In this edition, E&MJ gives considerable space to a MINExpo Post-show Report (see Best of MINExpo 2021, p. 42). The postponed version of the world’s largest mining trade show, MINExpo INTERNATIONAL 2021, took place during mid-September at the Las Vegas Convention Center. With travel restrictions and a general apprehension related to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance was down considerably, but the general consensus from the show floor was positive with many exhibitors saying the experience exceeded expectations.
The reoccurring theme throughout the event seemed to be automation, digitalization and electrification. The number of autonomous haul trucks operating worldwide continues to grow. Automation as far as operator-assisted systems and teleremote operations have entered almost every aspect of mining from operating the shovels and dozers to drilling and loading blastholes to swapping out batteries underground. Monitoring systems evaluate the health of equipment and the alertness of operators. Digitalization allows engineers and others to visualize the impact of changing parameters without disrupting production.
Because it’s on a four-year cycle (or five years in this case) many participants gauge mining advancements from one MINExpo to the next. Probably the biggest change on the show floor was the amount of battery- or electrically-powered equipment. Some consolidation has occurred during the past five years among suppliers. Some of the major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are now talking about open platforms and interoperability, while forming alliances with other suppliers to improve their offering.
The concept of the fuel agnostic truck became a reality at MINExpo 2021. The haul truck OEMs are placing the burden of choice on the miners. They will need to decide how they are going to reduce their carbon footprint and the OEMs will supply the equipment. The choices include complying with existing regulatory standards with diesel equipment or going above and beyond by repowering trucks with electricity (trolleys and/or batteries), natural gas, hydrogen or other renewable fuels. When it comes to fuel, the OEMs are not picking winners and losers. They will supply trucks with whatever power system the mines desire.
Two of the ultra-class haul trucks on the show floor had pantographs, indicating an inclination toward trolley assist. And, at this point, it looks like electricity may be the best option for most mines with hydrogen coming in second. Hydrogen gets all mines over the emissions hurdle, but only green hydrogen clears the carbon footprint hurdle. Large copper mining operations that operate SX-EW facilities do generate hydrogen, but the incoming power source will determine how green that hydrogen is. That’s the case for trolley systems too. The mines will transfer the burden to power suppliers to generate green energy for their operations or they could generate their own green electricity. Both of those scenarios will increase operating costs.
Electrification is also taking hold underground. The equipment suppliers are saying the upfront costs for the equipment is higher, but the mines will recoup that extra cost in fuel savings and more. It’s the Tesla purchase decision on a much more robust scale. They are also saying that the battery-powered equipment cycles faster than the diesel equipment. Now imagine getting passed by that Tesla.
Ultimately, mining companies will use all of this technology and more to counter future headwinds, such as higher costs, the lack of manpower and talent, and ESG compliance.