Tag Archives: Mehrzad Ashnagaran

ABB and real progress in mine electrification with eMine™ portfolio

For more than 130 years, ABB has been embedded in industries where emissions are hard to abate and where alternative solutions are either unavailable or difficult to practically implement. The same is true today with mining, with ABB showcasing that the power of bold ideas and pioneering technologies can overcome challenges the sector is experiencing.

In the mining industry, ABB says ‘Real Progress’ means helping customers through their energy transition, with integrated electrification, automation and digital, combined with world-class technologies for hoisting and grinding. The ABB eMine™ portfolio of solutions is one example, empowering companies to convert fossil fuel-reliant mines to all-electric.

ABB’s Mehrzad Ashnagaran, Global Product Line Manager Electrification (left) & Ratna Kanth Dittakavi, Global eMine Sales Manager

In Sweden and Canada, ABB’s eMine Trolley System has been in operation at large, open-pit mines where diesel trucks are retrofitted to run on electric trolley lines while transporting ore. Copper Mountain Mining Corporation (now part of Hudbay Minerals) has reported that the electrified solution has resulted in a 90% reduction in carbon emissions for the electrified trucks running on trolley, compared with the diesel-powered trucks, while they also run at twice the speed.

Also in Canada, the eMine FastCharge high-power electric charging solution for haul trucks is being put through its paces, with the flexible and fully automated solution designed for the harshest mining environments.

IM spoke with ABB’s Mehrzad Ashnagaran, Global Product Line Manager Electrification, and Ratna Kanth Dittakavi, Global eMine Sales Manager, to find out more about the company’s electrification advances ahead of their appearances at The Electric Mine 2024, in Perth, Western Australia, taking place at the Crown Perth Complex, on May 21-23.

IM: It’s been almost three years since ABB launched its eMine portfolio of solutions. How would you say the mining industry’s reception to electrifying their operations has changed over this timeframe?

MA and RKD: At the time ABB eMine™ was launched in 2021, conversation around integrated electrification and automation with multiple vendors working together was in isolated pockets around the globe. Since then, we can say that from a stage of infancy mining operators and their industry partners have grown. The path of technology development and implementation has footprints along it as these collaborators have increased interest and uptake. Electric-driven equipment and electrical infrastructure is now being put in place in certain geographies – in Europe and North America, for example, where access to greener forms of energy is more obvious. Moreover, the industry as a whole is widely agreed that electric systems, combining automated elements, smart solutions and user-friendly interfacing, are the future. It will take time, but legislation and policies from governments are moving in the right direction to support electrification. ABB has seen this first hand through our recent invite on to European Association of Mining Industries (Euromines) committees to support with the promotion and consideration of responsible industry practices.

IM: Over that same timeframe, how has the eMine portfolio of solutions evolved? Have you felt the need to accelerate your solution development to serve the requirements of the industry?

MA and RKD: As well as being a portfolio of solutions, ABB eMine™ is an overall approach and way thinking, and it has been recognized as such. It has a purpose to make the all-electric mine possible and a route to do this with proven methods, electrification and automation systems from mine to port. But, focusing on the technologies in the nearly three years since launch, we have continued to drive, and at times accelerate, developments alongside close partners and customers. Take, for example, eMine™ Trolley System, which has moved on from only being a solution for large ultra-class diesel haul trucks in open-pit mines. It has recently been engineered for use in underground mines in tandem with battery-electric trolley trucks – bringing part of the all-electric mine to life in reality with Swedish partners Boliden and Epiroc. Meanwhile, our ABB engineers have developed eMine™ FastCharge as an engineered solution for customers. The power capacity of the fully automated charging system is now being steadily increased through research and development with the aim of being compatible with some of the world’s largest trucks.

IM: Are you seeing more mining companies opening to collaboration to solve some of the tricker electrification challenges they facing? Is ABB doing the same?

MA and RKD: Electrification has enormous potential for the mining industry in terms of operational cost savings, future-ready mine designs and shoring up energy supplies in the face of uncertainty around global supply chain issues for fossil fuels. An electric mine looks very different to a traditional mine on paper and over the landscape, so ABB has found that mining companies are looking to us from the earliest stages of planning. If, together, we have a chance to think about mine power requirements, ehouses and substations, truck routes, ramps and inclines, stoppages where charging could be carried out, people and equipment movements, it has a better result than trying to force or retrofit technologies. Once a mine is laid out, it’s not easy to change. eMine has been a door opener to effective conversations around not only electrification, but automation, digital solutions and service because the best planning is holistic. ABB can help customers to find out what will fit to the mine operations, often with inputs from key technology partners. In terms of electrical technology, it could be conveyor versus haul truck, or hoist versus conveyor and trucks. The combinations have to be investigated and agreed for the specific mine operation.

