Tag Archives: mine electrification

Boliden’s trolley journey continues to evolve with Kevitsa line launch

In its latest move to become the most climate friendly and respected metal provider in the world, Boliden has opened the trolley line at its Kevitsa mine in Finland.

The line, which encompasses a 1.3-km-long track, now has three Komatsu 227 t 830E-5 trucks running on it, according to Stefan Romedahl, President Business Area Mines, Boliden. “The following 10 trucks will be converted in the spring of 2023 when the in-pit trolley line will be commissioned,” he told IM.

This project aims to cut the mine’s carbon dioxide emissions, with estimates the volume of CO2 emitted could reduce by 9% over mine’s lifetime using this electrical infrastructure.

Boliden is not new to trolley operations. It started testing trucks on the Kevitsa line late last year, while its Aitik copper mine in northern Sweden ran electric-drive trucks on trolley as far back as 2018.

Following a two-year trolley assist pilot project on a 700-m-long line at Aitik – which saw Eitech and ABB supply electrical infrastructure; Pon Equipment and Caterpillar carry out truck modifications; and Chalmers University provide supporting research on system aspects of the electrification – the company, in late-2019, decided to further invest in trolley operations at Aitik. This was announced at the same time as the Kevitsa trolley plans.

Romedahl confirmed there are now 14 Caterpillar 313 t 795F ACs trucks running on a 1.7-km-long trolley line at Aitik, which will be extended as the depth of the mine increases.

Stefan Romedahl, President Business Area Mines, Boliden

While all the trucks at these two operations use diesel-powered propulsion after they come off the trolley infrastructure, Romedahl said the plan was to convert them to ‘zero emission’ solutions in the future, with a battery-trolley setup under consideration.

“Yes, this is the long-term strategy,” he said. “Boliden is working closely with our suppliers to achieve this in the upcoming years.”

With the world requiring many more mines to electrify industry, Romedahl was hopeful more of these would move towards fossil-free operation.

“At Boliden we have the vision to be the most climate friendly and respected metal provider in the world,” he said. “That is not something you can have as a vision without doing quite a lot in the field of sustainable company development. The trolley lines are one of many activities we do to reach that vision.

“For Boliden, it is crucial to perform in the direction of fossil freeness as soon as possible. The green transition can’t happen in 10 years; it needs to happen now.”

Sandvik adds Turku plant to battery-electric vehicle manufacturing plan

Sandvik is expanding its plant in Turku, Finland, to incorporate the manufacture of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) for underground mining, it says.

Alongside the expansion, which is set to be completed in the second half of 2023, the whole of the plant for load and haul equipment is set to be enhanced and modernised.

Sandvik’s Turku Business Park project represents a significant investment of over €10 million ($9.7 million), with the investment in response to increasing demand for load and haul equipment for underground mining, together with the industry’s growing trend towards electrification and digitalisation.

The objective is to increase the capacity of Sandvik’s Turku plant and improve production efficiency. Improvements will be made to all aspects of the plant’s operations, including logistics, warehousing, production and assembly areas and quality control, Sandvik said.

The OEM will acquire an additional 7,000 sq.m of production and storage space by modifying space previously occupied by Tunturi, a manufacturer of bicycles and fitness equipment. The project will provide additional capacity for the production of BEV loaders and trucks, and includes investment in new welding robots and assembly lines.

Matti Seppälä, Project Manager at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, said: “The upgraded production environment and reorganisation of operations will improve productivity, lead times and worker safety. Warehouse and recycling improvements will enhance the sustainability of our operations.”

Three completely new machine assembly lines will be built, two of which will be designated for the manufacture of BEVs – a first for the Turku plant, which has manufactured mining loaders and trucks since the early 1980s and employs around 700 people today.

The modifications that form part of the Turku Business Park project will enable flexible manufacturing of both conventional diesel and battery-electric mining equipment. The company’s plant in Camarillo, California, is currently the company’s main battery system hub for BEVs.

Mats Eriksson, President of Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions’ Load and Haul division, added: “BEVs enable the electrification of mines, which increases productivity and improves working conditions, reducing emissions, heat and noise, although there will still remain a need for conventional diesel equipment for some time to come.”

To strengthen its development of mining BEVs, Sandvik recently acquired Akkurate, which specialises in battery technology, particularly remote battery diagnostic and prognostic platforms. Akkurate has now been integrated into Sandvik’s Load and Haul division, accelerating its expansion into battery-electric mining equipment and enhancing the current product offering.

