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'World first' electric digger in the running for prestigious MacRobert Award

Professional Engineering

The world’s first volume-produced fully electric digger (19C-1E) from JCB (Credit: JCB)
The world’s first volume-produced fully electric digger (19C-1E) from JCB (Credit: JCB)

Three ‘world firsts’ from UK engineering, including a premium battery-electric SUV and a fully electric digger, are finalists for the 2020 MacRobert Award.

A system that could “dramatically improve” the efficiency of transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the third finalist for the Royal Academy of Engineering prize, which has previously been awarded to teams behind the CT scanner, the Harrier jump jet and the Raspberry Pi micro-computer.

The shortlist “recognises world-first engineering innovations developed in the UK that deliver tangible social benefits through significantly reduced environmental impact”, the academy said.

The details of the finalists are:

  • Babcock’s LGE business (Fife, Scotland) for developing ecoSMRT, a ‘disruptive technology to dramatically improve the efficiency of transporting LNG around the world’. Ships carrying LNG must control the pressure of cargo as evaporation occurs in the tanks. The ecoSMRT system captures and reliquefies this ‘boil-off’ gas, with significant reductions in emissions compared with current technology.

The technology reportedly reduces carbon footprint by up to 50%, halves maintenance costs, reduces physical space required by 40%, and improves power efficiency by up to 20% when compared with existing systems. Each system can reportedly save the equivalent of up to 19,000 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted per year, compared to older systems that burn off the excess gas. With demand for LNG set to double by 2040, boil-off gas recovery is fundamental to improving the environmental credentials of today’s modern LNG carrier fleets.

  • Jaguar Land Rover (Warwickshire) for developing the I-Pace, the ‘world’s first premium battery-electric sports utility vehicle (SUV)’. The car has a range of up to 292 miles (470km). Its core innovations include novel approaches to battery, thermal management, and e-motor technology. It was granted 40 significant patents, and its software and control systems include over 250,000 lines of code.
  • JCB (Staffordshire) for developing and manufacturing the world’s first volume-produced fully electric digger (19C-1E), with zero exhaust emissions, improved productivity, ‘outstanding’ noise and vibration characteristics, and emission-free at point of use for use inside buildings. The current fleet has reportedly saved the equivalent of 15,100kg in CO2 emissions during 5,616 hours of work.

The winner of this year’s MacRobert Award will be chosen by an expert panel of academy fellows and announced in July. The winning team will receive the MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize. 

“This year’s finalists raise the bar when it comes to understanding the part British engineering has to play in shaping a more sustainable future,” said judging panel chairman Sir Richard Friend. “UK engineers are influential agents of change, and our shortlist represents the transformative impact that their innovations are having on a global scale.

“It is testament to the strength and experience of our UK engineering community – a sector that contributes 25% to the UK’s economy – that Babcock’s LGE business, Jaguar Land Rover and JCB have established world firsts in their respective fields.”


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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 

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