In nearly every transportation sector, there has been a progressive push for electrification. Since Tesla began promoting mass production of electric vehicles, there has been significant interest. Electric aircraft, motorcycles, and even boats are now being developed with use in the near future. And of course, e-bikes, e-scooters, and a host of other electric “end-route” transportation options now exist. Given these widespread trends, it’s safe to assume that all industries may soon be subject to electrification. And based on recent developments, electric mining equipment and vehicles may be the next target.
With so many electric options for transportation, there has been a tremendous increase in the demand for batteries. But in order to meet this demand, mining for raw materials like lithium, copper and cobalt are essential. Ironically, however, the mining industry represents the polar opposite of most electric transportation systems. Existing mining vehicles and equipment run on diesel, take up large amounts of space, and have a list of undesirable features. For these reasons, some businesses are aggressively exploring electric mining vehicles. Combined with electric mining equipment, these could revolutionize the industry. And it actually may be necessary based on the rate with which mining activities are growing.
“There is no way there’s enough raw materials being produced right now to start replacing millions of gasoline-powered motor vehicles with EVs.” – Lewis Black, CEO of Almonty Industries Inc.
The Push for Electric Mining Vehicles
When governments adopt policies striving to convert gasoline-powered vehicles to electric ones, one issue is often ignored. In order to accomplish such a conversion, there will need to be a significant increase in batteries. This means that mining for lithium and other raw materials will have to expand in the process. In fact, the amount of lithium mining is expected to increase 12-fold by 2030 to meet these demands. And if nations like the U.S. hope to be fully electric by 2035, this figure will be even larger.
When it comes to boosting mining activities, there are several environmental and climate change concerns. One involves the availability of access. Many mining advocates and companies are hoping to mine protected areas in order to increase their yields. But also, the mining industry itself is poorly positioned to handle this increase from a productivity and environmental perspective. Electric mining equipment and electric mining vehicles are non-existent. Current machinery and mining vehicles operate on diesel. This type of infrastructure isn’t likely to effectively manage scaled-up operations without some serious downsides. This is why a push for electric mining equipment and systems are being encouraged.
“In underground mining, sustainability and productivity tend to go together. A big portion of the greenhouse gas emissions stem from the infrastructure that runs for an underground mine, regardless of whether you produce nothing at all or if you produce a lot.” – Henrik Ager, President of Business, Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions
Current Issues of Existing Mining Equipment
When it comes to modern-day mining equipment, the list of problems are quite substantial. For one, the diesel fuel used for these machines produce significant heat and exhaust. In order to reduce health and safety impacts, this requires investments into cooling and ventilation systems. At the same time, these machines tend to be rather larger, which requires more extensive excavation of tunnels. And then there are process issues related to refueling and maintenance. These aspects of existing mining systems are hardly efficient today, much less if workloads increase exponentially.
In contrast to these machines, electric mining vehicles offer significant potential when it comes to operations. For one, electric mining equipment can be redesigned to be much smaller in size. This would reduce the scale of tunnel diameters and lead to increased production. Likewise, electric mining vehicles would not produce greenhouse gas emissions or require fossil fuels. This would naturally improve working environments and worker safety and help climate change. And it could also streamline “refueling” by making battery replacements less cumbersome. Because electric mining equipment might improve productivity, sustainability, safety, and profits, many mining companies are finally considering its use.
“The capital expenditure [of electric mining equipment] is higher, but the operating expenditure is lower — the energy cost and maintenance cost. When you factor in the savings that the mine can make on ventilation and cooling, then there’s already a strong business case for electric.” – Henrik Ager
Sandvik’s Leading the Way in Modern Electric Mining Equipment
When it comes to the mining industry, Sandvik is a well-established leader of equipment and vehicles. Founded in Sweden in 1862, the company offers a variety of mining solutions, metal cutting tools, and innovative drills. But Sandvik is also known for being quite progressive. It is actively pursuing a program involved in the recycling of carbide scrap within the industry. At the same time, it is leading the shift to electrification. This not only includes new designs for electric mining vehicles but all sorts of electric mining equipment.
In terms of electric mining vehicles, Sandvik chose to reconsider these machines from the ground up. It would have been easier to convert existing machines to electric ones. But this would not have resolved issues related to equipment size, tunnel excavation requirements, or even refueling efficiencies. Instead, Sandvik reconceptualized entire systems to make things more efficient, sustainable, and productive. And in the process, created a means by which mining companies would become more profitable. These efforts are what is driving companies to consider electric mining vehicles and equipment in the near future.
A Snapshot of Mining’s Future
As far as the mining industry, electric mining equipment is simply a gateway to major changes to come. Many in the field who want to see electric mining vehicles anticipate much broader changes soon. This includes full digitization of mining that involves automation as well as artificial intelligence. A high degree of connectivity will exist among technologies, and few workers will be in the mines. In essence, they foresee full electrification of this sector in the coming decades. It would therefore appear that electric mining vehicles are simply a first and necessary step in that direction.