WAE putting Fortescue in mine electrification pole position

Andrew Forrest’s statement on Fortescue Metals Group’s planned acquisition of Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE), an offshoot of the Williams F1 team founded by the revered, late Sir Frank Williams CBE, back in January was hardly understated.

He said: “This announcement is the key to unlocking the formula for removing fossil fuel powered machinery and replacing it with zero carbon emission technology, powered by FFI (Fortescue Future Industries) green electricity, green hydrogen and green ammonia.”

As time has progressed, the £164 million ($193 million) deal for the UK-based WAE closed (in March), and another significant announcement in the form of a tie-up between FMG, FFI, WAE and Liebherr has followed, the FMG Founder and Chairman’s words have looked increasingly prescient.

This became apparent to IM on a recent visit to WAE’s Grove headquarters in Oxfordshire, England.

What FMG now has on its books and what FFI is managing in the form of WAE is arguably one of the world’s leading decarbonisation technology companies.

WAE’s reach goes far beyond the pit lanes of a race track. Its impact is felt in the automotive, defence, aerospace, energy, life sciences and health care sectors – as an example, a Babypod 20, a Formula One-inspired environment for new-born babies in need of emergency transportation, was on display in the boardroom IM sat in during an interview at Grove.

One of its more recent market entries has been in mining, with WAE’s fingerprints on two of the industry’s major fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) haul truck movements.

Prior to the acquisition by Fortescue, WAE provided “electrical architecture and control hardware and software” for the battery system on a 100-day “sprint” FFI project focused on converting a legacy 221-t class Terex Unit Rig MT4400 AC electric drive, diesel-powered haul truck to run on a ‘green’ hydrogen 180 kW fuel cell system and a 300 kW/h battery.

For the nuGen FCEV truck that premiered at Anglo American’s Mogalakwena PGM mine in South Africa earlier this year, WAE supplied a 1.2 MWh battery pack that, along with multiple fuel cells amounting to 800 kW of power, propelled the converted 291-t-class Komatsu 930E around the mine site.

Input to these two projects put WAE on the mining map, but this represents a fraction of the impact the company is likely to have on mining’s decarbonisation journey going forward.

WAE is currently engaged on two major projects for FFI – one being the conversion of another legacy Terex MT4400 AC electric-drive truck to an all-battery powered setup and the other being an all-battery rail loco that FFI has named the INFINITY TRAIN™.

Both projects highlight the depth of battery system technology expertise that led FMG to acquiring the company in the first place – design expertise spawned from development across multiple sectors and operating environments, utilising the latest cell technology across all form factors.

There is a common thread that hangs between all this work, as Craig Wilson, WAE CEO, explained to IM.

“We develop our battery systems for the specific application, factoring in the duty cycle, the cost constraints, required performance and environment the solution will be working in,” he said. “In motorsport, for instance, you can imagine weight, aerodynamics and space are more critical than they are in mining.”

Being battery cell, chemistry and format agnostic, WAE has built up a reputation in the battery industry for specifying and developing a diverse pool of battery systems that continue to push performance to the limit.

Differentiated modelling

Sophisticated modelling and simulation tools – much of which has been developed in-house – are behind this, according to WAE’s Chief Programme Manager, Alec Patterson.

“We have detailed in-house simulation tools which allow us to develop and optimise a battery pack’s performance against any customer’s drive cycle criteria,” he said. “This includes thermal simulation where the team model the detailed internals of a cell, allowing them to understand exactly how each cell is likely to behave and, thereby, being able to optimise their cooling for increased performance. This comes from our motorsport heritage and the team’s ability to manipulate and analyse large amounts of data through supercomputer levels of processing power.”

Prototyping and field tests are designed to “validate” this modelling and simulation work, he added.

Battery design also calls for a strong focus on safety and this is where WAE’s extensive practical experience is fully utilised.

“We have detailed in-house simulation tools which allow us to develop and optimise a battery pack’s performance against any customer’s drive cycle criteria,” Alec Patterson says

Patterson summarised this offering: “There are a number of ways the battery is developed to ensure cell safety. These range from understanding in detail the performance of the cell through practical testing, the design of the modules themselves and the monitoring of the cells for voltage and temperature throughout usage. WAE has developed its own Cell Monitoring Unit hardware and Battery Management Unit hardware and, combined, they monitor the status of the pack and control the performance outputs many times a second. In the FFI battery sub pack, dielectric (non-conductive) coolant is used so if a leak was to occur it wouldn’t cause an internal issue; detection of which would be through WAE’s propriety on-board sensors.”

Overlay these preventative measures with an array of experience in various fields that would have seen battery systems take significant G-shock loads and operate in high temperature environments – whether that be a crash on a Formula E circuit or an Extreme E race in the Sahara – and it is easy to see why FMG initially believed WAE had knowledge and skills transferrable to mining.

