The Artisan Z50 battery-electric haul truck has given underground mining companies a vision of what a cleaner, safer mining future could look like in Australia earlier than many expected.
Changing the mindset towards battery-electric machinery has been a challenge in the underground mining sector in Australia.
The benefits of electrification are widely known. Once operational, electric mines improve the economics of underground mining by lowering energy costs.
Electrification also delivers a safer, more environmentally friendly working environment as it eliminates diesel emissions, while also maintaining high levels of productivity.
Despite these advantages, the interest in battery-electric machinery has been limited in Australia, particularly compared with mining regions in the Northern Hemisphere.
Battery technology, so far, hasn’t been well suited to the demands of Australia’s long underground declines.
The machines also have a reputation for being capital intensive despite then offering a lower total cost of ownership compared with diesel alternatives.
Additionally, battery-electric machines have not been able to match the capacities of the 60-plus-tonne diesel trucks or 20-plus-tonne diesel loaders available on the market.
Shifting this mindset remains a work in progress for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), but if Sandvik’s Australian roadshow of the Artisan Z50 underground haul truck is any guide, the company is moving in the right direction.
The equipment manufacturer displayed the Artisan Z50 across Australia earlier this year, giving companies and contractors in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia an opportunity to view the machine.
Sandvik Asia Pacific business line manager for load and haul, Malcolm Mauger, says the Artisan Z50 truck surprised many people by how advanced it is.
“There was a real appetite in the market to see the truck, understand it, feel it and ask questions about it,” Mauger tells Australian Mining.
“What we found more and more was that people really thought that the technology was years away when in fact it is here today.
“The industry just needs a change of mindset and has to develop in a way where we are going to use it.”
Sandvik reinforced its mindset towards electrification by last year acquiring California-based Artisan Vehicle Systems, an innovative manufacturer of battery-electric underground vehicles.
Artisan has developed underground battery loaders and trucks with zero exhaust emissions for a decade, with the company’s machines operating underground for more than 400,000 hours.
The Artisan Z50 builds off the Z40 truck that was first used by Kirkland Lake Gold at the Macassa underground gold mine in Canada.
It combines Artisan’s leading battery-electric technology with a design that delivers the largest capacity battery-electric truck on the market.
Artisan has developed the truck to generate twice the peak horsepower and just one-eighth of the heat of its diesel equivalent. The Z50 is powered by four electric motors that generate 560kW and 8200Nm of torque.
What sets Artisan apart is the company’s expertise and track record as a manufacturer of safe, efficient batteries.
Before it diversified into manufacturing equipment, Artisan developed and manufactured electric powertrains and battery technology, focussing on lithium-iron phosphate chemistry to create its patented battery system.
The power is not constrained by ventilation limitations and therefore Artisan can use the most powerful electric motors available, minimising risk to the safety of operations.
“Artisan views things differently from other equipment manufacturers because of their background in battery technology,” Mauger says.
“The lithium iron phosphate battery is considered the safest option and essentially that is what we want underground.
“In all of the 10 years that Artisan’s batteries have been in operation there have been no fire incidents.”
To ensure battery recharging doesn’t impact productivity underground, Artisan has optimised the process to enable the machines to haul maximum tonnes per day.
Sandvik product line manager, trucks, Pia Sundberg says Artisan’s charging station is both compact and convenient compared with other alternatives in the market.
“The charging station can be placed wherever it makes the most sense within the mine,” Finland-based Sundberg says.
“If a mine decides to move the recharging spot, they can change the location in the time it takes to physically shift the station to another spot. In just six minutes you can change from one battery to another one, it is clever in that regard.”
Artisan also uses spring applied hydraulically released (SAHR) brakes with electric regeneration, allowing the battery to recharge during the braking process by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy.
These features reflect why interest in the Artisan Z50 was high during the roadshow, and also why Sandvik is confident about the machine’s prospects ahead of next year’s re-launch in Australia.
Sundberg believes the Z50’s potential could prove to be a factor that helps change the mindset of an Australian underground sector still dominated by diesel machinery.
“I think we will soon see within our Australian customer group there are companies that will be the first to jump in and start the move (towards battery-electric machinery),” Sundberg says.
A change in this mindset will, however, require a fundamental shift from mining companies that extends far beyond their choice of mining machinery.
Analysis of mine electrification by Ernst & Young (EY) in 2019 revealed that reaping the full benefits of an electricity-powered future would need rethinking of mine designs, reskilling of workforces, and collaboration between OEMs, mining companies and governments.
According to EY, gaining the full value out of electrification requires a thorough consideration and understanding of the technology road map, in parallel with the strategic plan for the mine.
“Any change, and this is not going to be easy, will require new ways of thinking to lay out the mine, such as where to put the chargers – there will also be a lot of references to the ventilation and battery requirements,” Mauger says. “In the background at Sandvik, we have an application team that has a simulation tool and can start working with customers to work out how long a battery will last on the decline in their mine.
“It is going to be different, there will be a lot of changes required and many learnings along the way.”
As EY outlines, electrification has the potential to spark the next wave of mining innovation.
And as time passes, the technology will only become cheaper with batteries that last longer, a prospect that has Sandvik excited about what a mine of the future with the Artisan machines might look like.
“It would be nice to have them at an operation that also has a wind or solar farm so there are literally zero emissions,” Mauger says.
“The mine would also be an underground block cave operation, essentially with a shaft – that would be perfect.”
While a site such as this may sound futuristic now, the Artisan Z50 has proven to many Australian operators that the opportunity is closer to a reality than they previously thought.
This article also appears in the June edition of Australian Mining.