IM: Would you say the collaborations you have in place with Antofagasta Minerals and Boliden/Epiroc – which will be showcased at The Electric Mine 2024 – are representative of this shift in mindset?

MA and RKD: When we speak about customers in as diverse regions as northern Europe and South America, there are significant distinctions to be made, of course, but we have seen that customers worldwide are taking on the challenge of electrification, using resources available to their regions and adapting technologies to suit their environments. It’s well-documented that Sweden is a technology leader in mining, with established use of hydro power and some of the most advanced electrification and automation embedded in their operations. The new developments with Boliden and Epiroc are one example of ABB’s involvement in continuing to push the boundaries alongside industry peers. Taking the challenges in South America, mining companies are often working with remote sites at high altitude that don’t have well-connected infrastructure or reliable electrical grids. As a technology provider we consider the specifics of each location, such as where the nearest medium voltage connection is or how we can support operators to make adjustments from the safety of operations centers far from harsh natural environments.

IM: More widely, how do you define ABB’s unique offering to the mining sector when it comes to electrification? Where is the company’s expertise and offering proving decisive on projects?

MA and RKD: In terms of heritage, ABB has more than 130 years of history in the electrification of mining, beginning when our company first electrified a mine hoist in Sweden in the 1890s. But, since then, ABB has passed on expertise in electrical engineering from generation to generation and has driven innovations and advancements. We use technologies as an enabler, but always with the awareness that change should be expected – every technology we are speaking about today is developing. Mining companies are basing their decarbonization initiatives, strategies and planning on the expectation that these solutions with acceptable technology readiness levels will be available in time aligned with their decarbonization goals and road map. Through early engagement and by working together on industry-agnostic, interoperable solutions that can be adapted in line with new technologies gives a level of peace of mind. We work with customers to deploy the best available and bring the future ecosystem today – combining electrification, automation and digitalization for the highest levels of productivity, safety and sustainability.

IM: In addition to what you have already discussed above, what can attendees of The Electric Mine 2024 look forward to hearing about next week?

MA and RKD: In a world first, ABB and Epiroc, will take to the stage to jointly share the background, technical details and vision from the implementation of their underground trolley system for battery-electric haul trucks at Boliden’s Kristineberg mine in Sweden. Since announcing the technology milestone this year, we’ve engaged in important industry conversations signalling that this is just the start of a new era. Together with Franck Boudreault, Underground Application Expert – Electrification, Epiroc, I (Mehrzad) will speak on this exciting project. Further to this, we will share further details of decarbonisation in the all-important copper segment in South America, focusing on the role of collaboration in hitting net zero. Tomás Nass, Decarbonization Manager, Antofagasta Minerals, Chile, will host the presentation in partnership with myself (Ratna). Finally, Dr Fabiana Cavalcante, Global Head of Mobile e-Power, ABB Traction, is set to present a view on diesel to electric drivetrain conversion activity with Nuh Cement’s zero emission dump truck in Türkiye. The mining industry is ready for electrification and we look forward to engaging with contacts, colleagues and delegates at this major event.

ABB is a Gold Sponsor of The Electric Mine 2024, with the company having a major indoor display in the exhibition hall. Both Mehrzad Ashnagaran and Ratna Kanth Dittakavi will be on stage at the event as part of joint presentations during Day 1 of the event. Find out more about The Electric Mine 2024 by going to www.theelectricmine.com

ABB, IGO and Perenti on collaborating for full mine electrification

An industry panel discussion on the potential of electrifying IGO’s Cosmos underground nickel project at IMARC 2023 today highlighted the opportunities, risks and complexities associated with ‘greening’ a brownfield mining project at the moment.

Back in June, Perenti and ABB, in collaboration, were awarded an inaugural contract by IGO to undertake a study for the full underground electrification of the project, in Western Australia.

