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ABB, MEDATech demo fully automated fast charging solution on Western Star 4900XD-e

A new prototype ultra-fast charging platform for heavy-duty applications that features the ABB Ability™ eMine FastCharge charger and MEDATech ALTDRIVE battery-electric powertrain solution is helping automate the charge of a Western Star 4900XD-e machine in a trial application.

ABB developed an integrated charging infrastructure, with the latest charger technology and a future-proof automated connection device, while MEDATech created a battery-electric powertrain that includes a charge-reception system that can be integrated into any heavy-duty vehicle.

Together with MEDATech’s complete ALTDRIVE battery-electric vehicle system, ABB’s ultra-fast charging forms a complete electric vehicle package that helps OEMs move away from diesel, according to MEDATech. Integrating ALTDRIVE into new vehicle builds will enable OEMs to fast-track their battery-electric offerings, complete with ultra-fast charging.

Offering up to 600 kW of power, the eMine FastCharge solution was launched by ABB in September as part of its ABB Ability eMine portfolio of solutions.

ABB and MEDATech have previously worked together on the conversion of the Western Star 4900 tractor to battery-electric operation, but this is the first time the two have tested the automated charging functionality of the FastCharge solution on ALTDRIVE technology.

“Designed for the harshest environments, this flexible and fully-automated solution can easily be installed anywhere, and can charge any truck, without the need of human intervention,” Mario Schmid, Project Lead Engineer at ABB, said.

Charging occurs with no help from machine operators, according to the companies. Drivers station their vehicles next to the charger and the ABB Ability eMine FastCharge does the rest. When the system senses a vehicle is near, it moves the connection pin into position and inserts it into the receptacle, carrying out charging in a fully-automated fashion.

With ABB’s charging capability matching charging cycles to the production, charging times of less than 15 minutes can be achieved, according to the companies.

On September 10, ABB and MEDATech announced the signing of an MoU to jointly explore solutions to decarbonise mining operations through charging solutions and optimised electric drive systems in BEVs for heavy-duty applications.

ABB and MEDATech team up to tackle mine decarbonisation

ABB says it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with MEDATech to jointly explore solutions to decarbonise mining operations through charging solutions and optimised electric drive systems in battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) for heavy-duty applications.

The two companies will share expertise and collaborate in bringing solutions to market that will reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with heavy machinery in mining, they say.

Technology provider ABB and MEDATech bring complementary expertise to designing and building electric heavy mobile equipment. The collaboration could involve exploring further development and possible technologies for high power and automated charging and connector systems to facilitate the adoption of BEVs in industries with heavy machinery.

“We are very excited to be working with ABB in this new and dynamic field of electric vehicles and will bring our advanced drive train technology to the forefront alongside ABB’s advanced charging technology,” Rob Rennie, Founder and President of MEDATech, said. “Collaborating to accelerate the adoption to emission-free transport systems enabling cleaner operations is truly at the heart of our company.”

The collaboration with MEDATech, which largely works across the mining, construction and energy sectors, is the latest in a series that ABB is developing with OEMs and technology innovators to accelerate the transition to all-electric mines.

Mehrzad Ashnagaran, ABB’s Global Product Line Manager Electrification & Composite Plant, said: “Within the ABB Ability™ eMine framework, ABB is increasingly working with OEMs and technology innovators to fast-track the development of new emissions-reducing systems through the electrification and automation of the whole mining operation. Strategic collaborations, such as with MEDATech, provide solutions that support responsible mining operations. The aim of our combined solutions is to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of customer businesses, contribute to the reduction of CO₂ and the realisation of a sustainable society.”

Nic Beutler, ABB’s Global Product Manager Power System & Charging Solutions, added: “The mining sector has set clear and ambitious targets to decarbonise operations for a more sustainable future. To meet or even exceed productivity targets while not compromising on safety, new thinking and technological solutions are required. ABB and MEDATech are an ideal match for exploring the steps needed to reach net zero emissions for heavy-duty industrial machinery.”

