The Next Frontier for Electric Vehicles: Deep Underground
Nov. 2, 2019 Rhiannon Hoyle
A Sandvik electric mining drill rig, or jumbo, at Newmont Goldcorp’s Borden
mine near Chapleau, Ontario, Canada. Sandvik
To improve air quality and reduce emissions, mining companies aim to shift
away from diesel equipment
SYDNEY—The next boom in electric vehicles could be the world’s mining fleet.
From rural Canada to Australia’s dusty Outback, companies are swapping out
diesel-fueled drills, loaders and utility vehicles for equipment powered by
lithium-ion batteries. They are looking to reduce emissions and eliminate
the exhaust fumes that foul the underground air and risk miners’ health.
Around 35 electric vehicles are at work at Newmont Goldcorp Corp.’s Borden
mine near Chapleau, Ontario, unearthing ore or ferrying workers around the
site, which began producing commercial volumes in October. Newmont wants the
mine to go all-electric. An electric production drill will arrive early next
year, a spokesman said, and diesel haul trucks are likely to be phased out.
Some of the world's biggest mining companies are seeking to reduce their
carbon footprint ...
[image] Note: Calendar year except for BHP, which is for fiscal year ending
June 30. Source: the companies
“The Holy Grail is a haul truck,” said Kirsten Rose, who oversees
low-emission technologies at BHP Group Ltd. BHP 2.21% , the world’s largest
mining company by market value. These heavy-duty trucks carry tons of ore
out of the bottom of pits, and with current technology, matching the power
of their diesel engines would require an enormous battery pack.
BHP has been testing a light electric vehicle over the past year at Olympic
Dam, Australia’s largest underground mine, and this month it will add
another. The company intends to expand the trial to other Australian mines.
In Canada, workers planning BHP’s Jansen potash project are assessing how
many electric vehicles could be deployed if it goes ahead.
The aim is one day to eliminate all diesel-powered machines from mine sites,
Ms. Rose said.
Smaller rivals are also stepping up efforts to go green. Among them, Nouveau
Monde Graphite Inc. is planning an all-electric open-pit graphite mine in
At Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. , one of the world’s top suppliers of iron
ore, CEO Elizabeth Gaines said, “We’re always looking at opportunities to
replace diesel.” But “the technology—the battery life—isn’t quite there yet
for our operations,” she said.
The technology is advancing rapidly, but that can present another challenge:
“It’s like laptops,” said Drew O’Sullivan, who is leading BHP’s trial at
Olympic Dam. “By the time you get it home, it’s outdated.”
The purchase price is a further hurdle. Electric vehicles for use in mines
cost from 40% more than to three times as much as diesel-powered ones,
Proponents counter that running costs are lower. Borden’s annual energy
expenses should be lower by roughly US$9 million—possibly more—than a
traditional mine’s, the Newmont spokesman said. One factor in that: As much
as 40% of an underground mine’s energy costs are tied to powering giant
ventilation systems to extract pollutants from tunnels.
Customers and investors are pushing for global resources companies to clean
up their act. With a growing focus on the social impact of investments, many
big pension funds and asset managers, as well as project financiers, are
pressing miners to disclose and reduce their carbon footprints. Diesel is a
ripe target: It accounts for more than one-third of BHP’s direct operational
emissions, Ms. Rose said.
Regulators may soon join in the push. In July, the mines department of
Western Australia state raised fresh concerns about the health of workers
who spend up to 12 hours a day guiding heavy machinery around subterranean
“Diesel-engine exhaust is a known hazard for mining operations, especially
in underground mines,” said Andrew Chaplyn, the department’s director of
mines safety. A government committee is drawing up recommendations for the
state’s mines minister.
Within a few years, diesel machinery will likely no longer be used at new
underground mines in Australia, while being phased out at others, said
Sherif Andrawes, global head of natural resources at accounting and advisory
“I think what we are seeing now is the start of something quite big,” he
Rio Tinto PLC, the world’s second-biggest miner by market value, is even
studying the potential for hybrid engines on its heavy-haul railway trains.
Ian Vella, who oversees rail services for Rio Tinto, is excited about the
“Imagine a giant battery on one of those locomotives that is taking energy
from the train as it is braking, storing it, and then it can use it when it
needs power on the network,” he said.
Still, electrifying mine fleets won’t do much to cut the industry’s overall
emissions without a shift away from fossil fuels to renewable power for
Some miners are moving in that direction. Last month, Fortescue struck an
agreement with electricity generator Alinta Energy to help power its
Chichester iron-ore production hub with solar energy, displacing roughly 100
million liters of diesel annually.
ROBERT PRICE: Electric car lovers are among us, right here in oil city
2019-11-02 Russ Nightengale doesn't look to me like the type of guy who
would drive an electric vehicle. He is young, a bit grizzled, wears his ball
cap in the flat-brim "bro" ... pulling into the Bakersfield Tesla service
center ... to have a sensor repaired on his wife's 2015 Model S. She loves
... he loves his blue one ... "EVs aren't for everybody, but after I explain
the math and the economics behind it, it clicks for people ...
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