Benefits of Battery Electric Vehicles in Mining Operations

The mining legacy of decades past, largely associated with environmental destruction and social disruption, has proven a persistent challenge for the industry to overcome – particularly post Paris Accord with a growing environmentally conscious demographic. With the current global drive for decarbonization combined with the ever-increasing focus on Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) for project permitting, the long-term sustainability of the mining industry may well depend on the industry’s own ability to adapt to evolving public opinion and prove that it can continue to operate in a socially acceptable manner. One such way the industry is addressing the issues described involves the integration of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) into mining operations.

As BEV uptake in the domestic sector continues to grow, the appetite for BEV technology within the mining sector is also gaining traction. With mining vehicles accounting for 30%-50% of mine site greenhouse gas emissions, an opportunity to make significant operational reductions in mining related carbon emissions through the utilization of BEVs is evident. On a global scale, collaborative initiatives such as the ICMM’s Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV) aims to accelerate BEV innovation and promote their global uptake, yet for individual mine sites, operators must assess for themselves the technical and economic viability of investing in higher capital BEVs over the traditional and more affordable diesel alternatives. They potentially must also qualify any investment decision against their own decarbonization strategy.

Putting the economic potential aside, BEVs have a clear and quantifiable advantage over diesel machinery in terms of greenhouse gas emission rates. The long-term worker health benefits are also noteworthy, particularly for underground applications where significant reductions in workplace environmental hazard exposure is guaranteed (CO2, NO2, CO, DPM, noise, dust, heat). This being said, most mining operators would demand a well-considered business case to support the significant capital outlay that the transition to BEVs requires; the main business case drivers are summarized below:

Energy Efficiency
Due to the much-improved engine efficiency of BEV motors compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE), the energy input demanded is significantly reduced for the same mechanical work output. Modern BEV engines also include regenerative braking capability, converting expelled mechanical energy back into usable electrical energy for battery recharge.

Significant reductions in machine energy consumption are therefore possible with BEV adoption, however net site-wide energy savings must consider the generating efficiency at the power source used to charge the batteries. Net energy cost savings will also be highly sensitive to local fuel costs and energy tariffs.

Ventilation Demand (underground applications)
BEV motors produce none of the toxic airborne contaminants associated with diesel exhaust from an ICE. The increased engine efficiency also means reduced heat generation, lowering the heat load on the underground workings.

BEV adoption therefore offers scope for ventilation flowrate and refrigeration reductions. With ventilation typically responsible for 40% of a mine’s electrical power consumption, significant energy saving opportunities are attainable. Site-specific ventilation assessments will encourage the full realization of any economic potential offered by BEV adoption, with major reductions in ventilation infrastructure capital also a possibility.

Equipment Productivity
As BEVs are not constrained by mine ventilation limitations, equipment manufacturers are able to integrate the most powerful electric motors available within their fleet offerings. High-powered electric drivetrains allow greater acceleration, traction control, breakout/lifting capacity, and ramp speed, leading to comparatively faster cycle times and improved equipment productivity.

Fleet productivity improvements offer scope for increasing production rates (i.e. increasing revenues), reducing mining costs, and reducing fleet capital expenditure. The full economic potential is best addressed via site-specific economic trade-offs since the scale of the potential will be largely controlled by local haulage profiles, cost elements and mill capacities.

Maintenance Costs
Due to the high reliability of the electric motor and the removal of inherently “maintenance-heavy” mechanical elements (diesel engine, air intake and exhaust system, torque converter, transmission axels, fuel tank), BEVs require less routine maintenance procedures than an equivalent ICE machine. Whether such procedural reductions translate into long-term maintenance cost savings is yet to be confirmed in the absence of full lifecycle cost data for BEVs, however early indications from case-studies do suggest sizable reductions in parts and consumables usage rates.

How can we help?
Whether part of a global resource efficiency study or as a stand-alone assessment, our multidisciplinary team can help evaluate whether BEV technology is viable for your project/operation.

In an ideal world, WAI would get involved at the early stages of a mining project, allowing BEV fleet assumptions to be considered within the mine design criteria. This enables the full realization of all technological and economic advantages obtainable, and their subsequent integration into optimized life of mine scenarios. Alternatively, we can perform technical and viability assessments for the replacement of an existing ICE fleet, with consideration of the existing mine infrastructure.

Through detailed or high-level economic assessment, WAI can qualify and quantify the widely claimed benefits of BEV technology at site level (as well as identify any potential limitations), thus helping guide and de-risk your BEV investment decisions.

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