Patterson concludes that advances in quality within the manufacturing process will also add to the reliability of the sub packs. At WAE those advances come in the form of laser welding, which ensures each cell is connected robustly for maximum performance.

Battery prototype progress

All this and more are being factored into the 221-t all-battery solution WAE is currently focused on as part of the FFI and FMG brief.

The battery will take the place of the diesel engine and alternator and will plug directly into the Terex MT4400 inverter to drive the motors and rear wheels. The battery system will have a capacity of >1 MWh (final specification to be revealed at a later date) and will be charged by a “fast-charge solution” sourcing power from a renewable grid FMG has already setup as part of its 60 MW Chichester Solar Gas Hybrid Project.

FMG has already set up a renewable grid as part of its 60 MW Chichester Solar Gas Hybrid Project

Once the battery system is delivered, integrated into the truck and commissioned at FFI’s Hazelmere facility, it will be transported to the Pilbara where it will start extensive testing outside FMG’s current mining operations.

WAE, FMG and FFI have overcome more than a few hurdles to get to the point where they can talk about such a plan.

While most of the battery houses in the UK can test each sub pack individually, WAE had to locate a specialist test house capable of testing out the full battery pack from both a motor-drive perspective and a battery re-generation standpoint.

This has seen the complete solution – a 12 t motor, inverter, cooling system, battery system and power distribution unit – begin testing a few months back.

Charging packs of this scale is one of the major industry challenges currently.

“Our charging strategy is centred around the individual cell chemistry and form factor which allows us to specify a higher rate of charge for the battery sub pack,” Patterson said. “To enable fast charging, a combination of a large charger and ability to cool the pack through the charging process is required, and our pack is designed for both.”

At the same time, WAE is aiming to further optimise the regeneration aspect of the electrification project, realising this is key to getting the trucks to complete as many haul cycles as possible without the downtime associated with a battery recharge – even if it is a ‘fast charge’.

“The real challenge is centred around how to manage the large accumulation of energy from the wheel motor during braking or retarding downhill fully laden,” Patterson said. “Do you send this to the battery or the resistor grid to burn off? Our job is to optimise the power electronics to make sure as much of that energy as possible goes back into the battery in order to make the whole system more efficient.”

The entire battery system will soon be shipped to Australia to go into the Terex truck at Hazelmere, at which point the charging system can be fully tested and the re-generation system trialled.

Leveraging gravity

This work will no doubt influence the other big project WAE is currently involved in for FFI and FMG – the electrification of FMG’s rail operations.

Fortescue’s current rail operations include 54 operating locomotives that haul 16 train sets, together with other on-track mobile equipment. Each train set is about 2.8 km in length and has the capacity to haul 34,404 t of iron ore in 244 ore cars.

A world first, zero emission INFINITY TRAIN concept has been put forward to replace this setup – which travels on some 620 km of track between the Cloudbreak mine and Herb Elliott Port at Port Hedland.

Fortescue’s rail operations consumed 82 million litres of diesel in the 2021 financial year, accounting for 11% of Fortescue’s Scope 1 emissions (©JoshFernandes2021)

The regenerating battery-electric iron ore train project will use gravitational energy to fully recharge its battery-electric systems without any additional charging requirements for the return trip to reload, according to FMG.

The challenges associated with this project include the size of the battery and motor combination required to store enough energy from the fully laden, downhill journey from Cloudbreak to Herb Elliott Port to make sure the unladen trains can travel back without a charge, and the residual power and torque generation that would typically be applied to get the locos started.

On the latter, Patterson said: “Your contact area in terms of the wheel to rail is very small in comparison to the load, so our control strategy will utilise learning from our in-house VDC (vehicle dynamic control) software to design a solution that controls slippage for maximum adhesion.”

If an appropriate solution comes to the fore, the sustainable value is significant for FMG.

Fortescue’s rail operations consumed 82 million litres of diesel in the 2021 financial year, accounting for 11% of Fortescue’s Scope 1 emissions. This diesel consumption and associated emissions will be eliminated once the INFINITY TRAIN is fully implemented across Fortescue’s operations, significantly contributing to Fortescue’s target to achieve “real zero” terrestrial emissions (Scope 1 and 2) across its iron ore operations by 2030.

Electrification for everyone

Just as WAE’s involvement in the conception of the first Formula E battery led to wider electrification in motorsport, WAE believes its work in mining will have far-reaching ramifications across the off-highway sector.

Just how far reaching it will be is dictated by the most significant project – in terms of scale and timeline – WAE has on its books.