This study was to see experts from Perenti and ABB work side by side with IGO to provide a pathway for the optimum design of mine electrification at Cosmos. All aspects of electrification were to be considered in the study, including:

  • Mine design optimisation for electric operations;
  • Production and operating philosophy;
  • Fleet selection;
  • Power distribution and electrical infrastructure design;
  • Electrification system and battery management;
  • ESG and safety impact analysis; and
  • Cost modelling of both capital and operating expenditure.

At IMARC today, on the ‘Going All-Electric: Collaborating to Fully Electrify IGO’s Underground Cosmos Nickel Project’ panel discussion, chaired by Emma Jones, Innovation Management Lead, Southern Hemisphere, GHD, all three companies had representatives on stage to flesh out some of these bullet points, with the result being a fascinating discussion on implementing what is still a revolutionary concept.

The Cosmos study is split into three distinct parts with the companies currently half way through the process.

Both Chris Carr, Head of Technical Services at IGO, and Darren Kwok, Head of Mining Electrification and Technology, Perenti, admitted that the task at hand was highly complex.

Carr said the process would be much easier in a greenfield mine, with the potential ventilation and refrigeration cost reductions that would come with introducing electric machines likely to “pay” for the new equipment required.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the networks and communication would need to be improved to effectively run an all-electric mine to allow operators to know what vehicles had what state of charge and deploying these machines in the optimal way.

“This could potentially see whole sites use Wi-Fi or 5G for better data transmission,” he said. “At the same time, we would know where every vehicle is and where every vehicle is going, providing the opportunity for ‘true’ collision avoidance.”

Kwok said there was likely to be a “flow-down effect” when electrifying equipment, which would have an impact on how mines plan, schedule and operate. “We need a holistic view of a mine,” he said, explaining that “just in time” mining would not work in an all-electric operation where energy management is a key concern.

Kwok added: “We also have to link the fleet together with the rest of the operations – that is the secret sauce here.”

Mehrzad Ashnagaran, Global Product Line Manager – Electrification and Composite Plant, ABB, said any mining company looking to fully electrify their mines needed to recognise that they were working with “immature technology” that cannot meet all of their requirements.

“The design of an all-electric mine is different to the vision we originally had,” he said. “This is why we need to break the process down into manageable projects for a phased approach that can allow customers to start decarbonising now.”

This is where the company’s eMine™ approach comes in, providing a roadmap of solutions on the way to longer-term electrification goals.

“In reality, the solution we are offering today may not be the same one we offer companies in five to 10 years’ time,” he added.

There was also an engaging exchange on the risk management associated with embarking on this exercise.

Ashnagaran said, for ABB, the Cosmos study and other all-electric projects the company is working on would see its vendor agnostic and interoperable approach tested and scrutinised.

“The whole eMine philosophy, however, is that no-one can go on such a journey alone; we need to collaborate with partners,” he said.

Kwok said the study allowed the service provider to learn and understand the terms of how electrified mining can practically work.

“We, at Perenti, already understand what ‘good’ looks like [from an operating perspective]…and we also understand what change looks like at a mine site,” he said, adding that the company already has electric machine data to pull into such studies.

Carr said building ‘the electric mine’ is both a risk and an opportunity, with the mining company prepared to financially back most of the expense associated with this as it had, potentially, the most to gain from a successful outcome.

He also added a bit of wider IGO context to reinforce the point.

“At IGO, we invest A$70 million ($44.5 million) a year on exploration, putting drills into the ground,” he said. “Not all of those holes are deemed a success, but they allow us to keep building our knowledge,”

The same is true for this all-electric Cosmos study.

“Regardless of the outcome, we will learn a lot,” he said. “We are driven to be the ‘first to be first’ here; first to be second simply does not work for us.”

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.

ABB envisages eliminating diesel from the open-pit mining mix

Reducing carbon emissions during open-pit operations is now a major driver for global mining companies, who are going back to the future by employing trolley assist systems for trucks to limit diesel fuel usage and costs, while at the same time boosting speed-on-grade for greater throughput, write ABB’s Mehrzad Ashnagaran and Michel Serres*.

Haul road electrification technology has been in development for decades, but the emergence of a new generation of diesel-electric trucks that already have an electrical system on board to tap into – making it easy to attach them on a trolley line – means the concept has recently begun to gain significant traction as a commercially viable way to facilitate the all-electric mines of the future.

One of the key challenges when it comes to reducing diesel fuel usage is cycle times. There is no technology today that enables miners to fill the truck’s tank and complete a shift without stopping; either you have to increase the speed of the mobile equipment or the size the fleet itself – both of which have a direct impact on capital expenditure.

