Electrification of Mining Vehicles – An Electric Future

The mining industry has seen electrification climbing the agenda for many years, offering promising opportunities such as cost reduction and energy efficiency. Although the benefits may certainly outweigh the negative long-term effects, electrification across all mining operations requires upskilling/reskilling of workers, changing the entire sector due to the rethinking of the fundamentals of designing and running mines. Electrification also presents a vast opportunity to integrate the Internet of Things (IoT) such as communication networks, data analysis, and autonomous vehicles for safety and higher efficiency.

EY’s Electrification in Mining Survey – “You can change open-pit very quickly at a small capital cost. But for underground mining, what you do today will be there forever. You’re making a decision you’re going to have to live with for a long time. You can’t mine through it. But, if you’re developing a new mine, then we’ve got all sorts of other degrees of freedom, such as intelligent ventilation, much less ventilation, and other things now that you have this new equipment. So, you can start changing your capital quite dramatically”

Looking at the history of minecarts, they were first popularized during the California gold rush in the 1840s; oh, how far mining equipment has come since those days. The mining equipment market is now worth more than $120b with growth expected around 11.7% each year until 2025. Although modern mining vehicles have come a long way since the gold rush days, the driver for these vehicles is to transition away from heavy diesel-fueled machines to more electrified and sustainable mining equipment.

Traditional Diesel-powered Vehicles

Mining is an incredibly tough industry, working in the deep underground with extreme temperature conditions can make the worker's day extremely challenging, miners are exposed to a vast number of extreme environments in just one shift. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “1,000 miners, “3.5 healthy years” are typically lost to noise pollution. To make matters worse, staff often must contend with corrosive acidic liquids, gases, and other toxic hazards”. Along with hazardous conditions, the diesel-fuelled mining equipment brings other challenges – mitigating these risks is often costly and time-consuming. One method is to attach filters to engines, keeping the most dangerous particles away from the lungs. But that only works for larger particulates, not the ultra-fine variety. Another technique is to build vast ventilation systems to keep mine air clean - the biggest mines might need 1.2 million cubic feet of ventilation every single minute.

Global Mining and it’s Transition to Electrification of Vehicles

Although the electrification of mining equipment is not a relatively new idea, the often-high costs associated with the transition were deemed too risky – but investments in new technology have seen a recent surge in the alternative to diesel. The Brucutu iron mine, a Vale operation near Belo Horizonte, Glencore’s nickel and copper mine in Ontario, electrification is transforming the international mining industry. Borden - a Newmont Goldcorp gold mine north of Toronto named “the mine of the future” as the world’s largest gold miner has promoted it, uses an electricity and battery-powered underground fleet.

Mining.com – “The vehicles are expected to eliminate all greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with diesel-based equipment and the movement of ore and waste rock, equal to roughly 50% of the total GHGs on site, or 5,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. The mine also features state-of-the-art health and safety controls, as well as digital mining technologies and processes.”

As well as transitioning diesel out in favour of battery-powered alternatives, there are many other changes that will ultimately reduce overall emissions across the site. Staff are being equipped with tags linking to the ventilation system, allowing the air to only be moved when the staff are in the area. This style of ventilation system has cut associated costs in half and saved 33,000 megawatts per hour of energy each year. Not only have these major changes to the mine increased air quality for employees, but the electrification of the mine has also reduced emissions by up to 70% so far.

A New Age of Mining

Mining is set for a wave of change, with new interest sparking in the use of gravitational force to charge trucks automatically. As the vehicle descends down a ramp, the energy used to prevent the trucks from speeding is converted back to electrical energy and can actually be sent back into the batteries.

eDumper produces 200 kwh of surplus energy every day, or 77 megawatt-hours a year. A typical dump truck uses between 11,000 and 22,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year. That saves up to 196 metric tons of global-warming carbon-dioxide gas a year.

The International Council on Mining and Minerals (ICMM) launched the Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles Initiative (ICSV) in 2018 with the hope to introduce and implement emission-free surface mining vehicles by 2040, making collision avoidance technology and reducing the impact of diesel exhaust by 2025. The outlook for greener mining has never looked so good.