The mining industry has been a frontrunner in adopting new technologies over the past decade, with electrification serving as the next frontier for a cleaner and cost-effective future. Nickolas Zakharia writes.
In 2018, the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) launched the Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) initiative.
The ICSV hopes to introduce emission-free surface mining vehicles by 2040, reduce the impact of diesel exhaust by 2025 and make collision avoidance technology available for mining companies by 2025.
It brings 27 mining companies and 19 original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) together, all aiming to ramp up the next generation of mining vehicles, while improving existing models.
The likes of BHP, Anglo American, Caterpillar, Sandvik and Komatsu are among the initiative’s CEO advisory group.
BHP chief executive Mike Henry, speaking at IMARC 2020, says the ICSV is helping to accelerate the innovations required to advance mining technology.
“The Innovation for cleaner, safer vehicles initiative brings together equipment manufacturers and ICMM members to accelerate the innovations required to improve equipment safety and reduce emissions,” he says.
“This is a great example of the collaborative industry-level effort that can help bring about the scale and pace of change that is needed.”
The ICSV has advised OEMs and technology providers on what is needed to boost the adoption rates of new technologies in the mining industry.
“Progress made on the Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles initiative has been building the widespread confidence needed to accelerate the level of innovation investment required to scale up commercial solutions,” ICMM chief executive officer Tom Butler says.
And those commercial solutions are gradually coming online. Major mining operations across Australia are gradually increasing the presence of electric vehicles (EVs) on site.
Speaking at IMARC 2020’s machinery, equipment and modernisation presentation, Kirkland Lake chief mining engineer Rob McLean explains the areas of technological advancement that the company is exploring at the Fosterville gold mine in Victoria.
Kirkland Lake’s future focusses include automation, remote technology and the electrification of its equipment, according to McClean, who believes technological advancements will improve its overall operation.
“For us, we see that it allows improvement and optimisation of our processes in all areas with the focus being on zero harm, reducing our environmental footprint and improvement value to our stakeholders,” he says.
The company’s vision for Fosterville is to transition the site into a fully electric mine.
“The big advantage of this is obviously the removal of significant diesel emissions and reduced heat because the electric machines will produce a lot less heat than the diesel machines,” McLean says.
Kirkland Lake is trialling a Sandvik LH518B electric loader this year as it continues to work towards this vision.
An electric future
Sandvik is no stranger to pushing the envelope in the mining industry through its equipment and solutions.
As the industry looks to cut emissions and save costs, Sandvik has started to roll out its fleet of electric vehicles, including the LH518B electric loader that will be trialled by Kirkland Lake in 2021.
Sandvik business line manager, load & haul Andrew Dawson says the future of mining is electric.
“If we look at the future of mining as a whole, it’s going to be more electrified and a lot more energy efficient with a reduction in the use of fossil fuels,” he says.
“I think it’s fair to say that Sandvik’s vision is to use engineering and innovation to drive more sustainable business for our customers and clients.”
Designed for underground mining environments, the LH518B is the world’s first 18-tonne electric loader and is designed around Sandvik’s Artisan battery system.
“The LH518B is a great example of engineering and innovation that has already used and deployed battery technology for the highest capacity payload in underground loaders in the smallest footprint. It’s great engineering and we’re really proud to have developed that.”
While battery electric vehicles are still an emerging technology, the market has been showing strong interest in Sandvik’s offerings, Dawson says.
“We’re seeing this particularly from customers with a developed or a developing sustainability roadmap and there are actually quite a few companies out there,” he says.
“There is a lot of hype behind electrification outside of the mining industry and that’s demonstrated through Tesla and companies with electric cars, and we think this is really acting as a driver within the mining industry as well. It’s certainly a push point we think.”
There are a number of long-term benefits to battery electric vehicles in mining environments, including less maintenance compared with a combustion engine.
Dawson says reduced heat, no exhaust gas and zero CO2 emissions are other features that allow Sandvik’s electric vehicles to excel over their diesel counterparts.
Light EV options are also on the rise in mining applications, including Safescape’s Bortana EV.
Safescape, which was founded in Australia, finished testing the Bortana EV prototype in Kirkland Lake’s Fosterville mine between late 2019 and early 2020.
Currently in its beta phase, the Bortana EV features low maintenance costs, high up time, zero emissions, low heat generation and safer controls, while using a high-performance, 3ME Technology battery that is made in Australia.
Safescape founder and managing director Steve Durkin says the overall working environment in a mining operation is improved through zero emission vehicles.
“With zero emissions at the tailpipe and significantly reduced heat emissions there is an improvement in the working environment provided by use of electric vehicles,” Durkin tells Australian Mining.
While electric vehicles are still in their infancy stage, Durkin says demand will rise once the products have been proven in the market.
“Most mining companies aspire to be fast followers which means they can’t create demand until others have proven various electric products in the environment first,” he says.
“The level of demand at the moment is that of ‘we want to see proof that these things work and what their ultimate total cost of ownership actually is.’”
Compared with diesel engines, EVs provide a lower cost of ownership overall, Durkin says.
“Cost is always a critical factor, the evidence suggests electric mining equipment will provide a lower total cost of ownership than diesel powered fleet even without the benefits in terms of health and ventilation costs,” he says.
“The split between capital and operating costs is quite different, however, and that is leading to new business models with OEMs and other players looking to provide rental/lease/batteries as service options.”
3ME Technology specialises in the supply of electric vehicle systems and its proprietary high-performance batteries to its OEM partners.
With a focus on driving innovation through collaboration, 3ME Technology supplies the EV system and batteries used in Safescape’s Bortana EV.
For mining, 3ME Technology has patented a proprietary battery management system that prevents lithium-ion battery fires.
“3ME Technology have developed a proprietary battery management system the employs a range of proactive and reactive measures to prevent lithium-ion battery fires,” 3ME Technology’s chief business development officer Steve Lawn explains.
“The system will be officially released once patents are confirmed.”
3ME Technology’s vision is to offer clean technologies for heavy industries, including mining.
And with the addition of lithium-ion fire preventions, 3ME Technology’s batteries offer market leading levels of safety with increased performance benefits
“Our goal is to provide ‘clean tech for tough industries’,” Lawn says.
“Removing the threat of lithium-ion thermal runaway means our scalable, large format lithium-ion battery packs can be deployed into a range of high-risk, no-fail environments such as underground mining and oil and gas for example.”
As EV technologies become the norm, their economic benefits are attracting new customers, Lawn says.
“My belief is that recession or not there needs to be clear economic benefit present before the uptake of new technology is pursued,” he says.
According to Lawn, the mining industry’s adoption of EVs is also expanding after various companies have proven that the concept of a large underground electric vehicle is possible.
“We’re grateful to be working with a number of early adopters and innovative OEM partners such as Safescape who have put in a lot of hard work in to get this tech off the ground,” he says.
“We are seeing an explosion of interest now that the concept of large, battery-powered vehicles underground has been proven via the trails our OEM partners have been able to successfully complete.
“We believe the economic benefit is now there and hence are very happy to be helping OEM partners access battery electric technology.”