Inside a battery-electric drill rig at Newmont Goldcorp’s Borden Lake operation. (Photo: Newmont Goldcorp)

E&MJ looks at some of the collaborative projects driving BEV development and adoption, and mulls over the technology’s place in the future of the mining sector

By Carly Leonida, European Editor

Battery electric vehicles are a hot topic in mining at the moment.

From German manufacturer Kuhn Schweitz’s fully electric 120-metric-ton (mt) dump truck, which recently demoed at a limestone operation in Switzerland, to Anglo American’s mission to convert a 300-mt truck to run on renewable energy using hydrogen fuel cells. These developments are barely out of the news.

And then there’s the underground market where orders for battery electric LHDs, loaders and drill rigs seem to be announced almost daily.

One could easily get carried away with all the hype. It is, after all, an exciting time to be working in the mining industry. The rate of technological development and uptake is probably faster right now than at any other point in the sector’s history, and the machines that are starting to come through are, quite frankly, amazing.

It would have been easy to produce another article listing all the BEV deliveries and equipment launches from 2019. However, what is far more interesting, and valuable, is context.

BEVs are much more than just a talking point, and they serve a greater purpose than eliminating diesel from mine sites. They are a tool that will help mining companies tackle one of the biggest operational and business challenges they face going forward: sustainability in the age of climate change.

The Power of Collaboration

In a bid to put some color around the topic of BEVs and their role within the industry, E&MJ turned to the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM). The organization launched its Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) initiative in 2018. The program held its first roundtable the same year and has spent the time since building working groups and whitepapers to guide its participants on their journey to next-generation mining vehicles.

There are a few sustainability initiatives within the industry at present that bring together mining companies, vendors and research institutions to drive innovation and speed the adoption of new equipment, including BEVs. But what makes ICSV stand out is the volume and weight of mining companies involved. It has the support of all 27 ICMM council members, as well as 16 (currently) mining equipment suppliers who collaborate in a non-competitive space to accelerate the development of new mine vehicles.

The program is also CEO-led. The ICSV advisory group comprises six representatives, three from ICMM member companies including: BHP’s Mike Henry, Anglo American’s Mark Cutifani, Gold Fields’ Nick Holland and, from participating equipment suppliers, Caterpillar’s Denise Johnson, Max Moriyama of Komatsu and Sandvik’s Henrik Ager.

Sarah Bell, director health, safety and product stewardship at the ICMM, leads the initiative, and E&MJ caught up with her in December to talk all things BEV.

“This program is key to enabling a sustainable future for us all,” she told me. “It means that we are committed to strengthening both the social and environmental performance of the mining and metals industry, to deliver the materials essential for human progress in a responsible way.

“The ICSV program was created to address three of the most critical safety, health and environment performance issues on our mission toward zero harm and contributing toward decarbonization.”

Those aims are to introduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission-free surface mining vehicles by 2040, minimize the operational impact of diesel emissions by 2025, and make collision avoidance technology available to all mining companies by 2025.

“Fundamentally, this is a change leadership program,” explained Bell. “Firstly, our members recognize that climate change is a critical global challenge. We all have a responsibility to reduce GHG emissions. Large mining equipment currently makes up around 30-50% (and up to 80%) of the scope 1 emissions at a mine. Access to ore is getting more difficult in mature operations — deposits are becoming deeper and grades are declining — requiring more trucks and longer hauling distances for mining vehicles.

“Secondly, almost all underground mine equipment is diesel-powered. The World Health Organization has classified diesel particulate matter (DPM) as a carcinogen and exposure to elevated DPM emissions, particularly in underground mining operations, has been linked to negative health effects. One of the interesting points on the technologies to control DPM exposure is that quite a lot of solutions are already available and mining companies are also seeing significant DPM reductions through improved maintenance programs. The issue is increasing awareness about existing technologies and getting them implemented across the industry.

“Thirdly, transport and mobile equipment accidents accounted for 30% of fatalities at ICMM-operated mines in 2018. They were the highest cause of fatalities at our member operations. Safe working conditions are a fundamental human right and we are committed to reducing operational fatalities to zero.”

ICSV recognizes that mining companies can’t achieve these outcomes alone, but by working with industry partners, they have an opportunity to succeed.

“This is where the convening power of ICMM matters,” Bell said. “Because our membership offers a critical mass for change. Our membership makes up around 30% of the total metals market. And if you break that down further, our membership makes up approximately: 46% of copper; 27% of gold; and 42% of iron ore produced globally. The signals that can be sent through this program are strong.”