In June, FMG announced a partnership with Liebherr for the development and supply of green mining haul trucks for integration with the “zero emissions power system” technologies being developed by FFI and WAE.

Under the partnership, Fortescue will purchase a fleet of haul trucks from Liebherr; a commitment that represents approximately 45% of the current haul truck fleet at Fortescue’s operations, with truck haulage diesel consumption representing approximately 200 million litres in the 2021 financial year, accounting for 26% of Fortescue’s Scope 1 emissions.

The zero emissions power system technologies are expected to be fitted on machines based off the 240-t T 264 model to be deployed at its Pilbara mining operations. They could include both battery-electric and FCEV configurations, hence the reason why the all-battery prototype project and the FCEV project are so significant.

With the first of the zero emission haul truck units expected to be fully operational within Fortescue mine sites by 2025, FMG, WAE and Liebherr look set to take the electrification lead over its mining company peers.

The zero emissions power system technologies are expected to be fitted on machines based off Liebherr’s 240-t T 264 model to be deployed at Fortescue’s Pilbara mining operations

Yet Wilson says this type of solution could turn into a commercial product that others select for their own decarbonisation program – hence the industry-wide electrification potential.

When asked the question whether the company may still supply battery systems to the likes of Anglo American (as it did for the NuGen truck) under the new Fortescue ownership, he replied: “We could do, but the decision is not just down to us.

“Through the relationship with Liebherr, the intention is to provide really competitive products that are available to other mining companies, whether it be Anglo, Vale or BHP, for example…The absolute intention is not to come up with a development or product that is just for Fortescue.”

In this respect, he likens FMG to Tesla in the way the electric car manufacturer has acted as the catalyst to fundamentally change the automotive sector’s electrification approach.

“Tesla, today, is nowhere near being considered a large automotive manufacturer by industry standards, but they have created a catalyst for everybody else to move from in terms of battery-powered cars,” Wilson said.

“They have almost coerced the rest of the manufacturers to move this way; you only need to look at VW Group now – one of the world’s largest car makers – that is committing the majority of its business towards electrification.

“The difference with Fortescue is it is both the operator of these vehicles as well as the owner of the technology (through WAE). It is developing these products to use them, putting its whole business on the line.”

This extends as far as looking at its own mining operations and how it can optimise the pit profile and infrastructure to benefit from all the advantages expected to come with battery-electric haulage.

“Both the Fortescue mine planning and decarbonisation teams are working hand-in-hand with us to develop a mine site for the future of electric mining,” Patterson said. “We are working together to answer the questions about what needs to change to operate these trucks to maximise uptime, where to put the charging points, how to optimise the charging, etc.

“That work is going to be really important for us in terms of developing a commercial solution that provides the sustainable gains over the long term and decarbonises the entire fleet.”

Even when factoring in a project that takes ‘stretch targets’ to a new level, that is reliant on sourcing components from an evolving electrification supply chain, and that is scheduled to see solutions arrive within three years of finding an OEM partner in the form of Liebherr, it’s hard to doubt WAE, FMG, FFI and (of course) Andrew Forrest from steering such a project through to the finish line.

After that, it’s a matter of the rest of the industry catching up.

Sandvik LH518B set for H2 trials at Agnico Eagle’s Fosterville gold mine

Agnico Eagle is to explore the benefits of battery-electric underground technology after receiving a Sandvik LH518B underground loader at its Fosterville gold mine, in Victoria, Australia, to be tested in the second half of 2022.

The Fosterville operation, 20 km from Bendigo, will become the first mine on Australia’s East Coast and only the second in the country to take delivery of the new Sandvik loader (the first being Gold Fields’ St Ives operation in Western Australia). Featuring advanced lithium-iron phosphate-based battery technology, the LH518B produces zero underground exhaust emissions and emits significantly less heat than its diesel counterparts.

Rob McLean, who was Fosterville’s Chief Mining Engineer at the time, announced plans for the operation to trial the Sandvik LH518B at the IMARC Online event in November 2020. He said the trial – originally slated for 2021 – was part of the company’s vision to “have a fully electric mine”, with the immediate goals being to remove diesel emissions and reduce heat at the operation.

After the new machine arrived on site, Fosterville Gold Mine’s General Manager, Lance Faulkner, said: “As a company, we’re committed to exploring new technologies to further enhance our extensive health and safety programs and to fully integrate sustainability into everything we do. And so, we’re delighted to be putting the LH518B into service at Fosterville. We’re interested to see just what kind of difference it can make in terms of efficiency and the underground working environment, and we look forward to working closely with Sandvik.”