Trolley assist systems have returned to the market in the last two to three years in places such as North and South America, Africa and Turkey, mainly due to CO2 emission taxes, the removal of tax advantages from diesel, and premiums offered by energy suppliers to incentivise companies to use electricity.

Going forward, there are many synergies with using trolley lines, which offer huge benefits in terms of CO2 reduction.

Large trucks regularly carry 3,000-5,000 litres of diesel in the tank and consume around 300-400 litres per hour while travelling up a 17 km ramp in half an hour.

By going electric, the vehicles, when on-trolley, only use around 30-50 litres an hour, which equates to a reduction in diesel consumption of as much as 350 litres an hour, making operations much more CO2 efficient. In addition, the speed of the trucks will increase, meaning you have a higher throughput at the mine. Operators can also start to think about parking some of their fleet, which will bring additional indirect value to overall operational improvements through better maintenance planning to improve fleet availability and fleet longevity.

One example of the revival of trolley assist systems is at the Aitik open-pit copper mine in Sweden. Here Boliden, ABB and partners trialled the electrification of four haulage trucks on a 700 m trolley line, with the goal of reducing annual diesel usage by 800,000 litres and carrying 70 Mt of ore every year at the mine without using fossil fuel.

Reduced diesel consumption at Boliden mines

Boliden has now moved on from the 700 m trolley line trial at Aitik to confirming it will install an additional 3 km of trolley line at the mine, plus 1.8 km at Kevitsa (in addition to the accompanying conversion of diesel-electric haul trucks). By doing so, Boliden says it will reduce its diesel consumption by 5,500 cu.m/y when its investment is complete. That is a big number.

Aitik is currently the only mine in an arctic climate where electric trolley has been installed. Overall, with the further three kilometres of electric trolley line, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation over the life of mine are reduced by nearly 15%.

In Kevitsa, 13 mining trucks are converted for electric trolley lines at the same time as the 1.8-km-long electric trolley line is being built. The investment means that greenhouse gas emissions over the life of this mine will be reduced by 9%.

In addition, productivity gains are added as the electrically powered trucks can run at a higher speed, and the working environment for the drivers is also improved, not least through lower noise levels.

Today’s mine design

Diesel-electric trucks have an electrical powertrain in the wheels, meaning they can be driven fully electric, and have an electrical genset on board, so they generate electricity as they go.

However, due to the limitations of existing battery technologies at surface mines, we cannot yet manage large payload trucks of 280-400 tons (254-363 t) fully battery equipped. Companies are therefore trying to close the gap between the trolley and the loading or dumping point using battery packs and other solutions.

Constraint management

The transformation from diesel to electric is bringing new advantages in terms of CO2 reduction but also new constraints in terms of mine planning and fleet management. Energy costs represent almost one third of a mining company’s total cost base; helping industry to manage these costs is therefore key.

Switching OEMs on to electrification

Having initially adopted a ‘fast follower’ approach to new digital technologies, the risk-averse mining sector has also been slow to embrace electrification. Operators are looking to technology leaders such as ABB as well as more niche players to make change happen.

A lot of mining companies are looking to the likes of ABB to influence mining equipment manufacturers and engage them in the electric transformation, and so accelerate the process.

A clear technology roadmap and shifting workforce skill are key to this transition.

The biggest challenge is that customers are nervous about redesigning existing diesel-powered mines to integrate new electrification systems. Asset lifecycle strategies, ownership models and duty cycles are all subject to change. Ultimately, the customer needs a very clear technology roadmap and finding the right partner for this major undertaking is key.

According to Accenture’s resources practice, the profile of the future mining workforce could change by up to 80% by 2024, driven by increased adoption of advanced technologies. The onus is therefore on mining companies to demonstrate a progressive commitment to electrification to attract and retain the next generation of digitally literate talent.

Today the worldwide situation with COVID-19 may accelerate these changes faster than forecast.
Current skill sets will have to be re-evaluated for the all-electric mines of the future, and so the need for change management is key. Tomorrow we will need more workers understanding the concept of electrification, in addition to digital and planning skills – so the shifting skill profile is an important consideration.

*Mehrzad Ashnagaran is Global Product Line Manager Electrification at ABB, while Michel Serres is VP Innovation and Digital North America at ABB