Battery tools on the up

The revolution in battery powered equipment continues apace with more manufacturers offering ever-improving machines, Sally Drury reports.

Battery tools: latest range introduced by Echo aims to take on petrol counterparts - image: Echo Tools
Battery tools: latest range introduced by Echo aims to take on petrol counterparts - image: Echo Tools

We are arguably witnessing the biggest change in the grounds care tool market since two-stroke took over from the scythe. We are, of course, talking about battery power, and everyone is getting involved.

Pellenc, Husqvarna, Makita, Stihl and Bosch are already well positioned in the professional market. Echo and Toro recently joined and we have seen new companies such as EGO established purely to supply outdoor battery powered tools.

Even those names normally associated with engines - such as Honda and Hyundai - are in for the long term. The list of suppliers goes on: Hitachi, Cobra, DeWalt, Greenworks and Roybi, plus a seemingly endless number of companies, from AL-KO to Wolf, supplying the domestic market.

The benefits of battery power are enormous - no emissions, low noise, low vibration, easy operation with simple start/stop, the freedom of being cordless, reduced risk of fuel spills and fires, and much, much lower maintenance requirements. Battery powered kit can save you money. Yes, there is the nuisance of needing to recharge, but batteries continue to improve.

Already this year we have seen Pellenc introduce the IP54 waterproof rated ULB1500 battery. This power source gives users 50 per cent more stored energy compared to the existing largest battery on the market, matches Pellenc's entire tool range and is good for more than 1,200 recharging cycles. That, according to Pellenc, equates to five years' use or 7,000 litres of petrol.

It is designed to go into "sleep" mode after 24 days of inactivity, as opposed to three on earlier models, and working in the rain is not an issue. A new harness allows the battery to be stood upright when removed from the wearer and it carries a three-year warranty.

To allow users to charge up to 10 batteries simultaneously, Pellenc has introduced Intelligent Smart Battery Park Management. Les Malin, operations director at Etesia UK, exclusive Pellenc distributor in the UK and Ireland, explains: "When operators previously used multiple batteries, it meant having a series of chargers all requiring individual 13-amp sockets on a bench, taking up valuable space but also using unsafe extension leads or adaptors. This system centralises battery management of all Pellenc batteries, allowing a maximum of 10 chargers, two of which can be rapid chargers, to be housed in one secure and safe metal cabinet with only one mains plug required."

On the front of the cabinet a touchpad provides the choice of standard preprogrammed or maintenance charges. The cost of electricity and petrol can be entered and, over weeks and months, the system calculates the savings made while also showing the amount of CO2 that has been offset.

Advanced protection

Since the end of last year Makita has been offering a 6.0Ah version of its 18V lithium-ion battery to power its range of cordless tools. The new battery has a 55-minute charge time and a host of advanced protection and operating features. Offering 20 per cent more capacity than the 5.0Ah, it will fit any Makita 18V tool that carries a star mark on the battery mount or has a yellow battery terminal plate.

The 6.0Ah version has new circuitry to protect against over discharge, high temperatures or overload current. There is also a cooling system that forces air over each individual cell to ensure the longest possible battery life while the casing provides shock resistance. The slide terminal, with multi-contact connections, enables stable contact between battery and tool.

Husqvarna is also improving its choice of 36V batteries. Current choice for professional use includes the 4.2Ah integrated battery costing £130 + VAT or backpack batteries of 5.2Ah, 9.4Ah, 14.4Ah or 26.1Ah with prices ranging from £166.67 to £900 + VAT. The firm is set to introduce a 5.2Ah integrated battery, followed by a 9.4Ah option to give a day's work off a single charge. The latter will be priced £225 + VAT and should give between 1hr 50mins and 3hr 45mins for hedge trimming or up to 1hr 5mins with a blower. It is still a 36V battery so roughly the same size and weight but has double the capacity.

Stihl's latest batteries are the AR2000 and AR3000 backpack Li-ion units, weighing 7.8kg and 8.1kg respectively. They give up to 180 and 230 minutes work with Stihl's 160 chainsaw and up to 130 and 160 minutes for the new blower.

