Tuesday, June 18, 2024
ElectricThree Technologies That Will Revolutionize Mining Vehicles

Three Technologies That Will Revolutionize Mining Vehicles

Technologies that are now becoming more mainstream in the automotive industry are also finding their way into the off-highway sector, especially mining vehicles.

Many see electrification as the future of mining vehicles, as it can achieve meaningful emissions reductions for the mining industry while also being cheaper, safer, and more productive for mines to operate. However, before these benefits can be realized, the enabling technologies surrounding EVs must be thoroughly developed to a point where adopting one is as painless as possible. Building out battery and charging technology will be crucial in the industry’s electric transition.

Batteries for mining vehicles

Hydrogen fuel cells will likely be a part of the decarbonization solution in mining vehicles, but IDTechEx expects battery-electric to be the predominant way forward. The battery technology within an electric mining vehicle will be critical in determining its performance, including its endurance, lifetime, productivity, and more. Mining vehicles come in a wide range of sizes, so mining batteries can vary wildly too – from 100 kWh for light vehicles up to 2 MWh for large electric haul trucks. The uniquely large nature of these batteries means they are only now becoming sufficiently developed and competitively priced. Turnkey battery suppliers, including CATL, ABB, and Northvolt, have developed products that are particularly well-suited to mining vehicles, and their development work is still continuing.

NMC and LFP are the two battery chemistries that have so far seen use in mining. IDTechEx’s analysis shows that most mining EVs (just under 80%) use LFP, and this is due to the specific priorities of the vehicles. LFP tends to have lower energy densities than NMC, but this is not a major concern for mining vehicles – which are typically already heavy and will carry additional loads of ore on top of that.

Where LFP does win out is in its cycle life. IDTechEx expects that some of the most demanding mining vehicles, such as haul trucks, will far exceed the cycle life deliverable by a single NMC or LFP pack and require multiple battery replacements. Minimizing the frequency of replacements by using a longer-life battery pack is an effective way to make EVs more economical. Safety is another crucial factor in mining, especially regarding the fire safety of batteries in underground tunnels. LFP cells are generally considered safer in this aspect, which limits the risk posed to mine workers.

Looking beyond NMC and LFP, IDTechEx expects more battery technologies such as LTO and Na-ion to continue developing and eventually see viability for mining vehicles. The use of these technologies will rely on how well they can satisfy the particular needs of vehicles.

Fast charging

The challenge of vehicle charging is one of the central barriers to the adoption of mining EVs. Where mines are used to the fast refueling of vehicles in 10 to 20 minutes, charging usually takes multiple hours of downtime and hinders the vehicle’s productivity. To combat this, OEMs are working on a variety of innovative solutions to bring downtimes closer to a level that mines are more familiar with.

Conventional cable-based charging methods are used in many of these solutions, with most mining EVs utilizing DC fast charging. OEMs are now looking to employ methods including multi-gun charging and megawatt charging systems to bring times down to between 20 and 60 minutes (or 1 to 3C). This goes some way to increasing the productivity of vehicles, but charging at such high rates can accelerate the degradation of batteries and increase the frequency of battery replacements.

Battery swapping is an alternative to cable-based charging, which has seen a lot of interest from mining OEMs, particularly for underground vehicles. This involves having two swappable battery packs per vehicle, one of which can be charged while the other is used in operation. Swapping is done in dedicated swapping stations using a crane or hoist in as little as 5 to 10 minutes – making it even faster than even conventional diesel refueling. Battery swapping is excellent for productivity but can be more expensive in some scenarios and will require dedicated space and infrastructure for swapping.

Dynamic charging also plays a role in mining – vehicles can be charged in-cycle using power rails or overhead catenary lines along major pathways. This has the potential to completely eliminate charging downtime and maximize productivity, but it is still being developed and has seen the least use.

All of the above charging methods are likely to play a part in driving the electrification of the industry, with different methods to be used for different vehicles depending on their technical requirements and duty cycle demands. OEMs and charging providers are still working on optimizing their technologies, with more detailed analysis of each available in the IDTechEx report, “Electric Vehicles in Mining 2024-2044: Technologies, Players, and Forecasts”.

Autonomous technology

The mining industry has historically been labor-intensive and posed a great risk to worker safety. Vehicle drivers work long shifts under exposure to heat and noise, which can contribute to workplace accidents and cause injury or loss of life. The automation of vehicles is one way for operators to minimize the human cost of mining and improve overall safety.

The mining industry is particularly well-suited to automation too. Most vehicles travel along the same general routes with few intersections and limited external traffic. The road networks of a mine represent a very narrow operational design domain for an autonomous vehicle.

It is for these reasons that autonomous mining vehicles first entered the market as early as the 1990s (far before electric mining vehicles), with Caterpillar introducing them as an additional service for their haul trucks. The use of these grew steadily until the late 2010s before seeing an adoption boom in the last 5 years – jumping from around 500 autonomous mining vehicles worldwide to over 1000 in this timespan.

This has been aided by the continued development of sensors, perception algorithms, and communication networks. These vehicles use an array of sensors, including cameras, radar, and LiDAR of different wavelengths, in order to function in all light and weather conditions – these must all be ruggedized to withstand the harsh mining environments. Perception algorithms help detect hazards in a vehicle’s path and minimize the impact of dust and humidity, which are commonplace in mines, on autonomous operation. Finally, the establishment of robust 5G networks on-site enables communication between vehicles and further improves safety.

IDTechExhttp://www.idtechex.com/
Since 1999 IDTechEx has provided independent market research, business intelligence and events on emerging technology to clients in over 80 countries. Our clients use our insights to help make strategic business decisions and grow their organizations. IDTechEx is headquartered in Cambridge, UK with subsidiaries in Japan, Germany and the USA.