The charge toward decarbonisation

The charge toward decarbonisation
Photo credit: https://thecoalface.net.au/

The mining sector has long been an innovator in the use of electric powered machinery. Going as far back as the introduction of power stripping shovels and draglines in the 1910s, and trolley trucks in the 1930s, the use of electricity as an alternative source of propulsion has been widespread.

In recent decades, this has seen the evolution of DC systems to AC and the introduction of hybrid machines incorporating diesel and electric technology combined with energy storage systems such as capacitors. These developments have seen a range of OEM's launch mass-produced hybrid machines, with Hitachi and Komatsu the first to introduce a wheel loader and excavator, respectively.

With hybrid technology increasingly coming to the fore, there is a critical focus to expand upon the technologies underpinning these systems, including the fuels and drivers integral to their operation. This attempt to 'dig deeper' increases the scope of the opportunity/challenge with considerations extending beyond the machine itself, to include more efficient charging/refuelling solutions, longer run times, better power and lower emissions as some of the top priorities.

The development of pure battery electric vehicles (BEV) and hydrogen powered fuel cell (FCEV) technology is the next phase in this evolution.

As a result, numerous partnerships between industry, OEMs, battery and fuel cell manufacturers and government agencies are increasingly arising to expand these technologies.

Focused on decarbonising the sector and finding sustainable methods of powering “energy-hungry” machinery poses many interesting challenges. How do you charge a 400-tonne electric haul truck? What would be the impact of “closed systems” that require OEM specific charging/fuelling infrastructure? How do sites transition to new technology while still maximising the lifespan of the existing fleet and, in the absence of fast charging/refuelling turnaround times, how do companies maintain appropriate utilisation levels without the impact of significant machine downtime?

Last month, a consortium lead by BHP, Rio Tinto and Vale launched the Charge On Innovation Challenge to address these very questions. With a focus on developing effective solutions for mine electrification and decarbonisation, the Challenge seeks to develop solutions that can deliver in the order of 400kWh of electricity to each truck within a haul cycle (i.e. load, travel, dump, return, queue).

Not an easy task, given stationery charging solutions, are not within the scope of this Challenge. Open to vendors globally, the initiative asks participants to present interoperable solutions that can safely deliver electricity to large battery-electric off-road haul trucks in a way that maintains or improves current productivity levels.

Like to know more, go to https://chargeoninnovation.com/.

This article was originally published by the Components Only team in the June 2021 issue of "@ The Coal Face" magazine.

Published 11 June, 2021
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