Developments and launches

There has also been an enormous number of kit developments and launches over the past year, so much so that it is hard to keep up with the products coming to market. Here is a flavour:

- The new Makita DUC353 36V rear-handled chainsaw with twin batteries and brushless motor matches the logging performance of similar sized petrol models while offering the many values of cordless machines. The direct-drive saw has a rated output of 1.1kW, similar to a 32cc petrol machine, and has a 35cm bar. It boasts a chain speed of 20m/s and trials show the 5.0Ah batteries will deliver up to 60 cuts through 5in-diameter timber - seven linear metres of cutting per charge. Weight is 5.2kg and features include soft-grip handle, variable-speed trigger, constant speed control, automatic electric chain brake on trigger release, kickback brake protection and lock-off lever. The 200ml chain oil tank has a viewing window and provides adjustable flow. Chain tensioning is tool-less. Power is automatically shut off after 10 seconds of inactivity.

- Makita 18V line trimmer has 240W output and three selectable speed settings up to 4,000, 5,000 and 6,000rpm. Also new is a two-piece line trimmer for operators who need to transport equipment in smaller vehicles.

- EGO, only launched two years ago, has established itself in the battery powered garden machinery market. The company now introduces a multi-tool that it claims is suitable for the professional and municipal markets as well as the consumer market. Until now the EGO offering consisted of five key product groups - mowers, line trimmers, chainsaws, blowers and hedge trimmers - but the new product has five heads consisting of 38cm line trimmer with rapid reload bump head, 30cm brushcutter with three-sided reversible blade, 160cm long-reach hedge trimmer with 12 cutting angles that folds down to 99cm, a pole saw with 10in guide bar and an edging tool with adjustable depth suitable for working around concrete slabs.

- Echo's range of 50V lithium-ion battery products includes hedge trimmer, line trimmer and power blower - all intended to take on their petrol counterparts. The hedge trimmer and line trimmer come with 2.0Ah batteries as standard but a 4.0Ah battery is optional for longer runtime. The power blower has a 4.0Ah battery. Rapid chargers are also available.

- Toro Consumer, based at Hayter in Bishop's Stortford, has joined the market with a Toro range of 40V lithium-ion cordless tools including 33cm and 36cm line trimmers, leaf blowers, a 61cm hedge trimmer and 35cm chainsaw. There is a choice of 2.5Ah or 5.0Ah battery plus a quick charger. The leaf blower costs £190 + VAT as a complete kit or £82.50 + VAT for the body only.

- Stihl has new chainsaws, brushcutters and blowers. The MSA 150C-BQ and 200C-BQ chainsaws have 30cm and 35cm bars and weigh in at 3.1kg and 3.3kg. Runtimes are up to 35mins with the AP 200 battery - up to 140 cuts of standard 10cm timber - or 45mins (190 cuts) with the AP300. FSA90R and RSA90 are loopand bike-handled brushcutters. The former gives a 260mm cutting diameter, the latter 280mm. Both feature Ecospeed variable-speed control. The BGA100 blower weighs 2.5kg without battery and offers four levels of air speed.

- Starting last month, Husqvarna introduced homeowners in Stockholm to a pay-per-use power tools service for the garden, so eliminating the need to maintain and store infrequently used tools. The pilot project is part of the firm's plans for a "sustainable solution for taking care of gardens and green spaces". Husqvarna division president Pavel Hajman says: "People are already sharing homes and cars. To share products that are only used occasionally, like a hedge trimmer, makes a lot of sense for some users."

What of the future?

Battery power is here to stay, but will we see a battery tractor? At SIMA 2017 in Paris last February, John Deere received a special mention award for its SESAM (Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery) electric tractor.

The ag-industry's first fully battery powered tractor, it is a prototype based on the big 6R Series chassis, has a 130-150kWh battery and delivers 174hp of continuous power for up to four hours. Definitely something to watch.

Mean Green Mowers: manoeuvrable and quiet

The US-built Mean Green Mowers range includes a commercial-use battery powered walk-behind capable of working seven or eight hours a day. The WBX-33HD with a 33in-wide (83cm) side-discharge cutting deck is imported and distributed by Overton (UK), priced at £8,595 + VAT. With a single battery pack it is so quiet that there is no need for earmuffs.

We took the machine to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire and asked gardener Aron Clay to take a closer look. "I like it," he said. "It's surprisingly easy to manoeuvre considering the size and relative weight and it is eerily quiet to use. At one point I thought it had shut down. There's no sound when it's running. There is a slight delay when changing from forward to reverse - I guess it's the nature of the technology and something you have to get used to - but on full speed it is certainly a fast walking pace."

For full details of the battery powered range from Mean Green Mowers, including stand-on and ride-on units, see our Kit Review.

