Codelco turns its attention to hydrogen with prototype light vehicle set for El Teniente tests

Following the news in October 2020 that one of the first all-electric mining light trucks in the country’s mining industry, an SMT Scharf E-Cruiser, had been commissioned at the El Teniente Division underground copper mining operations, Chile’s copper mining major has also turned its attention to hydrogen. Codelco will soon begin testing a scalable demonstration prototype of a mining vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells, batteries and supercapacitors.

The company states: “In Chile, a country that imports billions of dollars a year in fossil fuels, green hydrogen (H2) appears as a sustainable option to guarantee energy autonomy and, in addition, contribute to reduction of carbon emissions. These benefits motivated Codelco El Teniente Division to work to be pioneers in the implementation and use of H2 in its mining equipment and processes.”

Part of a consortium headed by the Federico Santa María Technical University (UTFSM) and part of the Electromobility Minera H2 program, promoted by Corfo, Codelco says El Teniente is at the centre of this revolution and will be the place where tests will begin in the short term of the demonstration FCEV prototype unit (fuel cell electric vehicle). Víctor Dörner, Project Manager of the Development and Innovation Management of El Teniente, explains that one of the objectives of this Strategic Technological Program “is the transformation of mining process vehicles powered by diesel to one powered by electricity with a mix of cells of hydrogen, batteries and supercapacitors.”

“The truck being developed at the UTFSM Electromobility Laboratory, the first facility of its kind in Chile, is a proof of concept and we will be the first in mining to put a hydrogen-powered equipment into operation in 2020 in the country,” said an El Teniente engineer.

Dr Patricio Valdivia Lefort, an academic from the Department of Electric Power at Santa María University and one of the directors of the program, states: “In Chile this is the first electric vehicle already converted to using hydrogen fuel. The grace is that it has zero emissions. There is diesel and it emits water vapour so it is harmless to the environment. We have done the design, the parts were made and it was assembled. Now the truck will begin tests and then we will take it into real mining conditions with dust, suspension challenges and vibrations.”

“It is important to note that vehicles with these characteristics use much more copper than a conventional vehicle and other elements such as lithium and cobalt, which is why Chile has significant comparative advantages over other countries. We have created a concept vehicle that aims to gain experience and data to advance later on an industrial scale in equipment used in the underground mine,” adds Dr Antonio Sánchez, also from the Department of Electric Power of the UTFSM and a director of the program.

Dörner states that this type of technology can be used within the entire value chain, from the generation of energy, processes and equipment, whether minor, support or advanced mining. “We have to analyse the mining process and we must be innovative to drive the transformation process that we promote as Codelco.”

“We are proud of the process of incorporating electromobility into our sites, it is a very good example of the transformation we want and need. By adopting this new technology we seek to create a better and safer work environment, to be an environmentally clean site as well as becoming more economically attractive and at the same time increasing our operational standards,” adds the Project Manager of the Development and Innovation management at El Teniente.