Of course, ICSV won’t just benefit member companies. By speeding up development and adoption of next-generation mining vehicles, all mines will gain access to better, more cost-competitive vehicles, regardless of their size, stage of life or commodity.

BEVs: One Solution Among Many

So, where do BEVs come into this?

Bell was clear: “The ICSV program focuses on convening the participants, motivating action and promoting outcomes. It does not work on specific solutions as we recognize that there will be more than one — our role is to champion innovation. The program focuses on aligning the group on the direction of travel that needs to be taken to meet the ambitions set.

“That said, BEVs are definitely one of the options on the table to achieve the program’s GHG ambition. As the industry continues to increase the pace of thinking around how to develop new batteries with higher energy density and lower cost, that will make BEVs more competitive in the mining industry, but we acknowledge it’s not the only solution to reflect the industry’s broader needs in the future.”

Bell makes a good point. It’s very easy to forget that BEVs are not a silver bullet. Alone, they will not reduce GHG and DPM emissions far enough to make a significant impact on global industrial reduction targets. They are also not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some mines simply won’t be suitable condition-wise for BEVs and some mines, particularly those that have been operational for some time, won’t be able to afford a new fleet.

Also, when it comes to surface operations, the technologies required for battery-electric loaders and haul trucks, simply aren’t ready yet.

But the good news is that BEVs are now, in some markets, a viable option for mining companies that are looking to better their sustainability and environmental performance. Other options include hydrogen fuel cells (see box, page 34), tethered electric vehicles, trolley assist and, not forgetting the good old diesel engine; engines equipped with U.S. EPA Tier 4 final-compliant engines are among the cleanest available and offer one of the quickest and easiest ways for mines to drive down their emissions right now. In some studies, self-regenerating particulate filters have proven even more effective than Tier 4 final technologies, providing another option to improve existing equipment.

“As the industry continues to increase its pace of thinking around how to develop new batteries that will make BEVs more competitive in the mining industry, price point is a phrase that the OEMs use a lot,” Bell explained. “That’s been a big pull for them during R&D. You can imagine then that calling all of these groups together really pricks up the ears of the equipment suppliers.”

Borden Lake, the world’s first all-electric mine site, began production in 2019. (Photo: Newmont Goldcorp)

Underground Revolution

While commercially viable BEVs for surface operations are still a way off yet, the underground side of the mining industry now has multiple equipment options available from various suppliers.

The number of underground operations globally is far outweighed by the number of surface mines, and the financial drivers are currently greater in this area thanks to potential reductions in ventilation. However, success in this market has done something very valuable: it has proven that BEVs can match or exceed the performance of diesel-powered equipment and it has provided confidence. Although the mining industry is becoming better at taking risks and embracing new concepts, there is definitely still a preference of being “second to be first” mainly dictated by the weight of investment.

“The value proposition to adopt zero-emission vehicles in underground mining is quite different, as eliminating exposure of workers to DPM and ventilation cost reductions make for a strong business case, especially in greenfield projects, and we are addressing these issues in the DPM workstream of the ICSV Program,” Bell told me.

“For surface mines, there are certain market conditions or enabling technologies that we have identified that can accelerate the development and adoption of zero-emission vehicles. For example: access to clean and competitive electricity, autonomous machines and digital capability developed by both OEMs and mining companies.”

When it comes to developing BEVs for surface equipment, power and size are critical variables, but they are not the only ones to consider when thinking about vehicle requirements. Understanding the energy consumption profile of haul trucks is critical, as this will set design conditions of potential solutions including fuel cells/battery sizing, battery chemistry, charging strategies, etc.

In addition, a zero GHG-emission fleet will likely involve some trade-offs in flexibility and mine design, so challenges are not only on the technology development side as mine sites are currently designed with the very flexible characteristics of diesel-fueled fleets in mind.

“We see some early signs based on the first 12 months of the program that suggest that the complexity of the GHG-battery challenge is now better understood and that will motivate development, testing and piloting of new surface battery technologies,” Bell said.

“For example, analysis of the energy consumption profile of haul trucks shows that around 70%-80% of fuel use happens travelling up the ramp. There are successful pilots of trolley assist technology in this area, such as at Boliden in Sweden, so a hybrid solution (trolley/battery) might be able to help tackle the battery size challenge the industry faces.”

Nearly all new underground mines are suitable for BEVs. The challenge lies in implementing the technology at existing operations. (Photo: Newmont Goldcorp)

Planning for the Future

The ICVS has established three working groups — one for each of the challenges outlined above. Bell mentioned that, in the ICSV GHG focus group, working through the scope of the challenge and analyzing different solutions and pathways has helped to change the collective mindset of the companies involved.

