Cat, ioneer build autonomous partnership
Rhyolite Ridge to be first new US mine with autonomous fleet Metal Tech News – February 17, 2021
Last updated 2/16/2021 at 4:53pm
Australia-based ioneer Ltd. has signed a memorandum of understanding with Caterpillar Inc. to further pursue the use of a fleet of Cat autonomous trucks at the future mine at ioneer's Rhyolite Ridge lithium-boron project in Nevada.
Ioneer and Caterpillar recently completed a joint study to explore the benefits of early adoption of the Cat Command autonomous haulage system at Rhyolite Ridge.
Recognizing that fully integrated autonomous haulage could significantly improve safety and productivity at mines, Caterpillar has been a leader on the journey toward automation for many years.
Today, Cat autonomous mining trucks have safely hauled more than 2 billion metric tons of material worldwide and driven more than 42 million miles, roughly the equivalent of 1,690 trips around the Earth, without a lost-time injury.
The study for Rhyolite Ridge indicates that the Cat autonomous haulage system would increase operating hours, reduce cycle times, and improve cycle efficiency, while also decreasing operating costs in terms of maintenance, fuel, labor, and tires. The improved productivity from faster cycles and lessened human required downtime will also reduce the number of trucks required.
"The incorporation of an autonomous haulage system and other Caterpillar technologies at Rhyolite Ridge will only further our goal to improve project safety and operational efficiency," said ioneer Managing Director Bernard Rowe.
A 2020 feasibility study detailed a mine at Rhyolite Ridge that will produce an average of 20,600 metric tons of lithium carbonate and 174,400 metric tons of boric acid per year over a 26-year mine life.
Electric vehicle batteries are driving unprecedented demand for lithium and the boric acid used in a wide variety of industrial applications, including the tough borosilicate glass made famous by Pyrex.
Operations at Rhyolite Ridge are scheduled to begin in 2023 with a fleet of Cat 785 Next Generation mining trucks equipped with Cat Command for hauling – a significant expansion of this fleet is scheduled during the fourth year of operation.
All support equipment at the mine site will feature MineStar, a suite of cutting-edge mining technologies of high-precision GPS and real-time analytics to maximize safety, efficiency, productivity, and profitability.
"Caterpillar mining technologies including Command for hauling, deliver mining companies throughout the world benefit from greater productivity, increased truck utilization, consistent truck operation and reduced costs," said Caterpillar MineStar Solutions General Manager Jim Hawkins.
Rhyolite Ridge will be the first greenfield mine in North America to take advantage of Caterpillar's autonomous haulage system and will mark the expansion of Command for hauling automation technology to the Next Generation Cat 785, a 140-metric-ton mining truck equipped with Caterpillar's technological advancements.
Under the agreement between ioneer and Caterpillar, companies have engaged in preliminary, non-binding negotiations regarding the terms of the proposed transaction and intend to negotiate formal agreements in the coming months.
The partnership will operate through Cashman Equipment, Nevada's Caterpillar dealership since 1931.
"Cashman is deeply committed to supporting ioneer and promoting their successful operations. We are looking forward to the site using first-class Cat equipment and technology to maximize their productivity," said Todd Gilligan, vice president of sales, marketing, and rental at Cashman Equipment. "Rhyolite Ridge will be one of the first mine sites in the U.S. to deploy a fully autonomous fleet of Cat trucks."
Intermountain Mining Technologies will be charged with equipping this fleet and the initial auxiliary equipment with Cat MineStar Terrain, a high-precision guidance and tracking system. ioneer says this GPS system will also provide improved data for drilling, excavation, grading and dozing and should allow for better delineation of the overburden and ore for Rhyolite Ridge.
The equipment and services supplied by Caterpillar during the first five years of operation at Rhyolite Ridge is valued at roughly US$100 million and may be financed through Caterpillar Financial Services.
"Our agreement with Caterpillar represents much more than just the purchase of equipment; it is a true ongoing partnership as we commence production at Rhyolite Ridge," said Rowe. "We are very pleased with the results of the automation study and look forward to working with Caterpillar, Cashman, and Intermountain Mining Technology in our effort to produce materials that are vital to a sustainable future."