Electric Vehicles have fast become one of the most sought-after items globally, whether you’re an LA based celeb or a modern man or woman about town, they have real appeal! The recent success is seemingly due to a blend of environmental awareness, advancing technology and a mind shift on the infrastructure and renewable energy that deliver a greener everyday system. With more and more Tesla’s on the roads and so many global car manufacturers starting to blend EVs into their range, why are we seeing a lag in mass adoption within the mining industry?
When you consider one of the main barriers to entry for domestic use is range anxiety (the idea that you may not be able to reach your desired destination with the battery’s capacity) it is hard to then understand why mining projects haven’t been quicker to adopt electric vehicles at their projects. The requirements for their vehicle fleet may be extreme in terms of wear and tear, however, the daily energy requirements would, in most circumstances, fall below the range of the latest batteries.
So what are some of the reasons we are seeing a delay in deployment, especially the low hanging fruit that is the light vehicle fleet, such as 4×4 utilities and wagons?
One of the first barriers to entry is the increased-up front capital cost for an electric vehicle compared to its diesel counterparts. The currently available, rugged battery electric vehicles we see on the market are not long out of costly development, so are expensive at face value. That said the cost breakdown over the life of the power unit (most electric motors have a very long use case that extends beyond the chassis of the vehicle) when combined with reduced power costs make for a compelling case.
Mining operations both above and below the surface will have to adjust the way they operate and utilise their vehicles upon adoption. The industry is still feeling out how recharging, battery swapping, and general electrical charging infrastructure will look within their projects. There have been several successful trials in Australia and some small role out at projects, yet there still appears to be no clear industry standard set-up. Further networking, knowledge exchange and education will help break down these barriers in time.
Despite the often much smaller daily route required for journeys across the project, there are still job roles that would push the limits of the batteries range. Underground for example, shift bosses, who inspect all active areas multiple times a day, would clock up serious kilometres. When considering the steep gradient of 1:7 of most underground declines and the power these would take to climb, there is a clear case for range anxiety intra shift.
Recharging times and organisation
Diesel fuel allows the driver to fill up their tank at multiple locations and therefore increase their range in a relatively short time (<15 minutes). Whereas an underground electric fleet would all be available for charge at the same time, which is generally around shift change, when one shift ends and the other begins. This would mean that there would potentially be a bottle neck for charging points. The need for adequate charging stations and management of charging times (generally >30 minutes depending on usage) would become critical to ongoing vehicle availability. Whilst some EV offerings allow for charging from the standard 1000V jumbo cable, its feels like this would be for emergencies as opposed to regular charging.
One thing is for certain, mining continues to distance itself from the environmental impact it makes on our earth. Whilst there is an underlying requirement for mining to continue, there is no doubt it has a dirty image. On mass larger global miners are pushing toward a net zero future. The utilisation of Electric Vehicles and renewable energy sources will likely become the industry standard across projects to try and level out the environmental playing field. This clearly improves the environmental outcomes of projects and in many cases reduces costs over the life of mine.
The mass adoption of these technologies has yet to reach every extent of the industry but there are certainly clear leaders in the field, both from a manufacturing and implementation viewpoint. Hopefully, within the next decade, with continued learning and knowledge sharing we will see the full implementation of battery electric vehicles within the mining industry!
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