ABB recently launched ABB Ability eMine, an approach, method and integrated portfolio of electrification and digital systems designed to accelerate the decarbonisation of the mining sector. Included within this was the eMine FastCharge solution (prototype pictured) and eMine Trolley System.

MEDATech, meanwhile, recently launched what it says is the “Deswik of underground fleet electric vehicle electrification” with its Electric Vehicle Fleet Optimization Software (EV-FOS).

The agreement with MEDATech will complement ABB’s engineering and technology expertise on-board and off-board mining vehicles and allow for much needed and lasting solutions for the industry, it said.

MEDATech provides its ALTDRIVE drivetrain technology to OEMs and end users while consulting and developing optimisation tools to realise the efficient and cost-effective implementation of electric fleets, according to ABB.

Based in Ontario, Canada, it has built extensive know-how and expertise in designing, building and testing of prototype systems and vehicles since 2003. It launched the 100% electric mining haul truck, the Western Star 4900XD (pictured below), which has ultra-fast charging capability, accepting a charge power of 600 kW.

With ABB’s charging capability matching charging cycles to the production, charging times of less than 15 minutes can be achieved, according to the company.

Adria ready to make BEV statement with revamped charging platform

The emergence of Adria Power Systems’ latest charging solution is evidence of just how quickly the industry is adopting battery-electric vehicles underground and on surface, while highlighting an incoming interoperability issue the industry is likely to face.

The charger in question – a 1 MW bi-directional system with four bridgeable outputs – has been designed as part of a federal and provincial government electrification program centred around Nouveau Monde Graphite’s Matawinie project in Quebec, Canada.

The collaboration, involving the Innovative Vehicle Institute, Propulsion Québec, the National Research Council of Canada, Adria, Dana TM4, Fournier et fils and NMG, would result in the development of a new electric propulsion system with a rapid recharging infrastructure adapted to heavy vehicles in the open-pit mining industry.

For Adria’s part, it was tasked with creating a charging platform that could energise a battery-electric converted Western Star 6900XD truck with a 40 ton (36 t) loading capacity.

Jean-Francois Couillard, President of Adria, told IM that this charger, initially planned as an 800-kW model, would be used for a “slower and opportunity charging application” at Matawinie, with the site’s operating philosophy not requiring a fast charge solution.

While 800 kW and a slower/opportunity charging solution was all that was required, the company has outdone itself, developing a 1 MW model that, Adria says, can be used in a variety of applications in both underground and surface mining.

It is a step up from the CCS-type charger deployed at Alamos Gold’s Young-Davidson mine in 2020, which had two DC/AC outputs and offered Level 3 DC fast charging with a type 2 plug as recommended by the GMG BEV guideline.

Such a change required a revamped design philosophy, according to Couillard.

“Technically, when we started to plan for this prototype, we wanted to be conservative, but, down the road with the design work, we realised we could go to 1 MW with this same system,” he said.

This watt capacity is high when compared with other charging solutions to have recently hit the market.

Adria Power Systems’ new 1 MW charger comes with a state-of-the-art user interface that will allow user friendly use and status reporting, according to the company

The new Cat® MEC500 Mobile Equipment Charger, for instance, comes with a 500-kW capability able to charge its R1700 XE in less than 20 minutes (when using parallel charging units), while the Tritium RT175-S charger re-energising Miller Technology’s Relay utility vehicles at BHP Mitsubishi Alliance’s Broadmeadow mine in Queensland, Australia, comes with 175 kW of output and a stated battery charge time of as little as 20 minutes.

The flexibility of Adria’s new solution is greater than many chargers on the market too, with Couillard saying the charger could end up being used as a 1 MW solution where all four outputs are bridged together for an extremely fast charge, or where one LHD from one OEM is fast charged with a 500 kW input from two of the charger’s bridged outputs while two utility vehicles from two different manufacturers are plugged into the other vacant outputs, each taking 250 kW of charge.

