Alain Schierenbeck profiles the technology that is leading the way to zero emissions.
The mining industry faces steep challenges when it comes to reducing emissions and pollution. The nature of mining work necessitates the clearance of land, the use of chemicals and the use of heavy vehicles for digging and processing.
The contribution of vehicles to the overall missions from mining sites is significant. Mining vehicles account for 50-80% of the direct carbon emissions at the mine. The amount of vehicular emissions tend to be greater for more mature mining sites, where deposits to ore require longer travel and hauling times.
With 68 million tons of CO2 being emitted by ~28 000 hauling trucks each year, there is huge potential to reduce the overall environmental impact of mining by addressing vehicular emissions. Currently, the ICMM – one of the major mining industry bodies – is looking to replace all mining vehicles with electric vehicle (EV) alternatives by 2050.
Although EVs are growing in popularity in many countries and improved vehicle charging infrastructure is facilitating their use, the idea of replacing heavy-duty mining vehicles does pose some additional challenges that are not faced by smaller domestic vehicles.
Mining sites often have very rough territory and are located in very remote terrain. The distances covered for hauling may be very large, so there needs to be reasonable confidence that batteries can maintain their charge over long-distance journeys while hauling several tons of material. All of these factors means that batteries need to offer a superb level of reliability, and any weight-saving or improved capacity is critical.
However, despite the challenges, companies such as Stäubli are pioneering many new technological solutions to make EVs a viable alternative. These new innovations are helping the mining industry make the much-needed transition to no-emission vehicles for a greener future.
Stäubli has developed a connection device for the automated charging of high-power systems. One of the additional challenges for mining vehicles over domestic is that the sheer scale of the vehicles means their power demands are so much greater and so additional electrical infrastructure is needed. The automated connection device, the QCC, offers a universal solution for charging various types of heavy-duty electric vehicles, including buses, boats and trucks, with very short recharging times. The system can transfer the high level of power required for fast recharge of both Li-ion batteries and supercapacitors. This innovative solution also allows for a new model for electric vehicles – lightweight, small batteries with frequent charging for an overall more efficient vehicle that does not have to carry the burden of large battery storage capacity.
Just 20 minutes of charging time can offer 4-5 hours of continuous operation. The QCC system can provide up to 1,500V and 670A continuous or 1,000A over the short term for very rapid charging and is future proof with the ability to scale power and design.
The QCC reframes the idea of what kinds of vehicles and batteries can be used in mining applications and is designed to be easy to integrate with existing plants. The system offers interoperability according to IEC 63407 / SAE3105/3.
The connector has integrated angular and positioning misalignment compensation, removing the need for external positioning sensors or adjustment parts. There is also a self-cleaning mechanism – particularly important for dusty and dirty mining environments – which helps extend the already impressive service life and guarantees reliable, operation with a large number of mating cycles and virtually no maintenance.
Safety is of the utmost concern on mining sites. There are still many mining accidents each year, and a lot of equipment will be exposed to relatively harsh environmental conditions. The enclosed and fully automated connection device does not require any manual work for the charging process and is touch-protected, so any workers nearby are at no risk.
There are now a number of worldwide targets outlining decarbonisation plans to be achieved by 2050. The benefits and positive environmental impact EVs could have in the mining industry are clear, as is the need to change current practices, but achieving these may appear prohibitively expensive.
Another benefit of the QCC is that it can be retrofitted with ease to existing infrastructure. As well as opening up the possibility to use vehicles with smaller batteries, the installation of automated connection devices does not require any major construction. The small footprint of these charging points also means there does not need to be any redesign or major work to incorporate the benefits of rapid EV charging into existing sites.
Alain Schierenbeck is with Stäubli.