution. Furthermore, diesel and petrol engines can reach efficiencies of 45 percent and 33 percent respectively. In contrast, electric motors can typically reach around 95 percent efficiency.

The electric vehicle market continues to grow rapidly. Thanks to progress in electrification, and the emergence of more powerful effective powertrain technologies, even heavy-duty electric vehicles can now outperform their ICE counterparts, making them a viable solution for reducing carbon emissions and ensuring that global Net Zero targets are met.

For more information about sustainable transport and the electrification of industrial vehicles:

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