Electric Mining Vehicles Hold Promise for Industry

By Eddie Fidler

Category:
ARC Report Abstract

Overview

Electrification is one of the most significant trends in transport today.  Among many other benefits, lower maintenance costs, more efficient operation, and zero tailpipe emissions have led to an accelerating adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) for road transport needs.  Now, companies are finding that EVs can bring operational benefits in heavy-duty use cases in the construction, agriculture, and mining industries. This ARC Advisory Group Insight will discuss the budding adoption of electric mining vehicles for underground mining operation.

Challenges in Underground Mining

Diesel engines are the standard for mining equipment, even under-ground.  This exposes underground operators to vibration, noise, heat, and harmful pollutants.  To maintain acceptable levels of air quality, mining companies install much larger ventilation systems than would otherwise be required.  These can represent about 30 to 40 percent of their total energy operating costs.  Beyond raising operating expenditure, those huge shafts and fans are expensive to purchase, install, and maintain.  Engine heat is an issue, and even more will need to be expelled as surface deposits are depleted and operations continue to dig deeper in search of metals.

Due to environmental and other concerns, today’s mining industry faces significant pressure from NGOs, activist investors, and local communities.  It also struggles to replace an aging workforce.  Though ventilation systems make mines workable, chronic exposure to even the reduced level of air pollutants is known to be dangerous.  The increasingly needed younger workers may not be excited to join an industry they see as polluting, harmful to their health, and rife with outdated technologies.

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Electric Mining Vehicles Could Help

Electric powertrains allow for zero emission operation while providing instant low-speed torque.  Without having to deal with diesel exhaust, mines would need to install and operate significantly smaller and less energy-intensive ventilation and air-cooling systems - a potentially massive cost saver.  Furthermore, as EVs are simpler and have far fewer moving parts than diesels, electric mining vehicles should require less maintenance and downtime throughout their lifespans.

Without the heat, noise, vibration, and noxious air that diesel brings; an electrified underground fleet would provide a far more comfortable and safer environment for equipment operators.  This would help mining companies retain and attract new talent.  Members of younger generations are far more likely to join a cleaner operation working on new, future-oriented technologies instead of those associated with the dark, dirty, and dangerous industries of the past.  It could also help improve a company’s overall image and public relations effort.

Creative Financing for Electric Mining Vehicles

Mining OEMs, including Epiroc, Volvo, and Artisan Vehicle Systems (now Sandvik), are all introducing electrified lines.  Though electric mining vehicles tend to cost significantly more than their diesel counterparts, this higher capital investment may be more than recuperated by the reduced operating costs and the “soft” benefits already discussed.  That said, a higher upfront expenditure can act as a barrier to procurement.

Municipal transit operators face a similar dilemma.   Electric buses can dramatically reduce fuel and maintenance costs for operators, but cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than diesel vehicles.  To work around this and raise adoption rates, manufacturers are offering financing options, such as the ability to lease the lithium-ion battery (a major portion of the cost) and pay for it out of ongoing operating cost savings.  The same financing option may be expedient for electric mining vehicles.  Epiroc is offering a battery-leasing program for its vehicles that reduces the upfront costs to those of diesel.  This enables miners to transition immediately and then pay for the battery out of the cost savings as projects move forward.

 

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Keywords: Electric Mining Vehicles, Electric Vehicles, Electrification, Mining, ARC Advisory Group.

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