December 2023 Vol. 78 No.11


First look: First electric vacuum excavator introduced

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor 

(UI) — After the first lithium-ion battery hand tool for the building trades was introduced in 2005, a representative of a major distributor called it the most significant advance in tools in the last 20 years.

Who would have predicted that less than 20 years later, lithium-ion tools had taken over the market, and many, if not most, building construction sites would be “cordless.” Not only that, but larger lithium-ion powered equipment such as chain saws, lawn mowers, edgers and trimmers, are available. 

Major equipment manufacturers in recent years have begun development of electric-powered mini excavators, wheel loaders and other equipment.  

Now, a lithium-ion vacuum excavator is going into production soon. A prototype has been in operation for nine months across North Texas and Oklahoma, and production began in October 2023, said Sharp Equipment founder Dan Sharp. The capabilities of this electric vacuum excavator are comparable to an 800-gallon spoils tank trailer vac with 1,000 cfm models he added. 

Just like conventional vacuum excavators, the electric version can perform soft excavation for potholes or dig trench in confined areas too small for larger equipment, keep work sites free of HDD drilling fluids escaping from bore holes, and be used for general clean-up operations. 


“I had the idea for an all-electric hydro vac powered by a lithium battery,” Sharp recalled about its development. “After much research we decided to do a Proof of Concept to see if all we had learned would actually work. I did a trailer hydro vac thinking it would be the easiest underground equipment to do. I was wrong.” 

So, Sharp reached out to a contractor he knew and borrowed the company’s Victorian diesel trailer vac and used the company’s shop. 

“We took off the shroud and took off the diesel engine,” he continued. “We put in our spec’d out electric motor and a used Tesla battery we got off of eBay. We hooked that up with all the other components that make it possible for the electric motor to work off of a lithium battery.” 

Sharp and his crew ran the machine for about six weeks, then changed everything out and gave the machine back to its owner. “We knew we had something,” he said, “and we knew what changes needed to take place and the run time we needed to hit.” 

The next step was to build a prototype. “I brought in an additional partner, Greg Jeter,” Sharp said. “We worked together back at Ditch Witch International, and he worked for me for 10 years when I was vice president of sales and marketing at American Augers, where he was the territory manager for Asia Pacific. 

“We started building the prototype in July 2022. In November 2022, we had the prototype complete but our electrical engineer (who is a 23-year-old ‘kid’) had to tinker with the software. In January, we had B&H Construction out of Oklahoma test it. Multiple crews used it across Oklahoma in a variety of jobs, soil conditions and weather conditions. B&H was outstanding to work with, as they are very progressive and forward thinking.”  

There were several issues. “The biggest,” he said, “was finding a coupling that would stand up to the demands of an electric motor (we failed two within 30 hours each). Our cooling system worked without a hitch, which was a huge concern. 

“Now we have completed the pilot (first production unit), and B&H has purchased not only the prototype, but also the pilot through Ditch Witch Oklahoma. We are selling through several Ditch Witch dealers and several independent dealers.” 


Sharp said features and benefits are unlike a traditional hydro-vac in that there are no pulleys, no belts, no tensioners and no clutches. There is no engine oil to change, no oil filters and no fuel filters or air filters to change.  

The only service is on the water pump (a CAT Pump, the best on the market, Sharp believes but emphasized it is not part of Caterpillar) and the blower – it uses tri-lobe blower. All other trailer vacs use a dual lobe blower, which means this blower is more powerful with less vibration and noise, Sharp explained.            

“Our vac/blower produces 20 inches of Mercury which is the most powerful trailer vac on the market,” he continued. “Our vac can go from 550 cfm to 1,000 cfm – no other vac does this. Our water pump can be controlled from our control panel, can go from 1,000 to 3,000 psi and is infinitely variable. All other manufactures use a mechanical knob on the water pump. 

“Our hydro-vac is the quietest in its class. This is the number-one concern regarding hydro-vacs. OSHA requires hearing protection when noise is above 85 dba and we are below this.” 

The Sharp electric hydro vac typically will be charged at the shop on a 220-volt /30-amp outlet like those used for a welding machine. Plug it in at the end of the day and it will take about six hours to charge. Sharp said the machine is designed to work a typical 8-hour work day. 

Is the market ready for an electric vacuum excavator? 

“Certain segments, I would say yes,” said Sharp. “They include electric utilities, electric co-ops, water departments, power plants, etc. Also, your larger contractors who track fuel and service costs, and those who work in urban areas and are concerned about noise levels.  

“It is not for everyone; those working in remote areas, for example, or those who don’t have a place to charge, though it does have a universal charger. 

“Electric is the future, and the future is now,” Sharp declared. “We are the first, but others will follow. Those who embrace and learn this new technology will be ahead of their competition.  

“Many get caught up on the front-end cost, which is more expensive than a traditional hydro-vac,” he observed. “However, that price difference will be made up in 12 to 24 months and in the long run, it is far more economical to operate and far easier to train the next generation.” 

Another pricing consideration is the there are now tax credits available for purchasing a commercial electric vehicle. This information is available on the Internal Revenue Service website. 

Based in Houston, Sharp Equipment was established by Dan Sharp and several other industry veterans. 

“We have a wealth of knowledge and experience in underground construction, not just in North America, but worldwide,” Sharp concluded. “We are building all our products in Oklahoma and Texas.” 


Sharp Equipment, (817) 889-2800, 

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