State of Play’s Electric Mine Consortium has coalesced several facets of mining to encourage an emission-free and safer future for the industry. Nickolas Zakharia writes.
The old adage to not reinvent the wheel is something that rings true for parts of the mining sector.
But as technology improves, worker safety risks are being reduced.
Diesel engines in mining environments, particularly those in underground locations, can lead to the exposure of diesel particulate matter, which can have prolonged health effects for mine workers.
This is one of several areas where the electrification of the mining industry can improve workplace safety, while also ramping up efficiencies and driving down emissions.
According to State of Play’s electrification report, health and safety was one of the major reasons the industry would consider going electric at their mining operation.
The 2020 electrification report was funded by METS Ignited and outlined the importance of making the switch to electrification on mine sites.
“Strict vehicle emissions regulations, specifically targeting diesel particulate matter in underground mines, has the capacity to drive significant change in mining operations,” the report states.
“As health and safety continues to be a significant topic in mining, the management of exposure to carcinogens is something government should be considering and enforcing.”
State of Play found that 61 per cent of next generation mines will be completely electric and 89 per cent of mines will switch to electric in the next 20 years.
To achieve this, State of Play created the Electric Mine Consortium, which came to fruition from its electrification report.
The Consortium was announced in March 2021 and includes IGO, OZ Minerals, Gold Fields, South32 and Barminco as member companies, with each pledging to collaborate and work on pushing electrification in mining while reducing emissions.
IGO chief operating officer Matt Dusci says the Consortium will address global issues.
“The Electric Mine Consortium offers IGO the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded companies focussed on accelerating this drive to electrification,” Dusci tells Safe to Work.
“IGO will continue to have our own individual goals for emissions and electrification; however, the Consortium offers the platform for collaboration and the sharing of learnings and ideas.
“We are collaborating, through the Consortium, to assist and answer these questions, provide data from trials to research groups and influence designs to be user friendly. In this way we hope to accelerate the development of effective, robust and fit-for-purpose solutions faster.”
Dusci also says there are significant safety benefits to electronic vehicles (EVs) at a mine site, something IGO is targeting at its Nova nickel-copper-cobalt operation in Western Australia.
“Less carbon, health improvements to our people from elimination of diesel particulates in the underground environment and EVs are likely to drive the next automation revolution with better integration of electric drive vehicles for autonomous work,” Dusci says.
The Consortium also partnered with METS (mining equipment, technology and services) companies Epiroc, Sandvik, Horizon Power, Safescape, 3ME Technology, Hahn, Dassault Systemes and Energy Vault to provide the technology needed to make the switch to electric.
State of Play believes industry-wide collaboration and change is the key step to pushing the industry into a forward-thinking future.
“Our data shows renewables, all electric systems and batteries will help fuel the change towards a healthier, economically viable future of mining,” State of Play co-founder Graeme Stanway says. “But uncertainty remains when it comes to which area to invest in first, and how.”
Unifying the sector
Since funding the report, Brisbane-based industry growth centre METS Ignited is supporting the Electric Mine Consortium by helping develop deeper industry links between miners and vendors.
“State of Play have been a thought leader in terms of what is possible of the industry,” METS Ignited chief executive officer Adrian Beer tells Safe to Work.
“Graham and his team provide very clear, honest, pragmatic and transparent insights in the industry as a whole unlike many other researchers or analysts firms.”
METS Ignited has already undertaken several Consortium meetings, advising and providing feedback to local and global vendors.
“We initially funded the electrification report that State of Play did, which identified big challenges and opportunities for vendors and technology companies to serve those mining industry needs,” Beer says. “From that initial report, the Consortium was formed.
“We provide insight into the vendor community’s priorities into this set of problems the industry faces and try to break down the challenges that the mining industry faces in bite-sized chunks that the industry can digest by categorising problems into groups or sets of solutions that we can then bring to vendors to address.”
Beer says the Consortium will encourage industry collaboration, allowing for a new marketplace of solutions to address industry challenges.
