The momentum for mining electrification rides on a technology development that is set to accelerate rapidly, enabling substantial benefits for the industry.
Whether it’s about battery auto-swap technology, increasing voltage, extended battery life or equipment capability and reliability, Sandvik aims to lead the industry into the electrification era.
“In one sense we want to make it clear to customers that you don’t have to change your method of mining,” says Brian Huff, VP Technology and Product Line, Battery and Hybrid Electric Vehicles at Sandvik. “You can still operate your trucks and loaders the way you do now.”
Once you take on a electrification, it changes a lot of other factors, says Huff, but with electrification there are benefits across the board, including zero emissions, which benefits workers’ health and the mine operation.
“It’s easier for ventilation, governments are supportive and it reduces global emissions,” says Huff. “You have everything pushing in the same direction.”
Self-swapping battery technology
A unique characteristic in the mining industry – and a characteristic with unique demands – is the size and heft of the machinery. It takes considerable power to run the 60-ton dump trucks and big loaders continuously operating in mines.
“The best way to get more power, to have a more capable vehicle, running at faster speeds and climbing steeper hills, is through increasing the voltage,” Huff says, noting that voltage has been pushed higher at a rapid pace for every vehicle generation thus far.
A critical issue in the electrification of mining is to optimize charging and energy use to ensure that battery-electric machines are as productive or more productive than their diesel-powered counterparts. Sandvik addresses that issue with its own self-swapping battery technology.
“The self-swapping battery system is the quickest way of getting energy on board for the machine to operate,” says Mikko Valtee, Manager Applied Research at Sandvik.
“It is really going after the infrastructure impact of refueling,” Huff notes. “Swapping batteries means that you can charge batteries at the same rate that you are using the energy, mitigating the peak power draws from the infrastructure, minimizing the amount of charging power that you need, and really optimizing all of your equipment.”
The baseline will be electric
And with the very powerful battery-electric vehicles, which can have twice the horsepower of a diesel machine in the same application space, their higher speed easily makes up for the short time spent swapping batteries.
“Even on a 13-kilometer haul cycle on a 15 percent ramp there are only two swaps in that entire operation, and the truck travels 10 percent faster than a traditional diesel machine,” Huff says. “So really, net, you are equal or better in terms of productivity using battery.”
Cleaner and cooler environment
With productivity already there, and with electrification offering the potential for a cleaner, cooler, emissions-free environment as well as opportunities for cost savings on ventilation, the future looks bright. And technology development will only accelerate.
Looking ahead, Huff says he expects a rapid push for electrification, with a lot of advancements when it comes to power capacity, density and reliability. Meanwhile, batteries will last longer and be smaller.
“When someone is considering a fleet, they will stop asking why they should go with electrified equipment and start asking why we would ever use diesel again,” he says. “The baseline will be electric, and I think that flip-in approach is coming very rapidly.”