“The four outputs are totally independent; you can charge with four different protocols to communicate with various batteries at the same time, and you can charge with different power levels at the same time,” Couillard said. “It really can adapt very easily to any situation.”

This is the ideal solution for an industry still transitioning to electrification, where different applications may require fast charge, battery swap, opportunity charging or some other option.

On top of this, Adria’s new charging platform can be connected directly to a mine site’s medium-voltage infrastructure. There is no need for them to acquire an additional transformer to step down/up the voltage, according to Couillard.

“There are no other accessories required, which brings a lot of savings to customers,” he said.

Couillard sees the 1 MW charger in question as proving sufficient to fast charge the new higher tonnage battery-electric vehicles coming onto the market – Sandvik’s upcoming 65 t BEV being a good example here – yet he anticipates future requirements to go beyond the 1 MW mark with the introduction of bigger trucks and larger electric fleets on surface and underground.

Adria is more than prepared for this.

“We expect the power needs to go higher, but there will be a technical limit at one point, probably driven by customer infrastructure,” he said. “If you talk about high power for fast charging, then you will have a very big peak on the network that will have to be compensated somehow.”

Even with this theoretical technical limit, Adria is currently engaged with one mining company on a 5 MW charging system for surface mining trucks.

While recognising this as a “good challenge” for Adria’s team, Couillard says the new charging platform has been designed to accommodate this scale and potential problems that may come with it.

“We know there are a lot more challenges coming up at these higher power levels, namely harmonics,” he said. “With a small number of smaller capacity chargers, you don’t really see a harmonics impact. By the time you get to using multiple chargers, it can be a really big problem.”

The draw of highly distorted currents and voltages caused by high harmonics levels can potentially cause additional power losses and failures in distribution transformers, feeders and some conventional loads, such as AC motors, according to industry reports. It can also lead to higher power consumption costs, according to Adria.

This issue is not something many battery charging companies and mine site operators are considering, according to Couillard.

“The four outputs are totally independent; you can charge with four different protocols to communicate with various batteries at the same time, and you can charge with different power levels at the same time,” Jean-Francois Couillard says

“You see a lot of studies right now that mention the ease of building a charger up to 100 kW capacity, but, when they get to a higher power, the management or mitigation of the harmonics becomes more problematic,” he said.

“This is an issue we have solved on our platform, making it easy to scale to a different power level while keeping the same efficiency and low harmonics.”

The 1 MW charger to be used at Matawinie could end up charging more than just the Western Star truck conversion, with Adria using standardised industry protocols that all OEMs can subscribe to.

Whether all OEMs will follow such protocols is up for debate, according to Couillard.

“Some OEMs see these proprietary charging infrastructure solutions as very strategic,” he said. “A lot of them know that if they sell their charger to a mining company, they can lock that mining company into using their equipment.

“That makes strategic sense from their perspective, but it doesn’t make sense for the mining customer. The mining customer needs to have maximum flexibility and be in control of their future if they are to adopt electrification across their fleet. They cannot tie themselves to one manufacturer for the lifetime of the mine.”

This interoperability issue is one the industry knows well given the ongoing struggle to access machine telemetry data to improve fleet efficiency and reduce downtime.

And, it should be remembered, these charging systems are not cheap, so the idea of having multiple proprietary chargers to energise a mixed fleet is not something mine operators will want to consider.

“I think the mine operators will put a lot of pressure on the OEMs to offer some standardised options, or make their machines compatible with alternative platforms,” Couillard predicted.

As the industry ponders this predicament, Adria is continuing its in-house testing of the 1 MW charger. With plans to finish this testing and the charger assembly early in 2022, and the current schedule at Matawinie requiring the arrival of the charger next year, Couillard is hoping to take advantage of that spare time to test the charger underground in real mine-site conditions.

