The world is amidst a transition into a clean energy-powered world. We are in the process of one of the largest transitions in our society, since the industrial revolution. One of the critical industries to adopt the change will be the transportation industry, as it is an extremely large part of our community and our day to day lives. Cars and trucks are one of the leading causes of greenhouse gases which are responsible for human-induced climate change. 

Currently, there are multiple large commercial vehicle industries that are adopting new electric-based designs to release into the growing market. It is predicted that by 2030, 58% of the light vehicles on the road in the US will be electric, this is equivalent to approximately 150 million cars. This will likely result from the decrease in the cost of minerals that are critical for battery systems and inverter technology, such as lithium. In Australia, the transition may be more gradual, due to the combination of a lack of firm political commitment and a conservative outlook on an extremely fast and adapting world.  But in the end, we will have no choice but to adapt to the changing market and demands. 

Growth in Mining

Currently, Australia is focussing on a lithium mine boom in Western Australia, and the plans to introduce another mine in the Northern Territory lithium prices are expected to fall. In the last 10 years, Australia has grown its Lithium mining operations by seven times. Now, Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of lithium. According to an associate professor of engineering at RMIT at the University of Melbourne says: “there’s been an increasing demand for a lot of metals we call critical”. Many of which are utilised in renewable energy technology. The demand is increasing, and as we are seeing worldwide the clean energy movement is taking over one industry at a time. 

Already, even as the mineral prices continue to fall, there has been advancement in industrial vehicles, as it will not only be residential vehicles that are to be transitioned. Within most industries, transportation vehicles or heavy vehicles are required, especially those industries that are responsible for the country’s economy, such as mining. Heavy vehicles are responsible for the majority of our domestic transportation of fruits, vegetables, food, fuel, water, minerals and coal. Until now, the main focus was on commercial vehicles for residential uses. However, there are a number of transportation organisations now that have leapt at the opportunity for light and heavy vehicles designed primarily for construction and mine sites, more specifically for both underground mining and open mine operations. 

Industry Example

An Australian example is the Bortana EV created by Safescape. The Bortana EV is a light vehicle with a 150km range, a 50kWh 3ME battery, 135kW output motor and 320 Nm torque. The battery system is a smart lithium-ion battery which is maintenance-free, and is able to support rapid charging, which achieves a high energy density.  The most attractive property of the Bortana EV, is due to its corrosion-resistant chassis, the life expectancy of this vehicle has been projected to be up to 8-10 years, whilst the typical Landcruiser’s usually last around 2-3 years due to the onset of corrosion from consistent mine exposure. The potential benefits in use for underground mine transport are enormous, as it eliminates one of the major sources of respiratory hazard – exhaust emissions. 

 

bortana-EV

Drivers for Change

Currently, the mining industry heavily relies on fossil fuel (especially diesel and coal-generated electricity) as their source of power, especially for their day-to-day operation. Therefore power costs are heavily dependent on the commodity price of oil and coal. Like most business decisions, the advantage of transitioning to renewables is dependent on profits. Benefits could flow as a result of the following factors:

 

  1. By switching to electricity, the profit margin is projected to increase dramatically, due to the reduction in overall energy usage. The electrical bill may rise, but in comparison to the oil prices, the electricity prices are significantly cheaper. If a site is able to supplement coal-generated power with renewables this could see the dual benefit of reducing emissions and driving cost savings.
  2. Vehicles such as the Bortana EV, do not rely on combustion for operation, compared to the combustion of fossil fuels. Combustion results in the production of heat and toxic fumes, which are significant factors to manage when it comes to mining. 
  3. From an underground mining context, this heavily reduces the reliance on ventilation, to ensure a safe environment for workers. Ventilation is one of the highest operational costs to mining companies as it utilises an enormous quantity of energy for long periods of time.  As the need for ventilation decreases, the energy use decreases, and finally the cost decreases with it. 
  4. Lower maintenance costs for ventilation systems, vehicle systems and battery inspections. 
  5. There is a minimal need for electrical operating and refrigeration costs.
  6. From a health and safety aspect, the clean energy source reduces the risk of noxious fumes exposed to the miners in a confined space. 

In the gradual, yet consistent progression of the transition from fossil fuel to electric vehicles, we have also seen the heavy investment in R&D and incentives for the support structure, which is critical to sustaining a high population of EV’s. Fast Charge is a research project that has demonstrated its capability of charging vehicles with 450kW of power in only 3 minutes. This 3-minute charge is capable of producing enough power to transport an EV over 100km. There have been advances in charging ports across the world, with large car manufacturers such as BMW and Porsche also showing their developments, with one of their latest demonstrations portraying their charging capabilities by filling up a car to 80% in 15 minutes. 

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

Heavy Vehicles

The advancement in EV technology does not cease at light vehicles. On the market there are fully electric 120 Metric Tonne dump trucks, which have been introduced in Switzerland. Whilst on the other side of the world, AngloAmerican aim to convert a 300 Mega tonne truck to be fully operational with the use of hydrogen fuel cells. AngloAmerican have set themselves the target of reducing their own emissions by 30% by 2030. Electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and hybrid vehicles are all part of this strategy currently. There have also been reports that there are currently orders in place for battery-powered LHDs, loaders and drill rigs. Of course, for many years, draglines have utilised electric motors and among the largest items of plant in the industry. Mining and other extractive industries such as quarrying can also use mobile crushers and conveyors, rather than loaders and haul trucks to reduce operation fuel consumption on site. A successful strategy will most likely utilise a mix of these available technologies to achieve a cleaner industry.

Caterpillar-Electric-Truck-1

Charging towards the future

The electric vehicle and plant industry’s advancement is still in the early stages, with many of these vehicles still in concept stages and as with most emerging technologies, the only foreseeable way that large-scale transition can occur will require government incentives and a potentially a move towards a price on carbon and/or other pollutants. Time is still needed for EV mining technology to develop on the market, and slowly upgrade to a competitively priced product. However, as battery systems, electric motors and technology advances, and affordability is no longer an issue, we will witness large scale R&D projects and then operations roll out in most industries worldwide. 

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