Deep Ore Bodies, Power Availability Driving Interest In Electric Mining Vehicles

Relay Mining Vehicle

Battery electric vehicles are catching on in underground mines.

It’s been said that miners are conservative when it comes to trying new technology, but in actuality many are early adopters – especially when it comes to energy sources that fit their operation’s targets for safety and environmental standards, production levels and capital expenditures. Over the past decade, electric mining vehicles running lithium-ion batteries have advanced from a trade show curiosity to a viable solution for many operations. Some have used the technology to set carbon-free goals, but companies say the advantages to using a lithium-ion battery electric vehicle go even deeper – particularly in underground hard rock mines.

“Mining has really throttled up for us, especially within the last two years,” said Mark Chema, global director of Sales for lithium-ion battery specialist XALT Energy, Midland, Mich. “The mines are probing away at the technology and looking at ways to make the change because they know it’s becoming more feasible and more acceptable. The customers that used to be running one or two demo vehicles are now starting to give serial orders of 50 or more vehicles. That’s very good volume for mining.”

XALT works in all aspects of battery system production from cell research, design and manufacturing to pack design and final assembly, at its locations in Pontiac and Midland, Mich. The markets it reaches are separated into three segments: transportation (such as truck and transit buses), rail and marine, and specialty markets — the latter is where the mining business sits. Last year, the company reported that it had tripled its production of lithium-ion battery systems.

“The big enabler in mining is ventilation,” said Chema. “The easy ore, from zero to two miles down, has been extracted. Now the mines are going after much deeper ore bodies and it’s extremely expensive to get the ventilation rates down there to remove exhaust gases. That’s placed a spotlight on lithium-ion battery technology, and the fact that the cost is coming down makes for a perfect scenario.”

One of XALT Energy’s customers is mine utility equipment manufacturer Miller Technology. The company said it will soon ship production versions of its purpose-built battery-electric Miller Relay it truck introduced last year. Using the same scalable Ionic Drive system used in the truck, the company also offers electric conversions of the Toyota Landcruiser, a popular utility vehicle in underground mines, and is developing a low-profile electric motor grader.

The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) has also seen a spike in the interest for its electric vehicle offering, said Hugh McDermid, Product Research and Business Development, Miller Technology, North Bay, Ontario, Canada.

“In the beginning you could tell which mines were the early adopters because they were already educated about what was available for mining and the some of the dos and don’ts,” said McDermid. “Within five years the market has really evolved, and we’re no longer at the proof-of-concept stage. The customers we see now are well-educated on the product and they’re asking some high-level questions.”

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