Seeking huge electric mine truck solutions
BHP, Rio Tinto, and Vale sponsor innovative charging challenge Metal Tech News – May 19, 2021
Last updated 5/25/2021 at 3:34pm
As a part of their commitment to lowering carbon emissions, many global mining companies would like to transform their large haul trucks from diesel to electric. This transition, however, has one big hurdle – the time it takes to charge up these enormous earthmovers takes away from productivity or requires mining operations to buy more of these multi-million dollar electric trucks to do the same work as their diesel counterparts.
To find solutions to this dilemma, three of the world's biggest mining companies launched the "Charge On Innovation Challenge," a global competition for technology innovators to develop new concepts for large-scale haul truck electrification systems to help significantly cut emissions from surface mine operations and unlock safety, productivity, and operational improvements.
BHP, Rio Tinto, and Vale – the founding patrons of the challenge – have teamed up with Austmine to attract interest from other resource companies looking for innovative concepts to deliver electricity to large battery-electric haul trucks.
As an organization focused on making Australia's mining equipment, technology, and services (METS) sector the best in the world, Austmine is considered the perfect vehicle for bringing together the mining companies and innovators needed to overcome the charging challenge.
"With 80% of METS companies supplying products and services outside mining, the challenge leverages the experience and innovation of industries in the automotive, battery makers, aerospace, defense, and other sectors," said Austmine CEO Christine Gibbs Stewart. "We are confident that we will find a solution to the delivery of electricity to trucks in the complex operating environment of a large surface mine."
There are currently no commercially produced fully electric surface mining haul trucks of the size – sometimes as large as a two-story house – utilized by these companies.
The Charge On Innovation Challenge is a preemptive move to develop charging solutions when the electric drive technology is ready.
"Mine electrification requires considerable integration between mine planning and operations. We need to develop new charging solutions that can be incorporated into our operations in parallel to the development of battery trucks, to ensure we create a truly sustainable electric haulage system in all aspects – clean, competitive, and flexible," said Carlos Mello, ferrous engineering director at Vale.
Vale and its fellow founding patrons of the challenge expect the solutions that will lead to full fleets of efficient battery haul trucks will be incremental and could coincide with the scaling up of haul truck electrification.
"We expect the challenge will stimulate innovative ideas, some of which could be immediately applied to existing diesel-electric equipment and help fast-track implementation of longer-term solutions," said BHP Minerals Australia President Edgar Basto. "We understand that these challenges will not be solved overnight, but together we can find the best concepts that can be applied across the industry."
The most obvious solution would be to charge these enormous trucks during wait times during their normal cycle – while they are being loaded or dumping, or waiting in queue to carry out these actions.
For trucks of this size to be able to charge during these rest points, multi-megawatt scale fast charging concepts capable of delivering around 400 kilowatt-hours to the batteries would need to be developed.
Another idea is to adapt trolley assist systems currently used to help diesel trucks climb steep grades faster while using less fuel for electric trucks. The idea here is that the trolly would reduce the amount of power used and could include a charger that boosts the battery while helping the truck up the slope.
BHP, Rio Tinto, and Vale, however, say such systems suffer from a number of drawbacks that make them difficult to deploy economically.
The companies hope that bringing innovators together will improve these ideas and come up with new ones.
"We expect the challenge will attract companies from a broad range of sectors including mining, automotive, aerospace, agriculture, and defense to deliver selected charging concepts to create a standard product that can interface with all trucks," said Stewart.
The Charge On Innovation Challenge is accepting expressions of interest from individuals and companies from May 18 through June 30.
Candidates who make the shortlist are expected to pitch their concepts later this year.
"This is a global call-out to innovators to change the way haul truck systems operate in the mining sector," said Rio Tinto Group Executive of Safety, Technical and Projects Mark Davies. "Innovation is the key to decarbonization, and we expect the challenge will deliver exciting new concepts that could drive huge long-term benefits for our industry and the environment."