AquaStar EV: How does the electric sewer cleaning vehicle with water recycling perform in practice?

Kanal Engel based in Abtwil, Switzerland, has been carrying out sewer cleaning operations since 1987. The company includes various models of the diesel-fueled AquaStar in its vehicle fleet. Remo Engel, one of the drivers at Kanal Engel AG, spent a whole day testing the KAISER AquaStar EV, which is based on a Designwerk electric truck. We spoke with him and asked the following question: Are electric sewer cleaning vehicles with water recycling a viable option for the future in practice?


Remo, a lot of users are skeptical when it comes to the subject of electric vehicles in the context of sewer cleaning and water recycling. You’re also someone who is used to diesel power. Can the electric AquaStar compete?
Admittedly, I approached this whole thing with a certain amount of skepticism and even took the precaution of having our diesel AquaStar available as a replacement vehicle. Because when you consider the amount of power we need for the job, I wasn’t sure if the electric sewer cleaner could go the distance and thought we might have to swap trucks at midday. But the opposite was the case. The sewers we had to clean had a high level of soiling. The machinery had to work hard and lasted out to the end of the day. That was really impressive.


How did the deployment go? Did you always have enough power?
We started off in the morning with a battery charge of 90%. After loading up with water, we worked from shortly after 8 am through to about 12 noon – with water recycling. From 1 pm, we continued through the afternoon with recycling and didn’t recharge. When we’d finished, the truck still had 22% battery charge left and we drove to the disposal site.
We were surprised how well it all went. The vacuuming power was high, remained constant throughout the entire job, and we got the waste material out of the sewer successfully. As for diesel or electric – I didn’t notice any difference in performance during our deployment.


How about operating the vehicle? Does an experienced driver have to adjust?
No, as a driver there’s not a lot you have to adjust to. If you’re familiar with the general operation of KAISER vehicles, you immediately know what you have to do. In fact, the electric vehicle was nicer to drive: There’s no clutch pedal to operate and I found I had more precision when maneuvering to the sewers. That’s awesome, particularly in urban areas.
Needless to say, working felt a bit unusual, simply because we don’t have the experience with electric sewer cleaners. Although we knew how long we can work, we tended to keep checking the battery charge. With the diesel, I never look at the level in the tank when I’m working. But I figure the more you work electrically, the faster you’ll get used to it.


How about the recharging?
Charging is an important issue and the availability of power is decisive for the deployment of electric vehicles. Before we drove back to our depot after discharging the waste, we charged up the electric truck for half an hour at 200 kW, which gave us another 20%. That’s pretty good, of course. If you use a one-hour lunchbreak for charging, for instance, you can top up a relatively large amount of power – especially when you consider that charging rates of up to 350 kW are possible.
Right now, the network of diesel filling stations is still a whole lot denser than the infrastructure for charging EVs. That means you always have to check out where the nearest charging station is located when you’re planning your deployments.


In terms of applications, where would you consider an electric sewer cleaner to be particularly well suited?
In the case of jobs involving a lot of mileage and driving between different sites, such as in rural areas, the availability of charging facilities remains a challenge. You have to think a lot more about where you’re going to be using the vehicle and for what when scheduling jobs. Once the density of the charging station network improves in the future, that will be a huge benefit for planning and you’ll be able to use the EV for unscheduled jobs as well.
In the case of day-to-day deployments that are straightforward to plan, such as in urban areas, the electric truck is on a level playing field with the diesel vehicle and even has some advantages over it. We did our test deployment in a residential area. Particularly with combined jetting and recycling, you notice that the electric truck is a lot quieter. That’s really a big difference and makes the work more pleasant for us drivers and for the residents.


Thank you very much, Remo, for carrying out the test and for taking the time to share your experience with us.


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