Featuring a 600 kW drivetrain, the Sandvik LH518B allows for higher acceleration than conventional loaders as well as fast ramp speeds, resulting in short cycle times, Sandvik says. Courtesy of its space-efficient battery system and driveline, it is the most compact 18-t loader on the market, capable of fitting in a 4.5 x 4.5 m tunnel, the company claims.

Andrew Dawson, Sandvik Business Line Manager for Load & Haul, says that with the advantages Sandvik battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) bring in terms of safety, efficiency and sustainability, it’s no surprise they are gaining popularity among underground operators.

“By trialling the Sandvik LH518B, Agnico Eagle is putting itself at the forefront of this emerging technology and showing its environmental credentials,” he says. “Not only does the loader produce no underground emissions and significantly reduced heat, but it also delivers new levels of productivity. It all makes for a safer, more comfortable, more controlled underground environment.

Fosterville’s Faulkner says another attractive feature of the Sandvik LH518B is the ability to quickly and simply swap out the battery cage. Sandvik’s AutoSwap technology allows for a depleted battery to be offloaded and a fully charged one loaded in as little as six minutes, with no need for lifting infrastructure.

“It’s crucial that new technologies are sustainable and safe, but also that they contribute to the efficiency and smooth running of our mining operation,” he said. “From what we have heard about the new Sandvik loader, it will deliver on all three fronts.”

Kate Bills, Sandvik Australia General Manager – Sustainability, says the LH518B is a reflection of Sandvik’s determination to lead the market for safe, productive and climate-efficient mining equipment.

“Sandvik is putting its money where its mouth is by investing in battery electric vehicles and other technologies that are helping customers achieve their sustainability goals,” she says. “Customers both globally and in Australia are increasingly looking for these kinds of solutions and we are proud to be providing them.”

Byrnecut to use six Sandvik 18-t-payload BEVs at OZ Minerals mines

Leading Australia-based contract miner Byrnecut is embracing the many benefits of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) by purchasing six Sandvik battery-powered loaders with AutoMine® for use at OZ Minerals’ operations in South Australia.

Under a deal with Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, Byrnecut will take delivery of the LHDs in 2023 and 2024 for use at the Prominent Hill copper, gold and silver mine, south-west of Coober Pedy, and the Carrapateena copper and gold mine, north of Port Augusta. Byrnecut has been engaged by OZ Minerals to provide underground mining services at the mines and currently has a fleet of Sandvik LH621i loaders equipped with autonomous solutions operating on both sites.

We’re excited to be leading the way with battery-electric vehicles in Australia by putting these six Sandvik loaders into service over the next two years,” Max Woods, Asset Manager for Byrnecut, said. “Not only will the use of electric vehicles significantly improve the working environment underground, but it will also help our customers to work toward their emissions reduction goals – something that is increasingly important in the mining sector.”

Woods says the purchase of the electric loaders is part of Byrnecut’s commitment to explore and embrace new technologies that make its operations safer, more efficient and more sustainable.

“Eliminating emissions from loaders from the underground environment helps us create a better workplace, as does AutoMine technology that enables operators to work from comfortable remote control rooms,” he said.

Another major benefit to Byrnecut is the anticipated increased performance the new loaders could provide, Sandvik says.

The company worked closely with Sandvik prior to purchase to model various application scenarios, including both manual and automated operation.

“We’re expecting the loaders to provide greater throughput in both manual and automated modes while delivering a similar total cost of ownership per tonne delivered to their predecessors,” Woods says.

The new Sandvik loaders are also expected to bring major cost savings across their entire lifecycles, according to Woods. They are likely to require fewer replacement parts than their predecessors, and servicing is also more efficient and simpler.

Sandvik 18-t battery loaders are the most compact on the market, according to the OEM. The powerful electric motors, innovative electric driveline and the smaller tyres on the rear compared with the front, result in a small machine size, high payload with good visibility and unmatched speeds.

Battery machines produce no underground exhaust emissions and significantly less heat than traditional diesel engines, supporting the mines to reach sustainability targets, through reduced CO2 emissions.

Andrew Dawson, Business Line Manager for Load & Haul at Sandvik, praised Byrnecut for helping to pioneer the use of BEVs in Australia.

“The first Sandvik battery-electric loaders only began arriving in the country about a year ago, and the interest has been extremely strong,” he says. “We’re very pleased that Byrnecut and Oz Minerals see the benefits of this technology and is demonstrating it to the rest of the industry. We have always had an excellent working relationship with Byrnecut and look forward to cooperating with them throughout the roll-out and beyond.”

