Transitional can beat traditional, Electric Mine hears

Richard Roberts

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Worley's Paul Lucey speaks at The Electric Mine 2024 in Perth, Western Australia
‘OEMs are not going to be able to supply enough equipment to meet market expectations’

Original equipment manufacturers are not going to be able to supply enough non-diesel machines to help miners meet ambitious decarbonisation targets, Worley’s Paul Lucey told The Electric Mine 2024 forum. That was (some of) the bad news.

“The pathway to decarbonisation is somewhat painful,” Lucey said in a keynote address at the event in Perth, Western Australia.

“But if you take the right steps, it can be a lot less painful.”

The good news then, Worley’s mine electrification and technology principal said, was that “taking a more transitional approach” could deliver many of the outcomes being sought with less risk and “significantly lower costs” than waiting too long and betting the farm on non-diesel versions of today’s standard equipment and the new infrastructure needed to support it.

“OEMs are not going to be able to supply enough equipment to meet market expectations and what is being installed requires a much higher level of infrastructure than initially envisaged,” Lucey said.

“If we decided tomorrow that we were going to change out all the diesel haul trucks in the world today, it would take us 25 years [and] you have to ramp up that manufacturing till it gets to the peak point of manufacturing.

“So that’s a very, very big ask.

“When we [Worley] looked at that, and then we looked at what mining companies were telling the market … what we’re going to do in 2030 and have in place by 2035, you can see [chart below] there’s a bit of a gap between what can actually physically be made and what mining companies would like to buy.

“Up until 2030 you’re still buying diesel trucks and these things have a life of about 20 years.

“They’re with us for a very long period of time.

“So not only do not want to shorten the life of a haul truck but you need a process that allows you to decarbonise that going forward.

“You need a transitional approach of which hybridisation plays a part.

“Hybridisation in terms of diesel battery electric [equipment], and there are a few companies out there that do that right now, and also getting battery electric haul trucks and putting them in with your diesel trucks and slowly integrating that into your process rather than going the whole hog in the first instance.

“What makes that reasonably cheaper is you’re negating some of the risk associated with that process early on.”

Extensive mid-range (out to 2035) mine studies by a dedicated Worley team led by Lucey, with associated drilling into available technologies and costings, suggested automation, AI and alternative haulage and material movement methods were all likely to play key transitional roles and “knowing when to apply them will be strategically important”.

In terms of the overall “when”, though, Lucey said taking action now was vital to building a deeper understanding of how mine plans could evolve to take advantage of new and better technologies – battery chemistries, AI-driven automation, non-truck haulage, etc – as they emerged.

Lucey said AI would take machine control “to the next level”, adding up to 30% in equipment efficiency when matched with autonomy.

He said a “good energy arbitrage system” could save up to 30% of infrastructure installation costs.

It was built on a more sophisticated understanding of the drivers and management of energy use for production under different non-carbon fuel migration scenarios.

“You don’t want to build a system for 100 megawatts. You want to build the system for the lowest amount of energy that you can [consistent use rather than spikes in usage],” Lucey said.

“And for that you need to actually understand when to power up those trucks, when to schedule them, the impact it’s going to have in terms of your productivity, and the infrastructure that you need in place to manage that system.

“If you can do that well and you have a good system instead of spending $130 million on putting some renewable energy in you may only spend $70 million putting renewable energy in.”

Lucey said integrating alternative material movement systems and technologies could also positively impact hybrid and battery-electric truck fleet efficiency and contribute to the energy arbitrage.

“The reality is almost nothing beats a haul truck coming out of a pit,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to beat the flexibility and the energy efficiency of a haul truck coming out of a pit.

“But once it’s out of the pit though the world changes.

“We know that a road train over distance, once you’re out of the pit, uses 30% less energy than a haul truck.

“The challenge is, you’ve got to get that [material] out, dump it and put it back in the road train.

“So we looked at matching a surge loader with a road train.

“And then you go, we’ll have autonomous [dump] trucks [coming out of the pit]. Where are we going to get an autonomous road train?

“Well, the good news is people are developing autonomous road trains.

“By 2030 they should be more commonplace, which means you can still keep your autonomous system and use 30% less energy once you’re out of the pit by integrating those kinds of technologies.

“It’s not about replacing one technology with another, it’s how you integrate different components.”


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