Autonomous trucks at ioneer lithium mine
Rhyolite to be first new US mine with self-driving Cat trucks Metal Tech News - September 15, 2022
Last updated 4/16/2023 at 7:03am
Enormous 140-metric-ton autonomous Cat trucks loaded with lithium-boron ore will be driving themselves around on the very first day of operations at ioneer Ltd.'s Rhyolite Ridge project in Nevada.
Slated to begin operations in 2024, the Rhyolite Ridge Mine is expected to produce an average of 20,600 metric tons of lithium carbonate and 174,400 metric tons of boric acid annually for 26 years.
Electric vehicle batteries are driving unprecedented demand for the lithium to be produced at this Nevada operation, and the boric acid is used in a wide variety of industrial applications, including the tough glass made famous by Pyrex.
A 2021 feasibility study demonstrated that Caterpillar Inc.'s Cat Minestar Command 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 a decrease in human-related downtime will also reduce the number of trucks required.
Given the financial and productivity advantages, coupled with the fact that Cat autonomous mining trucks have safely hauled nearly 5 billion metric tons of material and traveled nearly 110 million miles without a lost-time injury at mining operations around the globe, ioneer has signed a definitive agreement for a fleet of Cat 785 next-generation mining trucks equipped with Command AHS.
"We continue to believe 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.
Rhyolite Ridge will be the first new mining operation in North America to utilize the automatic haulage system offered by Cat and will mark the expansion of the global heavy equipment company's hauling automation technology to the 140-metric-ton-class Cat 785 next-generation mining truck.
"As the first greenfield operation in North America to deploy AHS, ioneer is demonstrating true industry leadership and foresight, said Sean McGinnis, vice president and general manager for Cat Mining Caterpillar Inc. "Our team is excited to work together with ioneer to improve safety and increase productivity."
Earlier this year, Ford Motor Company entered into an agreement to buy 7,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate per year from Rhyolite Ridge.
More information on Ford's efforts to secure lithium-ion battery materials to support the American automakers' transition to electric vehicles can be read at The ABCs of securing metals for Ford EVs in the July 27, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.