Shell on the future of fuel switching

Mark Hannan, General Manager for Mining Decarbonisation at Shell, explores how mining operators can switch their fleets from diesel to low-carbon fuels as part of a wider transition to zero-carbon fuels.

The mining industry is in need of decarbonisation but delivering change at pace is a real challenge. There is huge pressure to achieve this when, it is estimated, 10% of the world’s energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from primary minerals and metals production, according to Nature Geoscience Magazine (2020).

For a mining company to achieve their decarbonisation goals, it is beneficial to maximise the benefits in the short term while providing greater flexibility for the long term. One such area that offers opportunities for this is fuel switching in mining fleets.

Decarbonisation drives the need for alternative fuels

No matter what stage a mining business has reached on its pathway to decarbonisation, it is important to review how its mobile assets impact the environment. McKinsey shows that between 40-50% of CO2 emissions in mining come from the diesel used for mobile assets.

Due to concerns around diesel fumes in confined spaces, the problem is largely being solved in underground sites – with some due to run entirely on battery-electric assets in the near term. In open-pit mines, where equipment is larger, emissions from diesel fuel are a challenge still to overcome, which is why fuel switching is essential to decarbonisation.

However, there are still many elements to consider when making the business case for alternative fuels. This includes the performance of alternative fuels in comparison with diesel, the capital investment needed to implement them and how widely available they are. That is before analysing the benefits of meeting emissions targets against the higher cost of using low-carbon fuels.

A net-zero future is coming, but it is not here yet

In the longer term, there are two diesel alternatives that will offer key routes to effective fuel switching: hydrogen and electricity.

Hydrogen is set to play a significant role in the decarbonisation of every industry – not least those featuring hard-to-abate sectors like mining. As well as reducing emissions in overall energy use across sites, hydrogen will provide a low-carbon alternative to diesel that also delivers higher energy density to drive the performance of mobile assets.

Government support for hydrogen power is growing rapidly and it is an area in which Shell is working closely with customers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to drive innovation and deliver supply at scale. However, with hydrogen supply dependent on elements such as the availability and cost of technology, land, water, storage and transport, it is an alternative that will only start to present real impact from 2030 and beyond.

For off-highway equipment in mining, fleet electrification is often seen as a more relevant near-term solution. This is not surprising as electric power can not only contribute to reduced emissions but also help businesses shift away from their exposure to volatile diesel prices – potentially leading to a positive impact on total cost of ownership (TCO).

To help deliver on the mining industry’s longer-term aspirations for fleet electrification, Shell is developing a suite of modular end-to-end solutions for mining heavy-duty vehicles that decarbonises haul trucks while minimising the operational impact of electrification in a scalable, interoperable and sustainable way.

When looking to make the switch to electrification, mining companies must address the significant escalation in power demand that would come with full-scale electrification. Also, they will want to know the electricity is generated from renewable sources – helping them to reduce their Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Electrification powered by renewable energy will be a significant driver of change for mining sites, which is why Shell is working to overcome the barriers to increasing its renewable capacity – such as the need for upgrades to the grid and storage capabilities.

Low-carbon fuels offer an immediate next step for mining businesses

Hydrogen and electrification represent the future of fuel for mobility in mining. But, in the short term, there is another alternative that can act as a transition fuel and help lower emissions while businesses wait for hydrogen and electricity to become viable at scale: low-carbon fuels.

There are two types of low-carbon fuels relevant to mobility in mining:

  • Biodiesel – also known as Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME); and
  • Renewable diesel – also known as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO)

Though both are derived from organic biomass like waste vegetable oils and animal fats, there are differences in their chemical composition owing to a different manufacturing process that impact their use. For instance, biodiesel is the more affordable choice, yet most OEMs place a limit on the percentage it is possible to blend with conventional diesel due to quality concerns such as storage stability and performance in cold temperatures. Renewable diesel more closely resembles the composition of conventional diesel, meaning it can be blended in any ratio up to a concentration of 100%, but is more expensive due to the complexity in refinery processing. Crucially, both fuels offer a route to emissions reduction in mining – and a combination of the two is likely to be needed.

These low-carbon fuels offer a more immediate solution to the challenges of fleet decarbonisation in mining, without making costly investments in infrastructure. Not only can they be used in existing heavy-duty diesel engines, but, as long as they are in accordance with manufacturer advice, they also require no infrastructure investment. This makes them a more affordable short-term option that enables businesses to reduce emissions today while working to implement the ecosystem needed to transition to hydrogen and electricity tomorrow.

