Engine builders believe big diesels will be a vital part of off-road power solutions for the foreseeable future, but they’re not ignoring the appeal of battery-electric and hybrid options
By Russell A. Carter, Contributing Editor
In the realm of surface mining, diesel power rules the road — regardless of whether the road is a carefully engineered route for haulers or a pit-bottom path for loaders. Inside and outside the pit, mine utility equipment is generally diesel-powered as well, and off-grid mine sites often depend on diesel-powered generation sources for at least part of their electrical needs.
In other words, when it comes to moving payloads, equipment — and in some cases, electrons — diesels are the 800-lb gorilla that sits near the top of the food chain. The problem is that the gorilla’s hydrocarbon diet is expensive, prone to contamination that wears out engine parts and causes unscheduled downtime, and comes with a lengthy list of adverse environmental impacts. It’s the main reason why mine operators have an ongoing love-hate relationship with diesel power — loving the operational familiarity and the flexibility that only self-powered haul trucks on the surface and cable-free vehicles underground can offer, but hating the expense, high consumables rate and exhaust emissions that are inherent with diesel-fleet operations.