Paul van Gerven
6 March

Electrification of heavy machinery such as excavators and combine harvesters is still in its infancy, largely because of the complexity and cost of the required battery packs. Helmond-based startup Eleo has developed a solution.

The diesel engine is on its way out, even in heavy equipment used in construction, mining and agriculture. The main issue standing in the way is the battery pack: unlike in the automotive world, standardization of batteries is difficult. After all, a steamroller has very different requirements in terms of energy and power than a small excavator. Additionally, customized solutions are relatively expensive and time consuming to develop.

This is the untapped market that Eleo has sunk its teeth into. The young Helmond-based company has come up with a modular concept that allows the manufacturing of batteries of a wide capacity range at a reasonable price. “To customers, it seems like we deliver custom solutions, even though under the hood ninety percent of the engineering has already been figured out. That way, we can achieve reasonable scale in a high-mix, low-volume market,” says Eleo CTO Bram van Diggelen.

The concept is catching on. Last year, Yanmar, a large Japanese manufacturer of industrial machinery, acquired a majority stake in Eleo. Thanks in part to the financial clout and international network of the new owner, the company is growing rapidly. So fast, in fact, that it has already outgrown the factory recently opened by Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

Eleo excavator
This beast doesn’t need to be noisy. Credit: Eleo

Soft start

Eleo’s history, like that of ailing Automotive Campus neighbor Lightyear, starts with an Eindhoven University of Technology participation in a student competition. In an effort to put electric driving on the map, team Storm began developing an electric motorcycle in 2014. With barely any delays, it traveled around the world via central Asia, China, the US and Paris in eighty days. It was during this adventure that Van Diggelen and two other participants found each other. They wanted to go into business with the knowledge they’d gained.

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Initially, the founders stuck to motorcycles. In a company called Spike, they developed the Kibo, an electric motorcycle specially tailored to the Kenyan market. Gradually, their focus narrowed to battery systems, eventually emerging as Eleo to face the world as a specialist in custom battery systems. Eleo is short for “e-leo” – an electric lion, explains Van Diggelen.

Eleo’s logo contains visual elements reminiscent of the cylindrical battery cells that are the heart of all Eleo batteries. These cells are mainly sourced from South Korea at the moment, but suppliers closer to home are expected to be in business within a few years – Europe’s automotive industry is very keen on having a local battery supply chain.

In Helmond, Eleo assembles the cells into modules of five different sizes. These modules, in turn, link to form larger battery packs. This allows Eleo to cover a broad spectrum of applications with one and the same basic unit (well, five basic units). Connecting modules in series is used to generate the desired voltage while parallel connections increase capacity.

Of course, it’s not as simple as clicking a few batteries together. A battery management system (BMS) is needed to make all components work together seamlessly, regardless of configuration. Additionally, these days a BMS is expected to handle an increasing amount of functionality, including safety and optimization features, predictive maintenance and even telematics.

Because of the modular design, “we’ve had to solve a lot of issues that most battery manufacturers don’t have to deal with,” Van Diggelen says. “A few companies market batteries with some built-in flexibility, but those don’t come close to our concept. A 600-volt battery pack for an excavator is a very different beast than a pack for a small support vehicle. And yet, our BMS handles both. It’s merely a matter of setting the right configuration.”

In a high-voltage system, for example, you can’t just flick a switch: a soft start is required. Therefore, Eleo had to develop a soft-start procedure for a wide voltage range. Similarly, be it in safety, thermal management or performance monitoring systems, what works for small packs doesn’t necessarily work for a larger version too.

Eleo product
Eleo’s modular battery concept. Credit: Eleo


Eleo arrived at a highly decentralized BMS architecture. Each module has onboard electronics gathering information about key parameters such as voltage, current and temperature. Based on that input, algorithms make decisions. To make sure cells discharge in a balanced fashion, for example. Or to respond appropriately to an increase in temperature that lowers battery life.

Relevant data is also sent to a central pack management unit via a Can-bus. This PMU collects and monitors data from all individual modules, manages the active safety systems and provides communication interfaces with external applications. “For example, our packs feature a high-voltage interlock loop, which acts as a kind of circuit breaker for high-voltage connections. And our insulation monitoring system alerts users to wear and tear of electrical cables. You can realize such functionality much more easily in an integrated system like ours.”

“All data can be accessed remotely. We support several global interface standards. System developers and service engineers can take advantage of that, and the telematics supports optimal usage and predictive maintenance.” Proper battery management can prolong service life up to ten times, says Van Diggelen. Even a ten percent gain is more than worthwhile, though.


Eleo has its hands full in the coming years. In R&D, streamlining battery configuration is a key priority. “There are still a few degrees of freedom that our engineers have to discuss with customers before we can configure their battery packs. We want to completely automate that process for the purpose of scalability. It needs to be as simple as ticking boxes.”

The second priority is managing growth. At the ceremonial opening of the new factory at the end of January, the company presented grand ambitions. Production will triple to 30 thousand packs by the end of next year and reach 100 thousand a year by 2030, manufactured in facilities spread out over several continents.

Main picture credit: Eleo