Overcoming the challenges of availability at scale

The merits of low-carbon fuels for a sites’ mobility needs might already be clear. After all, the technology is mature and it is easy to implement – certainly compared with hydrogen and electricity. However, there are still barriers to overcome before we see widespread adoption in the mining industry.

Availability and affordability are the two critical challenges. Despite its maturity, supply of low-carbon fuels is tight – especially given the remote regions that mining operations usually take place in. The need to comply with regional regulations on renewable fuels is also driving rising demand. For example, the EU Commission’s renewable energy directive has proposed increasing its target for renewable energy sources consumption by 2030 to 45% (up from its current goal of 32%).

Also, mining is not the only sector looking to alternative fuels to drive decarbonisation, meaning businesses will need to compete and trade with areas like commercial road transport to source low-carbon options. With more users needing access to alternative fuels, premiums for low-carbon fuels remain high. This can make low-carbon fuels less affordable and risks undermining any TCO improvements businesses can expect to realise from fuel switching.

It means that businesses are hesitant to act today as they wait for more capacity and greater competition to arrive – even though mining cannot afford to delay its emissions reduction efforts. That is why, at Shell, we are working to deliver additional capacity and competition. As well as investing in new production facilities (including a new biofuels facility in the Shell Energy and Chemicals Park Rotterdam, which will produce sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel made from waste in The Netherlands once it comes onstream), we are using our existing relationships with OEMs to help mining businesses get the most out of the low-carbon fuels they do have access to.

Collaboration will be critical to fuel switching success

Ultimately, if mining businesses are to meet their regulatory responsibilities while driving performance, they will need to unlock the opportunity that fuel switching provides. From low-carbon fuels to electrification to hydrogen, there is huge potential to reduce emissions while improving the TCO of mining mobility.

Successful fuel switching will require close collaboration with partners and suppliers to create a new fuel ecosystem by improving the availability and affordability of alternatives to conventional diesel. Only by working together will we deliver a new fuel future for mining, which is why Shell Mining is committed to supporting the industry on every step of its decarbonisation journey.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Ferrexpo signs off on fleet electrification plan with trolley assist deployment

Ukraine-focused iron ore producer Ferrexpo says it is moving forward with a plan to electrify its mining fleet via trolley assist, with the first stage of this transition signed off by the Executive Committee in the first half of 2022.

Part of Ferrexpo’s strategy is to use modern technology to update and expand its operations, and the company has stood firm on this focus despite the ongoing war in Ukraine. This has seen the company continune to invest in autonomous and electric solutions to enable the long-term sustainability of its operations.

In the first half of the year, the Executive Committee met and approved the first stage of the electrification of the mining fleet, representing planning activities for the installation of a trolley-assist network up the haul ramp at its mines. Detailed engineering work is now underway for the conversion of 11 trucks to be electric-drive so that they could serve as a trial for this technology on a larger scale at Ferrexpo’s operations.

“If successful, the group intends to expand this project to include additional trucks and/or additional mines in the deployment of this technology, which is expected to have material benefits,” it said.

Among the benefits highlighted by the company are:

  • Cycle times and productivity: electric-drive trucks operating up-ramp on a trolley-assist network are able to fully utilise the power of the truck’s engine and, therefore, are expected to travel 10-20% faster up the haul ramp. This will reduce cycle times, meaning each truck will be capable of transporting more rock during each shift; and
  • Diesel consumption rates and greenhouse gas emissions: during the fully-loaded, up-ramp part of a haul truck’s cycle, each truck will consume approximately 50% of its diesel consumption. By operating using clean electricity, the group expects to have a material saving on the mining department’s greenhouse gas emissions, since diesel consumption represents the main source of emissions in mining activities, with diesel representing 40% of Scope 1 CO2e emissions in 2021 (2020: 40%).

The iron ore pellet producer previously said it was embarking on scoping studies investigating trolley assist technology at its Poltava mine in Ukraine, as part of its plans to reduce both C1 costs and Scope 1 carbon emissions.

And, in December 2020, Ferrexpo Acting CEO, Jim North, told IM that the company planned to move to electric drive haul trucks in the next few years as a precursor to applying trolley assist at the operation.

3ME Technology appoints new Chair ahead of next phase of battery system commercialisation

3ME Technology has appointed mining industry veteran and Austmine Chair, Dr Dallas Wilkinson, as its new Chair of the Board, as the battery system provider prepares for its next phase of commercialisation.

Wilkinson, who has taken on the role as of July 2022, succeeds Richard Eveleigh, who has now transitioned to Non-Executive Director after serving as Chair for the past five years.

