eMining looks to be two-and-a-half years ahead of its competition with the development of its battery-powered haul truck, the eDumper, but many hurdles still lie ahead for the KUHN Schweiz-owned company to convert this market lead into orders.
Seeing it in the flesh last week at the Ciments Vigier SA limestone quarry, near Biel-Bienne, in Switzerland, IM was impressed with the 63 t (payload) machine.
Comparing it with an original Komatsu HD605-7 – one of which was handily on site – there is not much difference apart from the four battery packs that appear to slot in as if they were always there.
As Gernot Beutle, Sales Project Manager for eMining, confirmed the major changes involved switching the diesel engine out for the electric motor, a change in the hydraulics to improve the lifetime of the equipment and a new truck body (a Duratray rubber suspended dump body). The latter was needed to facilitate the smooth runoff of material from the truck body in winter. Without the heat generated from a diesel engine, there was a possibility the material could get stuck when temperatures plummet – a distinct possibility at the limestone quarry, which is more than 1,000 m above sea level and can see temperatures drop as low as minus-20°C, Beutle said.
There was also a redistribution of the haul truck’s weight to the axles in order to cope with the addition of the four battery packs, which can generate up to 700 kWh of energy.
The eDumper has certainly been run through its paces at the limestone quarry, clocking up more than 1,500 hours, coping with inclines of as much as 13% and having its tyres equipped with chains during the height of winter.
While in most conditions the truck only needs an overnight recharge once every three days, Beutle says the addition of tyre chains in winter can run down the battery more on the incline and result in increased regularity of charging.
On the other hand, the 13% inclines are no problem for the battery-electric truck. With a higher torque than the diesel equivalent, it can quietly accelerate up hills at speeds of up to 40 km/h, with the downhill route seeing the battery recharge thanks to the regenerative braking capacity.
From first looks, the team at the limestone quarry treat the eDumper just like the rest of the mixed truck fleet – which also includes Cat 775Fs. The battery-powered machine tracks the same route to the awaiting Cat 990H wheel loader and carries the same tonnage as the other haul trucks. The operators do, however, appreciate the quietness of operation it offers and that increased power.
One would expect Le Lynx (the name of the inaugural eDumper) to be joined by another unit at the limestone quarry in the not too distant future – indeed there was a second charging station set up at the quarry that would indicate its impending arrival – but finding more buyers for this world-record battery electric machine has proven tricky so far.
Talks with other quarries and mining companies are at various stages, Beutle said, with talks conducted this year potentially turning into purchase orders at the beginning of next year.
Other mining companies – a few falling into the ‘major’ category – had been to visit the quarry and the machine to see it in operation.
The problem eMining and Beutle face in finding another perfect partner like Ciments Vigier is the cost, application, battery life and potential returns these green haul trucks offer.
The battery-powered eDumper is currently likely to cost two-and-a-half-to-three-times more than the diesel equivalent (with the battery packs currently taking up 30-40% of the upfront cost) and, in general, it requires an operation time of five-to-10 years to pay back the upfront capital. On the other side of the equation, reduced maintenance costs with the removal of the diesel engine is one operating cost benefit, as is the higher torque, speed and acceleration the truck offers. These aspects have seen the company actively market a total cost of ownership (TCO) model in all its negotiations.
The NMC lithium-ion battery it is fitted with, meanwhile, looks like having 5,000-7,000 cycles in it. This is plenty for this limestone quarry operation, but might not be enough for bigger mining operations.
While the eDumper appears to provide a positive TCO equation for Ciments Vigier, it is not suited to every operation. The reason it works at the limestone quarry in Switzerland is the fact it travels uphill unladen with material and is able to recharge its battery as it makes the descent with a full payload. There are not many mines with such an operating blueprint.
This has seen eMining ask all potential customers to fill out a check list before negotiations progress to ensure it is worth having further conversations. A site visit is normally conducted after this list is analysed and a detailed feasibility study is written up to ensure everything is taken into consideration before an investment decision is finalised.
A larger, 100 t (110 ton) battery-powered truck could swing the eDumpers’ TCO equation in the favour of a positive investment decision and Beutle knows this.
“At this size, we are much, much more efficient than a diesel equivalent going uphill,” he told IM, explaining the diesel burn is that much greater when you add the extra 37 t of payload.
What he is also aware of is the likelihood the company will need a partner to manufacture this larger vehicle.
The company originally obtained some Swiss government funding to build the eDumper over the 18-month period it took to develop. One would hope, given the current greenhouse gas emission clampdown on off-highway vehicles in Europe, it would be able to seek similar ‘green’ funding for a 100 t truck build.
That is without even considering an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) offering financial support as a development partner. Many OEMs already have diesel machines in this payload bracket, so know there is a significant market for this size machine.
Beutle says companies extracting limestone, coal, graphite and other materials have also shown an interest in a 100 t battery-powered unit: more potential partners.
For eMining to retain its lead in the race to produce a battery-powered haul truck for the open-pit mining space, though, it would need to keep its autonomy from any potential partner. The reason the company was able to open such a gap over much bigger rivals is the fact it is structured as a startup. While parent company KUHN may be a Komatsu equipment dealer, Komatsu was not involved with eMining or the eDumper, according to Beutle. This enabled the company to develop the eDumper over that 18-month period. One can’t imagine an OEM being able to replicate such a feat.
In the near-term, eMining’s best chance of proving its battery-power worth outside of Switzerland is selling retrofit kits to companies interested in recreating the eDumper. The company plans to offer component kits and services to clients or sales partners to assemble the vehicles on their own – this could be particularly practical outside of Europe where KUHN’s servicing footprint is not as vast.
What fast became apparent from spending just a few hours in this limestone quarry is that the eDumper works, eMining is the most likely firm to deliver a battery-powered haul truck into the open-pit mining space and that most miners will require a bit more convincing before they buy one.