“At the start of 2019, the 2040 target seemed a challenge to pin down, but  fast forward to August, and the GHG working group was so energized. Now participants are saying: ‘we can actually make this happen, and here are the frameworks and actions to take inside and outside of this program to make it reality.’

“It’s really exciting to hear that change. Because that, in itself, is a massive barrier to overcome. That means that the equipment suppliers, in my mind, trust the commitment from the collective industry group.”

Many of the OEMs E&MJ has spoken to in the past 12 months have mentioned an increase in the number of inquiries they have had from mining companies around cleaner, safer vehicles and particularly for BEVs. That’s important, because the more inquiries these companies get, the more impetus and funding will be put on developing these types of vehicles and technologies.

Education is another key factor. As mentioned earlier, the majority of mines, both surface and underground are designed with diesel-driven equipment in mind. In order to operate a battery-electric load and haul fleet, mines need to be designed differently, charging stations and ancillary equipment must be allowed for and some haul routes may need to be altered.

However, until these requirements are properly understood within the industry and, until this knowledge is conveyed to the next generation of engineers through higher educational courses and mentoring, new recruits will not be taught how to properly design for battery-electric equipment. Without this know-how, mines will not be able to get the most from BEV investments.

Likewise, it is all very well OEMs developing new batteries and BEVs, but unless they can provide the appropriate level of support for mines around the associated infrastructure as well, these projects will not deliver their full potential, and there is a danger that mines could become disillusioned with the technology.

“We’ve clearly outlined all these considerations beyond the technology which are enabling conditions,” said Bell. “That, in its own right, is a challenge. And the OEMs know that.”

The First To Be First

There are pockets of growing excellence in the industry when it comes to BEV development and adoption. Northeastern Ontario  being the prime example for underground equipment, and Bell pointed to Newmont Goldcorp’s Borden Lake operation as a good example of what can be achieved when mining companies and suppliers work closely.

Newmont Goldcorp is an ICMM member and operates BEV fleets not just at Borden but also at its Musselwhite and Éléonore operations. The company’s experience has proven very valuable as part of the ICSV program.

Maarten Van Koppen, manager for energy and sustainability in North America, talked to E&MJ about the company’s decision to move to battery-electric technology at Borden.

“It was decided to go down this path as it provided the most shareholder value,” he explained. “Design criteria for Borden were largely driven by local stakeholder concerns, which we were able to meet with electric equipment. Company leadership at the time understood that there was risk involved with new technology, which we were able to offset through provincial and federal funding programs.”

The fleet at Borden now boasts 16 battery-electric utility vehicles from MacLean Engineering, including bolters, a block-
holer, cassette carriers and scissor lifts.

“From Sandvik, we operate battery-electric jumbos and LH514E scoops. The production drill is expected to arrive on site in early 2020,” Van Koppen said. “In addition, we have Minecat tractors and PMP personnel carriers. Electric haul trucks are under analysis at the moment.

“The scoops are tethered but all other electric equipment is battery-electric. The haul trucks, the production drill and a couple of miscellaneous vehicles still run on diesel, and those are expected to be swapped for electric equipment in the future.”

Van Koppen said that standardizing battery charging and swapping equipment for the mine was relatively straightforward for the procured vehicles.

“We pushed for onboard chargers that connect up to our 1,000-V common jumbo plug,” he explained. “The savings in GHG we expect once fully converted compared to a diesel base case are significant — around 70%-80% — and our operators appreciate the cleaner work environment.

“All mines and projects are different, but virtually all new underground mines would stand to benefit from going electric. For existing mines it’s typically a much harder analysis and it really depends on the characteristics to determine what the fit is.”

Anglo American’s Mogalakwena platinum mine will be the first to run the company’s new 300-mt hydrogen powered haul truck in 2020.

Learning From Other Industries

When it comes to BEVs there are industries that are ahead of mining in terms of implementation and advancement. Observation and/or collaboration presents an opportunity for learning, and for the mining industry to potentially leapfrog some of the hurdles that currently stand in its path.

“There is definitely the possibility to learn from other industries, particularly around charging options and super-fast charging. What would that look like in the future in mining?” Bell wondered. “How can all that thinking be transferred to the mining industry? Again, our white papers touch on these kinds of questions.”

She highlighted road freight transportation and the shipping industry as two good examples in terms of technological development, adoption and industry alignment.

