For the last 70 years, diesel has dominated the mining industry.
However - although the shift didn’t occur as quickly as it did in other industries - businesses are increasingly looking to more sustainable energy sources.
The rapid development of, and growing drive for, electric technologies means that we could see all-electric mines emerging in the very near future.
What sustainable electric mining solutions currently exist?
There are a number of industry pioneers, paving the way for mining’s all-electric future.
The solutions that are currently being developed include hybrid diesel-electric trucks, trucks installed with electricity-generating gensets, trolley assist systems (which could reduce diesel consumption by around 350 litres an hour), electric drills, and advanced electric batteries.
A prime example is Sandvik, a Swedish company that is currently developing mining machinery and equipment that is electricity-powered.
Recently, the Swedish Aitik open pit copper mine trialled the reintroduction of electric trolley assist systems, with the electrification of four haulage trucks. If successful, the initiative could reduce the site’s diesel usage by 800,000 litres per year.
Similarly, the Canadian Borden Gold project recently replaced its entire fleet of underground diesel trucks with electric vehicles. Making it one of the first underground sites in Canada to achieve the all-electric target.
The current state of electrification, and the next steps for the mining industry
Using electric mining equipment facilitates a huge range of company benefits, including improving sustainability standards, reducing heat (thereby reducing the requirements on ventilation and cooling solutions), reducing employee health risks (through noise reduction), reducing operational costs, and improving speed, capacity and operational efficiency.
However, there is an interesting discrepancy between these impressive known benefits, and the current adoption of electrical mining technologies.
Currently, electric mining equipment represents around 1% of the market.
However, Sandvik and other pioneering electrification companies are firmly optimistic.
“A large share of the contracts we are negotiating today do include electric equipment as a natural part. Many customers want to try and have decided to build all-electric mines, so this will become a larger part of what we do over time, and eventually completely replace it. Ten years from now maybe it’s all we do”, commented Henrik Ager, President of Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions.
One of the main reasons for this delay in adoption is the complete overhaul required. Teams and businesses alike have used diesel equipment for decades, so re-learning the entire operation, at this kind of scale, was bound to take some time.
But, the work of industry groups like the Electric Mine Consortium are helping to fast-track the adoption of electric, zero emissions technologies. The consortium creates industry discussions about decarbonisation and clean energy strategies, raising awareness and connecting companies to actionable, efficient and realistic solutions.
Right now, the industry is on the cusp of (what we hope to be) the acceleration of electric technologies.
As the technology develops, it will become more common, its benefits more well-known, and the uptake of it will be done faster, thereby making the technology cheaper. This drives the development of more technology, and so fuels this positive growth cycle.
So, although it still represents a small corner of the industry, we hope to see the pace of electrification build exponentially.
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