“We have a couple of prospects already, but we’re open for solicitation,” he said. “Ideally, we would have a couple of 2-3 month mine site trials under our belt before the charger arrives at Matawinie.”

He concluded: “I can say with confidence that this is the most interesting offering on the market right now. We are looking forward to putting this charger into service and show the charging advancement to mining companies.”

BluVein charges into mine electrification space

BluVein, armed with its “dynamic charging” philosophy, is pitching a different option to miners looking to electrify their underground operations over the long term.

While battery-electric machines such as light utility vehicles, mobile mining support equipment, and low-to-medium tonnage LHDs and trucks have spread throughout major mining hubs like North America, Europe and Australia, the next step is electrifying the machines with the heaviest duties in the underground mining space.

If the sector settles for battery-electric options in this weight class for uphill haulage scenarios, they will need to leverage bigger batteries, more battery swapping or some additional charging infrastructure to power vehicles up ramp.

Two of the leading mining OEMs in the electrification space are considering all the above.

Sandvik, through its wholly owned Artisan Vehicles subsidiary, is developing a 65 t payload battery-electric haul truck with a bigger battery than its 50-t vehicle (the Z50) that will see quick battery swapping employed on uphill hauls, while Epiroc is weighing the potential of fully-electric operation with a battery and trolley combination in its larger payload class trucks.

BluVein is intent on laying the groundwork for multiple OEMs and mining companies to play in this space without the need to employ battery swapping or acquire larger, heavier batteries customised to cope with the current requirements placed on the heaviest diesel-powered machinery operating in the underground mining sector.

It is doing this through adapting charging technology originally developed by Sweden-based EVIAS for electrified public highways. The application of this technology in mining could see operations employ smaller, lighter battery-electric vehicles that are connected to the mine site grid via its Rail™ and Hammer™ technology and a sophisticated power distribution unit to effectively power electric motors and charge a vehicle’s on-board batteries.

This flexible technology is set for a trial later this year, with the company – a joint venture between EVIAS and Australia-based Olitek – already busy behind the scenes enlisting a number of funding partners to push forward with a collaborative pilot aimed at demonstrating the next generation of trolley assist technology.

With this aim in mind and knowledge of previous trolley projects at underground mines, IM put some questions to BluVein Founder, James Oliver.

IM: What input does Olitek provide within BluVein? Do they produce customised prototype battery-electric machines?

JO: BluVein is a new company formed through a partnership between EVIAS and Olitek. While we are a new venture, unlike traditional start-ups, BluVein is backed by two highly experienced long-standing companies and is seeking to enable the fully-electric mine of today.

The biggest need for electric mining vehicles is in heavy-duty load and haul applications on inclined roads. In this instance, batteries on their own are not up to the task – not even close. Dynamic charging is the game-changing technology that will enable fully-electric heavy-duty load and haul on inclined roads.

In the partnership, Olitek provides the mobile vehicle, robotics, electrical and mining environment expertise to enable BluVein to operate safely and reliably in a mining environment. BluVein is currently working with a number of mining vehicle OEMs to integrate the BluVein system to suit their on-board battery and motor architecture, enabling safe dynamic charging from a standardised slotted rail system.

The joint venture does not produce customised prototype battery-electric vehicles or battery machines, and we are vehicle OEM-agnostic; we are open to working with any battery-electric vehicle manufacturer enabling standardised dynamic charging.

IM: What companies are involved in the collaboration mentioned? What is the aim of this collaboration (timelines, goals, etc)?

JO: Currently we are not able to disclose which mining companies and vehicle OEMs we are working with – it will be revealed in the not-too-distant future. They are, however, a selection of very well-known major companies from Sweden, Canada and Australia. We are open to other like-minded, early adopters to join the BluVein collaboration.

Our aim is to commence building our industry-backed technology demonstration pilot site in Brisbane, Australia, by late 2021 in a simulated underground environment. This will involve a section of BluVein rail and at least one electric vehicle fitted with the BluVein hammer system to demonstrate dynamic charging whilst hauling loaded up an incline.