Testing Husqvarna's range of professional battery equipment at Trengwainton Garden in Cornwall

Husqvarna's battery range boasts petrol performance, so we put it to the test. Having recently reviewed walk-behind, battery powered mowers (HW, 28 April), we returned to Trengwainton Garden in Cornwall and asked head gardener Phil Griffiths, and gardeners Matt Nixon and Gareth Wearne, to put the range through its paces.

What we learned

- The 36V worry-free batteries look after themselves in that they turn the trickle off if it is near to empty, so there is no deep discharge. Left over winter, a battery will return to life when it is plugged in again in spring. "That's something less to worry about. If every few weeks you have to make sure everything is charged up it defeats the purpose," says Griffiths.

- The motors are designed for each application. We know from the petrol world that a brushcutter, tending to be revved high for 40 minutes or so, needs to be tuned differently to a chainsaw, which must give immediate power when you hit the throttle. The same is required of battery power, hence Husqvarna does not simply stick the same motor in every machine.

- Husqvarna's battery kit is put through the same factory and real-world testing as its petrol machines.

- There are only four main parts - sealed loom, brushless motor, keypad and trigger - so it should be easy to identify any problems should anything go wrong.

- The machine is live once the battery is connected but it turns itself off if there is no activity for 60 seconds.

- Husqvarna's "savE" eco mode is intended for lighter or more regular work, increases runtime by 25 per cent and means the infinite throttle can be clutched rather than feathered.

Brushcutters Two professional models - loopor bike-handled - equivalent to a 25-30cc engine but lighter and with less vibration. Expect up to 40mins and 1hr 15mins with the 5.2Ah and 9.4Ah batteries respectively. Features include two-way head rotation (blocked when the blade is fitted) to keep flying debris away from roads and paths. Supplied as standard with 2mm line, but a 4mm chord and energy-saving grass blade are also available. Prices, including battery and charger but excluding VAT: £483.33 for the loopand £500 for the bike-handled. Body only: £250 and £266.67.

Blowers Two with integrated batteries are equivalent to 25-30cc petrol units and give 54m/s and 56m/s air speeds. Both have cruise control, "savE" eco mode and turbo boost. The battery lasts for 25mins going at full throttle. A round nozzle is supplied but a flat nozzle is also available. A third blower, for use with backpack batteries, is equivalent to a 35-40cc machine and will give up to three hours of use on a single charge. Price: £350 + VAT or £1,345 including battery and charger.

Hedge trimmers A family of three includes 60cm bar or 70cm bar with rotating handles and the soon-to-be-introduced long-reach with adjustable head and 350cm reach (250cm for transport). All have sealed gearboxes, are lightweight, feature reverse if material becomes stuck and give 4,000 cuts per minute. Respective body-only prices excluding VAT: £266.67, £291.67 and £270.83. Or with battery and charger: £500, £525 and £504.17.

Chainsaws A top-handle with 30cm bar and rear-handle with 35cm bar run 3/8in chain at 20m/s or, "savE" eco mode, 15m/s - faster than the majority of competitor machines. An observation window lets the user keep an eye on the oil level. If pruning, expect up to 2hrs 15mins use or 1hr logging. The top-handle may see 3hrs 55mins pruning. Prices: from £291.69 + VAT.

Pole pruners Two models with 250cm shaft or 293-400cm telescopic shaft. Equivalent to 35cc petrol model with 20m/s chain speed. Respective body-only prices: £312.50 and £370.83 + VAT.

Mower The only thing missing from the professional range but there are 41cm push and self-propelled consumer mowers. Do not forget the Automower range - Husqvarna has produced one million to date, with high demand across Europe. One is in action at a National Trust property in Cornwall.

VERDICTS

All the testers liked the fit and feel of the machines as well as the low noise levels. "These are the quietest machines we have used," says Griffiths. Nixon, who used the pole pruner, adds: "You don't need ear defenders. It's so nice not to be cut off from the world and it's safer. It's just as efficient as a petrol one but so quiet. It's long enough, nice weight and good balance. I'm very impressed."

The brushcutters were up to the job when the going got tough, the hedge trimmers gave a quality cut and the blowers sent gravel scurrying off the lawn and back onto the pathway. Of the chainsaws, Wearne says: "You have to remember to check the oil window but this is ideal for snedding and I also tried it on bigger logs. I need one now."

Another feature that impressed all the testers is the harness for the backpack battery. It is fully adjustable and our testers had no issues with comfort. But they especially liked two aspects - the harness can also be used for the brushcutter and there is no need to feel round the back to plug in a machine.


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