Teck outlines potential pathway to zero emission surface mining fleet

Peter Wan, the Technology & Innovation Lead for Teck Resources, is aware of the massive task ahead of him to develop a pathway to delivering a zero-emission surface mining fleet. While the course to achieving this in underground mining looks a lot smoother – with the introduction of battery-electric vehicles and cabled and trolley technology set to deliver – the equation on surface is still being worked out. Teck recently came out with a new climate change goal of becoming carbon neutral across its operations and activities by 2050 and Wan and his team’s development of zero emission vehicles is a key part of that.

This goal is closer than many would think. “If we buy a fleet of trucks today, we’re only one fleet cycle away from 2050,” Wan told delegates in his talk, ‘The Drive to a Zero-emission Surface Fleet’ at the 2020 SME MineXchange Conference and Expo, in Phoenix, Arizona, last week. So, to achieve this goal Teck has homed in on battery-electric and fuel cell technology, Wan said, adding that alternative material movement such as in-pit crushing and conveying was being examined in concert with this.

The company is going through a methodical process to develop these new vehicles, examining the various mobile equipment it will need in the future at its mine sites to complete its green goals and evaluating the stage of development of these technologies in each individual category. Such an assessment has been helped by Teck’s involvement in the ICMM’s Initiative for Cleaner and Safer Vehicles, which has developed a framework for miners to follow to achieve their greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Depending on the category, Teck has identified different maturity dates for this technology becoming available. This ranges from 2021-2024 for light vehicles, to 2025-2030 for 100-360 t class haul trucks. Wan and his team are also aware they cannot apply the same operating philosophies they have in place for diesel-powered machinery with these new machines.

“The way we are going to operate electric equipment is going to be different,” he said. “We are not going to run these for 24 hours. We need to understand the charging philosophies for different equipment to get the same productivity.”

One example of this is the company currently trialling a MacLean Engineering battery-electric Boom Truck – normally used underground – to understand what additional infrastructure and planning will be involved with employing electric equipment in a heavy-duty support role. Unlike other miners that might be afraid to test out new equipment in such a way, Teck realises the ‘first to be second’ mentality the mining industry has become renowned for will not allow it to achieve these ambitious 2050 targets.

When analysing the cost of going down this path, Wan explained early adoption of technologies was likely to involve the use prototypes and retrofits and came with a capital cost roughly two-and-a-half times greater than traditional equipment due to high substitution costs associated with, for example, mechanical to electrical drivetrains.

“A lot of the equipment we operate today, there simply isn’t an electric equivalent – 300 t trucks, D11 dozers, etc,” he said. “If you are an early adopter of equipment, you are going to pay a premium. We are trying to identify areas that are mature and help drive the market with them (the technology companies).”

One area where the company is already trialling equipment is in the medium-duty category, with two 40-passenger eLion buses having recently replaced diesel crew transport buses at the company’s Fording River and Greenhills Operations in Elk Valley, Canada. The company introduced these buses in 2019 for a 12-month pilot project, with Teck estimating they would complete two 60 km return trips each day – well within the 200-km rated range. “The buses are doing three trips a day, which is accelerating our business case,” Wan said.

It was Wan’s exploration of options for haul trucks that really caught the SME audience’s attention – IM included. While this part of the zero emission surface fleet equation came with an estimated maturity date of 2025-2030, Wan was able to reference a few technologies that have been spoken of before in his assessment. Trolley systems were, of course, one of the contenders, even though Wan admitted the biggest challenge with this technology was having the mine site configuration and sequencing to get an appropriate payback. The company has also been in conversation with Volvo Construction Equipment having seen the success its HX autonomous electric vehicle haulage line had in a trial at the Vikan Cross quarry, in Sweden, as part of the Electric Site project in 2018.

The 15 t HX2 electric autonomous trucks used in the trial could run all day in a 10 minute haul cycle coming up a ramp with two minutes of charging every haul cycle, Wan explained, adding that the company was evaluating a scaled up version of this solution that could have an application at some of its mine sites. “With autonomy, we can reduce our truck sizes,” he said while standing in front of a slide titled “Pilots/Trials – Learn by doing”. He clarified the company was not looking to employ hundreds of 15 t HX2 haul trucks at its mines, though.

eMining’s 63 t payload eDumper – the world’s biggest battery-powered haul truck – was also mentioned in this category. IM understands eMining is examining the potential for a 100 t class version, which could suit some of Teck’s needs.

Wan was aware of all the developments going on with Anglo American’s 300 t fuel cell project, too, saying talks with Williams Advanced Engineering – which Anglo recently engaged – and Ballard were ongoing.

The biggest and most curious reveal came on the same slide, which referenced a “Cat Project Verde” but no more details were given in the presentation. Caterpillar has since confirmed to IM the existence of Project Verde and had this brief statement to add, from Brian Weller, Chief Engineer, Surface Mining & Technology, Caterpillar Inc, who states: “Caterpillar has responded to customers by launching a project that is focused on energy and emissions reduction, and helping customers decrease their carbon footprints through machinery and power solutions that contribute to lower greenhouse gas.” Additional information about Caterpillar actions in this regard are to be released at MINExpo 2020.

This interesting development aside, Wan and Teck are embracing the challenge that is ahead of them to achieve a zero emission surface mining fleet, allowing the company to become carbon neutral. By thinking out of the box – testing out underground equipment on surface to see practical requirements they may not have considered, for example – they stand a much better chance of achieving its goals than miners standing on the side lines and hoping OEMs and technology providers come up with the GHG-free goods without taking any risk.

In this case, ‘Learn by doing’ looks like being the way forward.