IM: What are your overhead systems (BluVein Rail) providing that your typical underground trolley systems are not providing? How does the infrastructure required compare with, say, what Vale has in place at Creighton and Coleman in Sudbury for its Kiruna trucks?

JO: Existing trolley assist systems that utilise exposed high voltage conductors cannot be used in many mining jurisdictions globally due to safety concerns and an inability to comply with mining regulations. This is particularly the case in underground mines where clearance above mobile fleets is limited. The BluVein rail system is unique as all high voltage conductors are safely housed within ingress protection (IP) rated slots. This effectively mitigates against risks of accidental contact by mining personnel or the vehicles.

The safe and standardised systems allow for the charging of a vehicle’s batteries whilst simultaneously powering the electric-drive motors. This gives a battery-electric vehicle almost unlimited range and eliminates the requirement for battery swapping, downtime and charge bay infrastructure requirements.

Volvo FMX Electric with BluVein

And BluVein Rail does not need to be installed in all parts of the mine – only in the heavy-duty cycle zones such as mine declines and pit ramps. When tramming/hauling on flat gradients, mining vehicles operate on their own internal batteries. This dramatically reduces the system installation complexity and installation cost. Where the BluVein Rail terminates, the vehicle automatically disconnects and reverts to its on-board batteries for power, without stopping.

Ease of maintenance is one of our focus points for BluVein. The BluVein system is developed to handle typical mining drive terrain conditions so no special maintenance is required to cater for conductor contact relative to the vehicle. Our BluVein Hammer, an all-terrain trolley, takes care of this. This provides the connection between the mobile machinery and the BluVein slotted rail. As the vehicle moves through an inclined underground tunnel or along a pit ramp, the Hammer maintains the electrical connection even over rough road conditions. Operator assist controls, such as smart auto connect and disconnect functionality, are also incorporated.

BluVein is the ‘next generation’ of trolley assist technology with all the benefits and none of the negatives of the old systems.

IM: How long and steep an uphill climb is required, on average, to make the business case work in the favour of BluVein technology over your typical battery-only system? When does the TCO equation tip in favour of your solutions over other trolley systems on the market?

JO: Typical battery systems are super high cost when you consider the full impact of charge bay infrastructure, numerous large operating batteries per vehicle and rapid battery life decay. BluVein, however, has a relatively low capital cost in comparison as it enables smaller, lighter and lower power on-board batteries to be used that never require swapping or static charging.

Therefore, from day one, the TCO for BluVein will likely be favourable compared to typical battery-only systems, regardless of haul length.

IM: Are BluVein Hammer or BluVein Rail already installed at mine sites around the world? What models of machines have they been integrated on?

JO: The underlying technology for the BluVein Rail and Hammer has been developed over the past 11 years with EVIAS for electrified highways. BluVein is the adaptation of this technology specific to the harsh conditions found within mining.

The BluVein system has been designed to suit nearly all current mining battery-electric vehicles so that a single BluVein Rail installed in a mine can power the entire fleet, even if that fleet is comprised of mixed OEM machinery.

A working EVIAS system has been installed in an open highway setting in Sweden, but no mining applications exist at this point. As mentioned, BluVein will have a pilot site underway by the end of 2021.

IM: Given a Volvo TA15 all-electric hauler is pictured on your website, are you also working with open-pit miners on this collaboration?

JO: BluVein is not just suited to underground applications, however, initially that is the focus given the urgency around eradicating diesel emissions and particulate matter and its carcinogenic properties.

BluVein pilot site concept – simulated underground

BluVein has strong application in open-pit mining and in quarry environments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve productivity and costs. The technology can leverage all the same advantages seen underground in open-pit applications. The bonus with underground is we have free infrastructure to hang the rail from.

A number of our partner mining companies are assessing the BluVein system for both surface and underground deployments.