Sparking change through electrification

The Sandvik DL422iE electric longhole drill.

The Electric Mine Consortium combines mining companies, equipment manufacturers and technology developers with aspirations to establish a carbon neutral and advanced industry in the future. Nickolas Zakharia writes.

In 2011, the State of Play platform was launched by VCI (Virtual Consulting International) in partnership with the University of Western Australia and has since become the largest mining research platform on strategy and innovation globally.

Last year, State of Play released its electrification report, focussing on its importance for the shift to clean energy at mine sites.

It found that 61 per cent of the next generation of mines will be completely electric, while 89 per cent of mines will be electrified in the next two decades.

The report suggested that industry collaboration through a consortium would pave the way for a better understanding of the benefits associated with electrifying a mining operation.

In March, State of Play announced the Electric Mine Consortium, which was born out of the electrification report.

The Consortium has recruited miners IGO, OZ Minerals, Gold Fields, South32 and Barminco as members to push electrification in mining forward, while they reduce their scope one and two emissions.

“Our data shows renewables, all electric systems and batteries will help fuel the change towards a healthier, economically viable future of mining, but uncertainty remains when it comes to which area to invest in first, and how,” State of Play co-founder Graeme Stanway says.

METS (mining equipment, technology and services) companies Epiroc, Sandvik, Horizon Power, Safescape, 3ME Technology, Hahn, Dassault Systemes and Energy Vault were also announced as partners of the State of Play-led Consortium to provide technology and services to mining projects.

A primary goal behind electrifying mining operations is to completely decarbonise the industry, and State of Play believes that mining operations will be unable to cut their emissions without electrification.

The Consortium, however, hopes to spark industry-wide collaboration and change as a frontrunner to wide-scale adoption of electric mine operations.

Greener practices

IGO’s Nova nickel-copper-cobalt operation in Western Australia’s Fraser Range is an operation with significant fervour behind it.

The site first made history when then-owner Sirius Resources discovered the Nova deposit, sparking an explosion of nickel exploration in the Fraser Range.

IGO acquired Sirius Resources in 2015 to become the owner/developer of the site.

While nickel is a key commodity for creating clean energy technologies and battery materials, IGO is also eyeing electrification of the Nova mine.

IGO has partnered with fellow Consortium member Safescape to trial the latter’s Bortana battery electric mining vehicles at Nova.

Mining contractor Barminco collaborated with IGO at Nova to implement the trial, which found zero emissions allow more vehicles to be in a single area at the site, increasing productivity.

IGO chief operating officer Matt Dusci believes the trial proves battery light vehicles are a viable operation.

“Battery light vehicles are at a point of maturity where they are set for mass adoption within industry,” Dusci tells Australian Mining.

Dusci says IGO has finalised a pre-feasibility study on the electrification of Nova.

“This study found that if we were to commence development of the Nova operation today, technology is now reliable, safe and cost effective enough to develop the operation as an ‘all-electric’ mine,” he says.

“Our study illustrated both a capital and operating savings over the life-of-mine, coupled with the emissions reduction. We are committed to decarbonisation and excited about bringing new technology into our mines of the future.”

With IGO already heavily invested in green energy, the company hopes to promote broader industry change through the Consortium.

Dusci says the Electric Mine Consortium will help decarbonisation materialise.

“The Electric Mine Consortium offers IGO the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded companies focussed on accelerating this drive to electrification,” he says.

“IGO will continue to have our own individual goals for emissions and electrification; however, the Consortium offers the platform for collaboration and the sharing of learnings and ideas.

“Decarbonisation and climate change is a global challenge, and collaboration will be required at all levels if we are to be successful as a society.”

Dusci says heavy battery electric vehicles, charging infrastructure and mess storage for renewable generated electricity are areas which need development.

“We are collaborating, through the Consortium, to assist answer these questions, provide data from trials to research groups and influence designs to be user friendly. In this way we hope to accelerate the development of effective, robust and fit-for-purpose solutions faster,” Dusci says.

Drilling down the fundamentals

With a fleet of electric mining machines, Sandvik is well-positioned to drive change with its involvement in the Electric Mine Consortium.

For Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions – sales area APAC, sustainable business, marketing and communications manager, Kate Bills, the Consortium drives the company’s goals with battery electric vehicle adoption.

“Our vision is to the be the market leader in electric mining equipment and to be the preferred partner for our customers in the drive to adopt battery electric vehicles (BEVs),” Bills says.

“Our involvement with the Electric Mine Consortium is one of the many steps we’re taking as an organisation to achieve this.”

Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions – sales area APAC, business line manager – load and haul, Andrew Dawson says the Consortium encourages collaboration to push the boundaries of the mining industry.

“The Consortium gathers like-minded companies with electrification goals and allows us to work collaboratively develop road maps and together shape the future of the electrified mine,” he says.

“By working together and developing reference cases for either a fully electrified mine or part thereof in steps leading towards it. This allows real-world demonstration to the wider market of how BEV technology can be integrated and alleviate the ‘fear of the unknown’.”

Sandvik has also targeted a suite of 2030 sustainability goals, including a 50 per cent reduction in its carbon emissions.

“Sandvik is ambitious in terms of our 2030 Sustainability Goals, which cover four key areas: climate, circularity, people and fair play,” Bills says.

“The biggest impact we can make to sustainability is through our offering, which helps our customers increase productivity, reduce their environmental impact, and become safer.

Sandvik last year launched the first-of-its-kind 18-tonne LH518B battery loader, which assists mining operations in reaching their own sustainability goals.

Adding to the loader breakthrough, the company is developing a battery 65-tonne class truck, set to be the largest available in its range.

Sandvik has this year continued its string of electric mine offerings with the DL422iE battery-electric top hammer longhole drill, which features an electric driveline system for zero emissions.

Epiroc is another major OEM involved in the Electric Mine Consortium. In recent years, the company has been focussed on designing zero-emission underground loaders, trucks and drill rigs.

Epiroc business line manager Shaiful Ali says the company will seek battery-powered options for its full fleet of vehicles in the long-term.

“A lot of the Australian mines are large and suit a bigger class of machines,” he says.

“Short term, I think diesel will be around because the evolution of the battery is not there yet. But in the long term, yes, we will also look at battery options for our full fleet of machines.”

For Ali, collaboration and standardisation are the two pillars of pushing electrification in mining forward with the Consortium.

“We all need to understand a standardised way for how we do things. The goal is to make it simpler for a more consistent output,” he says.

“With the Consortium, this is the main driver to ensure there is a standardised way of how we do things moving forward.”

Ali says standardisation of battery charging practices is one example of how electrification can encourage safer operations.

“The biggest issue we faced was the cost, but I think the recent introduction of Batteries as a Service, it gives the confidence that the upfront cost is not as damaging as once thought,” Ali says.

“The Batteries as a Service solution allows control and management of all batteries on site to be put into the hands of Epiroc, including maintenance and upgrades, allowing for a hassle-free approach towards electrifying a mine.

“Because Australian mining is generally collective, collaboration is the best way to move forward. Everyone brings an element of speciality in this and Epiroc is part of the specialisation, but we’re not specialised in everything, so the Consortium brings a collaborative approach.”


This article appeared in the May issue of Australian Mining Magazine.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.