“By aggregating together with their mine needs, it creates a meaningful marketplace to attract new and existing vendors, more importantly investors,” Beer says.
“The traditional approach in the mining sector around issues of safety and sustainability is often to work with research to find new ways to do things or try to improve processes, optimise or bring efficiency. They tend to be case-by-case solutions.
“The Consortium has aggregated demands across the sector so that technology companies and investors can access a marketplace for a new set of solutions to address industry challenges.”
Electrification will also reduce the harmful effects of diesel emissions. This also opens the door to smaller mining companies to be an attractive segment for investors from technology vendors.
The Consortium tackles safety issues by dividing up its members into groups to tackle specific issues collaboratively.
Beer says that a key aspect of driving up safety is the interoperability of EVs in a mining operation.
“Mining companies want agnostic charging from their EVs; if they have three Komatsus, two Volvos and one Caterpillar, they want to be able to charge them all off the same equipment,” he says.
“They want the infrastructure to support it. Interoperability has become a significant additional benefit that probably wasn’t the first priority.
“Most operators don’t like to have different methods in their operating environment. It creates a complex environment and is more different.”
Electrification can also introduce more advanced technologies that provide insights into the systems and visibility of asset performance.
From a skills perspective, the Consortium will help encourage collaborative training organisations, Beer continues.
“Mining companies don’t want to be competing with each other for labour with the individual with unique skills,” he says.
“The worst thing you can have is 10 mines with a piece of equipment and one person with the skills to support it and they’re all competing with each other to gain a monopoly share of that skillset.
“Miners themselves are supporting things like collaborative training organisations so they can get common skills and not compete with each other.”
OEMs drive change
As partners of the Consortium, Sandvik and Epiroc are focussed on working together with the industry to advance their EV fleet for a carbon neutral future.
“I’m pleasantly surprised about how quickly the global OEMs have embraced the change coming from the field and wanting to participate,” Beer says.
“It was a question if the OEMs would come on board and they have and they’re really keen to get involved.”
Sandvik’s EV fleet, including its 18-tonne LH518B battery loader and DL4222iE battery-electric top hammer longhole drill are designed to achieve zero emissions, cutting out harmful fumes from underground mining environments.
The company has also targeted sustainability goals for 2030, including a 50 per cent decrease in carbon emissions.
“Sandvik is ambitious in terms of our 2030 Sustainability Goals, which cover four key areas: climate, circularity, people and fair play,” Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions – sales area APAC, sustainable business, marketing and communications manager, Kate Bills says.
“The biggest impact we can make to sustainability is through our offering, which helps our customers increase productivity, reduce their environmental impact and become safer.”
Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions – sales area APAC, business line manager – load and haul, Andrew Dawson says the Consortium will also advance the company’s vision as a market leader for EVs.
“The Consortium gathers like-minded companies with electrification goals and allows us to work collaboratively to develop road maps and together shape the future of the electrified mine,” Dawson says.
Epiroc business line manager Shaiful Ali says the standardisation that the Consortium brings will simplify electric mining operations.
This would also encourage safer operations, by allowing workers to easily understand safety standards and protocols associated with EVs.
“We all need to understand a standardised way for how we do things. The goal is to make it simpler for a more consistent output,” he says.
“With the Consortium, this is the main driver to ensure there is a standardised way of how we do things moving forward.”
Epiroc also offers its Batteries as a Service solution to encourage simpler adoption of electric mining equipment.
“The Batteries as a Service solution allows control and management of all batteries on site to be put into the hands of Epiroc, including maintenance and upgrades, allowing for a hassle-free approach towards electrifying a mine,” Shaiful says.
Beer says electric underground mining equipment, like the options offered by Sandvik and Epiroc, have the potential to save lives.
“You have over a million workers exposed to diesel equipment in operating environments in mines in Australia today, and we know diesel exhaust has 30 to 40 harmful different components to them no matter how well you filter them or how much you ventilate your underground,” Beer says.
“Just by addressing that alone is a significant benefit to the industry as a whole.”