Epiroc establishes new underground equipment battery conversion capability in Europe

One option for bringing the zero emissions benefits of battery electric today without the lead time or cost of a new underground BEV is a battery conversion, where Sweden’s Epiroc has been leading the way. While Epiroc’s first battery conversion, a 10 t class Scooptram ST1030 underground loader, was completed in Sudbury in Canada in April 2021, the potential for converting underground equipment is huge worldwide. Europe is no exception, and Epiroc’s second battery conversion of a ST1030 was recently completed in Spain in February 2022.

IM caught up with Claudia Hortelano, an Epiroc Product Specialist who led this new project, for which Epiroc has worked closely with Hidráulica y Mecánica Sallentina SL (HIMESA), an Epiroc dealer located in Catalonia which carries out maintenance of equipment at the ICL-owned Iberpotash operation. Epiroc also has its own workshop in Madrid and is building a new workshop in Aljustrel in Portugal near Somincor’s Neves Corvo copper-zinc operation.

Claudia Hortelano, Epiroc Product Specialist

Epiroc Spain led the project with divisional cooperation and input from experienced Epiroc teams in Sweden, India and Canada. Hortelano added: “HIMESA already carries out numerous overhauls and Midlife services rebuilds of our equipment so they have an in-depth knowledge of our machines including all the main types such as the Scooptram ST1030 and Minetruck MT436B.” She adds that the Spanish conversion was slightly different to the Canadian one, as they were able to make tweaks and improvements based on the experience of the first converted ST1030.” The main components used have been the same including Northvolt batteries. The changes were in the form of some electrical components, as well as some setup and configuration alterations. Epiroc staff oversaw the progress with weekly update calls as well as regular in-person visits to see the ST1030 converted machine.

The conversion of the Spanish machine took about a year from project start to finish. This was longer than initially planned but was affected by the long lead times for components affecting the whole industry during the pandemic and it was the first machine conversion of its kind in Europe. Hortelano said the actual project time without these issues could be four months for the build and one month of testing.

On completion, the machine underwent initial validation tests before moving into its functional testing phase at the customer mine, Iberpotash. Iberpotash was looking for a zero emissions option due to the high temperatures in the mine, so long term the use of BEVs instead of diesel machines will reduce mine temperatures making it more comfortable for operators. Beyond that, the Spanish and European governments have mandated that all underground mines have to reduce the emissions from larger machines such as loaders and trucks by 2030. This means there is potential for large numbers of conversions, not just at Iberpotash but also other Spanish and European underground mines. Iberpotash alone has over 30 Minetruck MT436B (32.6 t class) trucks and seven Scooptram ST1030 loaders plus several Scooptram ST14s.

Warranty periods are similar to a new machine, but maintenance costs will be hugely reduced for battery machines over diesel machines due to far less moving parts – plus there is the option for Epiroc to manage the batteries as part of its Batteries as a Service (BaaS) offer, where it keeps track of the battery performance on the equipment and replaces them when needed. Epiroc makes sure that the battery has the required capacity for the application and the possibility to install the latest technology. The service is based on pay per use of the batteries in kW/h.

Conversion work on the ST1030 frame at HIMESA

How did the project come about? Hortelano said it was a combination of interest from the customer, which as stated wants and needs to achieve zero emissions, but also Epiroc having a desire to have this regional capability for European mining – “to offer more possibilities to customers where they have this conversion option around the time of the machine’s scheduled Midlife services rebuild.” This is the first Epiroc conversion from diesel to battery in Europe, and in fact the first one outside of Canada.

Of course, a battery conversion is a more expensive prospect for a customer than a standard Midlife services rebuild but still comes in at less than a new zero emissions machine – as a rough estimate 60% of a new BEV machine cost. Plus due to market demand the lead times for new BEVs are now getting quite long; added to which mines want to get the most out of the equipment they already have.

The potential for Spain to become a hub for Europe-wide battery conversions is there – Hortelano says they have already had requests from several mines in other European countries including France and Italy and even further afield in Central Asia in Kazakhstan. “We know the process well now, so it is a win win situation for Epiroc and for customers.”

Plus, the conversions will not be limited to the Scooptram ST1030 – already engineering and evaluation is being done on the Minetruck MT436B truck for battery conversion. It makes sense that there would be more demand for conversions of these machines rather than say the Scooptram ST14 – as it is a more recently introduced machine and the potential is mainly at midlife stage. That said, a conversion kit for the ST14 has been developed in Canada already. The MT436B project is set to be completed in 2023, with the first conversion globally of this model being carried out in Spain.