Electric Mining Vehicles: What the future holds

Regenerative drives designed for mining vehicles are already enhancing efficiency while also reducing cost and emissions.
Today, regenerative drives made for rugged mining vehicles are ensuring complete efficiencies, enabling mine operators to make enormous savings on heat, energy consumption, gas emissions as well as ventilation systems.

It’s obvious that the mining industry has been struggling in the past few years owing to depression in the pricing of its products. Moving further down the road, more and more advanced companies are foreseeing great potential in hybrid-electric or fully-electric vehicles including tucks, excavators, dill rigs and front loaders.

And mine operators and OEM vehicle producers have already discovered that when electric mining vehicles are integrated as part of a long-term strategy, they deliver numerous advantages.

The bottom line; electric vehicles can help mining companies to generate significant cost savings. Considering how profitability is squeezed today, any possible cost saving would be beneficial to mine operators.

But even during good economic times when the market is thriving, electric vehicles can still further enhance healthy margins. Various factors have contributed to the move by OEM vehicle manufacturers to develop models with full-electric or hybrid-electric functionality. And the mine operators are waiting in expectation.

Higher efficiencies in numerous areas

This refers to efficiency in relation to toxic emissions, energy use, waste heat generation and costs, and expenses in line with construction and powering ventilation systems.

Truly, electrical vehicles that depend on batteries require more capital investment compared to the current diesel technology. Even with this, a one-two years payback period is feasible, and sometimes immediate payback can be realised in no time.

Diesel engines have been the mining standard in the traditional industry, despite their inefficiency at turning energy input into motion output. In the best scenario, they can attain around 45 per cent efficiency, with the remaining energy being lost to waste heat. On the other hand, electric drive trains can easily hit 90 per cent energy efficiency or even more.

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Sturdy for a tough environment
To date, the drive train powered by a diesel engine has been dominating the mining technology, and for all the good reasons. The mining environment is known to be very challenging and only the diesel engine driven system is sturdy enough to withstand the tough conditions. These include constant vibration, aggressive pressure washing, high ambience temperatures, violent shocks, corrosive acidic liquids, harsh gases, and start/stop load cycles, and other unforgiving treatment.

With these in mind, and closely liaising with mining vehicle OEMs, ABB Drives and Controls have introduced drives that can effectively control electric motors in low or no emission mining equipment. The company is now designing rugged, functional and purpose-oriented drives. As the leading global player with the biggest market share in drives with variable frequency, ABB believes this is the best way to catalyze rapid progress in electric mining vehicles.

Capture of regenerative energy

The drives’ regenerative function is critical in allowing the motor or hydraulic pump’s braking energy to be captured and eventually stored in a capacitor or storage battery. The drive controls the energy flow and converts all kinetic or potential energy into electric energy.

Cost and ventilation issues

Besides being important drivers, proper ventilation and air circulation are also among the biggest cost elements in underground mines. With their ability to reduce generated waste heat and emissions, electric vehicles ventilations are lower as compared to diesel-driven engines. With time, this significantly reduces the cost of energy required to circulate air in a way that meets health and safety requirements, hence saving millions of dollars each year. And when considering a mine expansion, electric vehicles’ reduced heat and emissions means the ventilation system dimensioning becomes smaller and hence cheaper.

Reliability and maintenance benefits

Reliability and maintenance costs are critical issues that need consideration. Most OEMs have discovered that electric drives are less costly because of the fewer wearing parts. For instance, there’s no gearbox and an oil lubrication system is not required.

In addition, diesel engine has a greater range, and instead of using diesel to generate maximum peak energy, the dimensioning of the diesel engine is made smaller to cover the average energy demand.

Solutions in line with proven drive technology

Considering all the various requirements for electric mining vehicles, and based on keen analysis of the market, ABB has designed a purpose-built  HES880 mobile drive. This design is unique and founded on the proven ACS880 all-compatible drive technology, which is common among OEMs and mine operators who prefer it.

Besides being compact and robust, this electric vehicle drive is different with distinct features including:

  • It’s a modular product made on the basis of a single design model and three varied firmware
  • Its single-design model can be customized into specific applications by simply installing the right firmware
  • Software options capable of controlling the motor and generator, power grid connection, and power flow to and from the energy storage
  • Hardware remains intact regardless of the application, simplifying stocking of equipment based on interchangeability of parts
  • Flexible vehicle layout due to the compact size of the drive
  • Unlike diesel, (engine and power train fixed in the core of the vehicle), electric drive lines are flexibly positioned to provide the driver with a wider field of view in the workspace.

As the electric vehicle technology continues to advance in development, we can only look forward to more safer, flexible and user-friendly equipment.

Innovators are making good progress

Given the huge potential of cost savings and efficiencies offered by electric vehicles, besides the shorter payback periods, ABB is making plans to invest more resources in the technology to effectively catalyze the emerging trends. Based on the company’s global expertise and coverage with regards to drives, mining vehicle solutions such as the HES880 drive ensure a greater market pull from operators in the mining industry and a stronger market push from the OEM vehicle producers which will be highly beneficial to the mining sector.

To this end, there’s no doubt that the electric mining vehicles future is great and already here with us.

IMAGE via dave_7

The Author

Hi, my name is Erin and I am a journalist, content creator and editor working within the Public Relations department at Australian Solar Quotes. I am passionate about the continuously developing renewable energy industry. I am eager to educate others about the benefits and advancements of sustainable living, and I encourage you to join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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