Sandvik vaults rivals with truck trials

Swedish manufacturer betting on BEVs

Sandvik is sending its highest-payload electric mining truck to the world’s biggest market for large underground diesel haulers later this year in a move that is emblematic of the speed with which talk about mining’s mobility shift is moving. A former Komatsu mining executive has meanwhile told a conference in Australia dividing into BEV and hydrogen camps is “stupidity”. “We just need to get our skates on,” he said.

The buzz out of the recent Electric Mine forum in Sweden had the new TH665B truck arriving for testing with contractor Barminco at AngloGold Ashanti’s Sunrise Dam gold mine in Australia’s west in the second half of this year, with Sandvik commercial VP Jacob Rutqvist following up with some timely advice about a machine weighing more than 100 tonnes when carrying its nominal 65t payload and deploying about 660kW (via individual electric wheel motors) to “move rock 30% faster than a conventional driveline” on a 1:7 grade.

Sunrise Dam ticks the 14% decline/incline box.

Rutqvist also helpfully advised the market that expected TH665B battery runtime would be 1.5-2.5 hours, depending “on what type of work you are doing”. With regenerative braking downhill, that could be more like 5-6 hours. In any case, Sandvik’s nifty battery-swapping method might only take 3-5 minutes. The manufacturer also has a 50t-payload underground mine truck and an 18t load-haul-dump (LHD) with Gold Fields in Australia. Its Artisan Z50 truck also has four electric motors said to be able to generate 560kW and 8200Nm of torque.

Sandvik’s usually fleet-footed Swedish mining equipment rival, Epiroc, is lagging on battery-electric truck payload – perhaps for good reason – but won’t be far behind.

A strategic key for Sandvik has been its 2019 acquisition of US-based Artisan Vehicles and its BEV technology. The tiny California company was only started in 2010 but it quickly outmanoeuvred the bigger, older incumbents with its BEV design and intent.

Brad Neilson, a veteran Australian mining-equipment sector leader who joined Joy Global in the late 1990s when it acquired the manufacturer he co-founded, Cram Australia, said at the Energy and Mining Technology Investment Summit in Sydney mining original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were generally slow-moving and there was a “massive opportunity for SMEs and businesses throughout [Australia] to look at this particular area which has really not been looked at enough”.

“Having come from a large OEM I can tell you that it takes a long time for anything to happen. They will be open, if you come up with a solution, to having the discussion,” Neilson said.

“Where it would take them 5-to-10 years … smaller companies can do that in 1-2 years and come up with good solutions.

“So it’s a big, big opportunity for Australia in this area. We just need to grasp it and go after it.”

Komatsu, which bought Joy in 2017, is another company developing battery-electric mine haulage technology (with US-based Proterra, among others). Neilson co-led a global technology and innovation taskforce at Komatsu and currently chairs Streamlined Energy in Sydney.

“Right now, as we all know, most mines are using explosive energy, we then dig it out with normally diesel diggers, and then we haul it away with ultra-class or heavy-class diesel-powered trucks. That’s the way the mining industry works. So, we’ve got internal combustion engines and diesels that are right at the top of the asymptotic curve; highly developed, very efficient [and] intrinsic to the way we mine,” Neilson said.

“In my past life leading the taskforce we did a lot of work looking at the direction of mining, and it’s true to say all the easy stuff is gone. The grades are down, it’s getting deeper, hotter … everything that we do makes it more difficult to mine the commodity that we’re going to need a lot more of to translate where we are today and decarbonise the world.

“Anglo American looked at the last 100 years with copper and [produced some] astounding numbers. We use 10-times the energy today that we once used to mine copper and the yields have nearly halved. So the key commodity that we’re going to need in terms of decarbonisation, we’re going to need lots and lots more energy per unit of production.

“We’ve got a bit of a hill to climb and we need to get our skates on.

“When it comes to underground mining … the challenges are a lot more than just greenhouse gas emissions. DPM, or diesel particulate matter, energy density and heat generation are huge factors that we need to look at in the underground mining context. When you think about the heat that all of our equipment underground generates, that’s the biggest issue we’ve got with ventilation, which is one of the biggest power consumers on the site.

“A load-haul-dump machine, or bogger, [is] your primary mining machine in metalliferous mining. One of those machines consumes, say, 300,000-400,000 litres of fuel every year, and it will emit up to 1000kg of greenhouse gas emissions, so they’re pretty serious numbers that we need to overcome. But because they operate in a relatively small hole in the ground they’ve got to be incredibly energy dense. And the thing with diesel, and why it’s such a great energy source, is it’s super-dense when it comes to energy, and as I said the engines are so highly developed these days, you’ve got a pretty efficient system.

“An LHD, the thing that digs all the ore, will typically on a diesel machine have about 3000 kilowatt hours of energy storage. State-of-the-art for a battery unit that’s just been released is 300kWh of battery storage. So you’ve got a 10-times difference in the energy onboard and then you overlay that with the fact that the battery unit weighs 10 tonnes and all of the infrastructure for the diesel unit is 5t.

“So even if batteries improve by a factor of two – so 100% better – you’re still five-times out.

“I can’t see how we’re going to get a solution right across the paradigm of change for our primary mining equipment just with battery power.

“There will be a combination of trolley assist, diesel hybrid, electrification through continuous haulage – all of these things – as we also look at precision mining and low-footprint mining. But that doesn’t change the fact that we need a compact, energy-dense solution.

“Hydrogen can provide that and we’re under-developed there in terms of investment.

“There is a great opportunity for Australian businesses to develop the infrastructure and all of the different elements in the value chain around hydrogen-powered systems.

“Unfortunately what we see is some polarisation between those that are in the hydrogen camp and those in the battery-electric camp, which to me is stupidity.

“Those two technologies co-exist and are very important synergistically.”


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