For example, in the shipping industry, the International Maritime Organization, through its GreenVoyage-2050 project, is promoting global efforts to demonstrate and test technical solutions for reducing GHG emissions. This enhances knowledge and information sharing to support the ambition to reduce the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050.

Another excellent example is Scania’s 2025 Strategy. This ensures the company’s product emissions are in line with what is required by the Paris agreement, reducing CO2 emissions from its rolling fleet and developing biofuel and electrified buses and trucks to achieve full decarbonization.

Bell emphasized that the ICSV team is very open to new companies joining the program and sharing their ideas, particularly those that can bring valuable experience from other industries.

“We know that the program is benefiting the entire mining industry, not just our members,” she said. “And it remains open to all equipment manufacturers who would like to join. ICMM also hopes that the first adopters, who we’re defining as those that initiate collaborations and join partnerships to test and trial new technologies, and all those that take on the new technologies or equipment in the first instance, will motivate others. Ultimately, this will result in a wider industry shift toward cleaner and safer vehicles.

“Our message would be: if you’re a mining equipment supplier with a solution or if you have some learnings to share, even if you’re not a mining equipment supplier directly, we absolutely want to hear from you.”

In 2020, ICSV will focus more heavily on the promotion and education of its efforts by running regional workshops within key mining jurisdictions. The aim being to extend the reach to the operations level to motivate a broader group of representatives to start a change conversation at their site.

Bell added: “We’ve seen some positive early signs and we hope that that will continue in 2020 as well.”

The Vendor’s Perspective

Two vendors that are helping to drive progress in the BEV market, both individually and as part of the ICSV program, are Sandvik and Epiroc.

Sandvik Load and Haul is currently preparing to deliver its 600th electric loader. The division completed the acquisition of Californian BEV expert, Artisan Vehicle Systems, in February last year, expanding its range of machines and electric-drive train expertise. The company now has three battery-electric trucks and loaders available: a 50-metric-ton (mt) truck (the Z50), a 10 -mt loader (the A10), and a 4-mt loader (the A4), and battery-electric drill rigs.

The trucks and loaders have a “swappable” battery system, which allows for quick recharging, and the Z50 and the A10 have a self-loading battery system that allows swapping without the use of a crane. This minimizes infrastructure requirements and means that swapping can be accomplished in around six minutes.

“The Artisan Business Unit designs and manufactures its own proprietary battery packs, BMS and control hardware/software,” Mats Eriksson, president of Load and Haul division at Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, said. “We use lithium-iron-phosphate (LiFePO4) as our battery chemistry because it is the safest option for underground mining. LiFePO4 has the lowest volatility of available lithium chemistries, ensuring the battery won’t start a fire underground. Of course, we are open to different chemistries as battery technologies develop rapidly, but because our products are for underground use, we make no compromises on safety.”

Sandvik is also heavily involved with the Global Mining Guidelines (GMG) BEV working group. Another independent organization that is convening expertise from across the globe to advance mine vehicles.

“Artisan has been a core contributing member of the GMG group since the inception of the battery-electric equipment guideline,” Eriksson said proudly. “We are involved in multiple sub-committees responsible for battery design, machine design, safety systems, mine design and performance standards.”

GMG published version two of its Guideline on the Recommended Practices for Battery Electric Vehicles in the Underground in November 2018. The publication has become something of a bible for miners and vendor operating in this field and the group continues to drive excellence in this area.

Eriksson explained his view on mine electrification. “If we look at what electrification means for the mining industry, this is a rare opportunity to combine health, sustainability and cost improvements,” he said. “By improving mine cost structure, you also get benefits such as a healthier working environment and the operation becomes more sustainable.

“Electrification also helps to solve issues around cooling: diesel engines generate a lot of heat but by moving to electric, you can reduce that as well, and cut cooling costs. There are a lot of positives with moving to electric.

“Looking further ahead, there are a lot of unexplored areas in the world. Mining is going to go deeper underground, to more unfriendly environments full of heat and moisture, and it’s only by using electrification that miners will be able to explore these areas cost-effectively.

“BEVs enable opportunities that haven’t made economic sense before. With this technology, and sometimes combined with automation, mining companies will find new opportunities that they never thought were possible.”

The Artisan A4, A10 and Z50 are now part of Sandvik’s load and haul lineup. (Photo: Sandvik)

Sustainable and Intelligent

Another program that is redefining applications for BEVs and their performance is the Sustainable Intelligent Mining Systems (SIMS) project in Europe. Among its various projects, is Work Package 6 (WP6). This deals specifically with next-generation, diesel-free mobile equipment for underground mines.