Wilkinson said: “I am humbled and honoured to be appointed to this role at an exciting time in 3ME Technology’s development. I am impressed with the progress 3ME Technology has made in electrifying heavy vehicles which will make a pronounced impact on the quest to decarbonise and address the growing demand for alternate energy sources. I am looking forward to working with the Board and the talented team to continue to grow through offering their innovative, world-class solutions for battery-powered heavy vehicles.”

3ME Technology was recently named as a winner of the 2022 Charge on Innovation Challenge, with the company expected to provide the challenge with a purpose-refined version of its Bladevolt® battery system to fit the requirements of haul truck operations. The haul truck-specific Bladevolt XL system will, 3ME says, be scalable to fit varied truck sizes, composed of the optimum chemistry, cost-effective and compliant with the proposed charging infrastructure, as well as enabled to capture and analyse critical data that will help improve operations going forward.

Last year, it completed a A$20 million ($13.9 million) capital raise with the CEFC and the Australian Business Growth Fund that allowed the company to scale-up production of its modular and scalable battery systems.

And, earlier in 2021, it confirmed a circa-A$140 million deal had been agreed with Batt Mobile Equipment (BME) to supply BME with upwards of 150 electric vehicle engine packages over five years to power BME’s 20 t Integrated Tool Carrier battery-electric vehicle retrofits.

Wilkinson’s extensive international mining services career spans activities across the value chain of the mining services life cycle from research and development to manufacturing and operations to technology commercialisation and intellectual property protection. His particular knowledge of risk and safety, coupled with a “people and customer centricity” approach, will further support the growth of 3ME Technology’s pioneering battery technology, 3ME says.

Prior to his appointment as Chair of 3ME Technology, Wilkinson was the Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific for a global IP company, Dennemeyer, as well as global and regional leadership roles focused on ground support, mining chemicals and explosives.

Wilkinson went on to say: “The battery electrification of off-highway vehicles that operate in tough conditions is ground-breaking. Industries such as mining, military and construction maintain very high safety standards. Our primary focus when supporting the rollout of 3ME Technology’s innovative Bladevolt battery systems will be to assist those embracing new technology in understanding 3ME Technology’s capabilities and the significant value these systems provide in the energy transition journey.”

Electric Mine Consortium launches Surface Long Haul EV Challenge

The Electric Mine Consortium (EMC) – made up of Evolution Mining, South32, Newcrest and a total of 21 major industry players – has launched a Surface Long Haul EV Challenge, calling on the automotive and electric vehicle (EV) industry for solutions in its mission to establish decarbonised mine sites.

The EMC’s call out to companies in the tech, renewable and manufacturing industries is looking for ground-breaking solutions to long haul EV trucks and associated charging infrastructure for mine sites and global supply chains.

Driven by collective demand for electric equipment across the EMC’s operating sites, spread over six continents, the consortium is looking to form synergies between mining and non-mining industries to accelerate decarbonisation solutions across the industry – the mining industry currently contributes 8% of the globe’s emissions.

EMC Founder and Director, Graeme Stanway, explains there’s currently no equipment and associated infrastructure solution that’s available at scale, in line with mining companies’ operational needs.

“The mining industry’s path to electrification is where the car industry was 10 years ago,” Stanway said. “We have the technology, but it needs acceleration and adaptation to meet the needs of varied mine sites across the world.”

He says there’s a big opportunity to recreate mining from a place of siloed communication between companies to a point where collective strategy drives the industry to drastically reduce and ultimately eliminate carbon emissions, through electrification.

“We have the world’s largest data platform of shared knowledge surrounding renewables in mining,” Stanway said. “Through the Surface Long Haul EV Challenge, we’ll be working to accelerate, pilot and convert all new fleets to electric with detailed use case studies for knowledge sharing across the industry.

“If we can solve this for our freight in mining, imagine the impact we can have on the rest of the transport market. Mining has a great opportunity to flip the perception…from being seen on the wrong end of the ledger, to being a leader.”

The EMC is now seeking businesses who can design or supply electric long-haul equipment solutions.

Epiroc completes acquisition of electrification infrastructure solutions provider JTMEC

Epiroc says it has completed the acquisition of JTMEC, an Australia-based company specialising in providing mines with electrical infrastructure, supporting the industry’s transition to battery electrification.

JTMEC, based in Perth, Australia, is an electrification infrastructure solutions provider for both underground and surface mines. The company’s offerings include high voltage installation and maintenance work, transformer servicing and testing, engineering design, feasibility studies, and training. It also manufactures electrical products including substations and mine chargers.

JTMEC had 190 employees and revenues in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, of about A$34 million ($24 million).

Epiroc announced on April 29, 2022, that it had agreed to acquire JTMEC.