Epiroc is the overall coordinator for SIMS and the company’s Jan Gustafsson acts as project manager. Gustafsson presented some of the project’s achievements thus far at the Smart Mining Conference in Germany in November, and E&MJ caught up with him afterward to find out more.

“This work package demonstrates BEV use in a mining environment,” Gustafsson explained. “Physically, it will demonstrate machines and part of the infrastructure needed for battery-powered machines. We are also investigating the benefits of introducing BEVs within underground mines, both from a financial and environmental perspective.”

LTU Luleå University of Technology and Agnico Eagle Finland are also participating, and the demonstrations are currently taking place at Agnico Eagle’s Kittilä gold mine in northern Finland.

Epiroc has designed and built the machines and charging infrastructure.

“Right now, we are running them in production at Kittilä,” said Gustafsson. “The demonstration is not finalized but we definitely see the potential. The machines have been at the mine site since May 2019 when the field trial officially started.

“The overall impression so far is that the machines are performing to expectations and the diesel engine is not missed at all. The machines are still running, and testing is ongoing to collect data for the final evaluation.”

Jari Kolehmainen, production manager at Agnico Eagle Mines, has been quoted as saying: “Operator feedback has been positive, and we are looking forward to expanding our fleet with more electrical equipment in the near future. We are also very excited to be testing a battery-powered mine truck and loader. These tests are giving us the confidence to be a successful early adopter of this new and exciting technology.”

Like Bell, Gustafsson stressed that collaboration has been really important in helping the SIMS team to reach their goals.

“Collaboration is important for us to find the best solutions and to share
knowledge and experiences,” he said. “During the development of our new-generation BEVs, Epiroc has collaborated closely with technology suppliers like ABB and Northvolt.

“The internal collaboration within the SIMS project has also been extremely valuable for experience sharing between the different beneficiaries.

“Collaboration with the mining companies has strengthened the customer perspective, and collaboration with the universities has also added benefits in terms of scientific approach on the evaluation.

Epiroc released its second-generation BEV range in November 2018. Pictured is the Scooptram ST14. (Photo: Epiroc)

Next Generation in Action

Epiroc released its second generation of BEVs in late 2018. Their design is quite different to the first, featuring a new modular battery approach and a new chemistry for reduced power loss.

Gustafsson explained: “The design around the batteries allows us to offer batteries as a service to our customers, moving large CAPEX investments to OPEX. The new batteries are fully compatible with technological advances that are expected to happen in the coming years.”

Swedish battery producer Northvolt supplies Epiroc with batteries for its mining equipment. The companies selected a nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) chemistry from within the lithium-ion family based predominantly on two factors: safety and energy density.

“Driving time on the batteries varies depending on the application,” said Gustafsson. “In general, we can say that they last for 3-6 hours. With battery cell development, we expect to see the driving time increase.”

He added that implementing an electric drill rig can be as straightforward as purchasing a machine.

“There is no requirement for infrastructure, but for loaders and mine trucks, charging stations are needed,” Gustafsson explained. “The type of charging station depends on whether the quick charge, charge-in-place method is used or if the normal charge, battery-swap method is used. Both quick charge and normal charge will require some infrastructure: charging room, charger and electrical installation.

“Where they differ is that the quick charge will require larger electrical infrastructure and parking space for the vehicle, whereas the normal charge will require a lifting crane for battery swapping. Optional additional pieces include a monitoring system, smoke detection, fire detection, fire suppression and video surveillance.”

Gustafsson added that, when it comes to BEVs, the most important part that should be standardized is charging of the batteries; mines should not have different chargers for different vehicles.

“BEVs and chargers should be 100% compatible across the board,” he stressed. “This is why Epiroc has decided to use a standard from the automotive industry: CCS 2.0. Other areas where Epiroc has achieved good results with standardization is within our batteries. All of our second-generation batteries use exactly the same components. It is only their number that varies depending on the size of battery required.”

Epiroc has seen serious interest in BEVs from miners on all continents.

“The orders we have booked are testimony to this,” Gustafsson said. “We’ve sold BEVs in Australia, Canada and Finland.”

The demand for battery-driven models is so important that we can hardly keep the pace,” he said. “You can expect product launches in 2020. We also expect component suppliers to start designing components that are made for battery-electric drives, improving performance and efficiency. With so much focus on batteries worldwide, we also expect some great technological advances which will lead to better range and cost reduction.”