Enabling low-carbon hauling

Online Editor

Drew Larsen explains why OEM-agnostic autonomous haulage is a critical part of decarbonisation initiatives.

The decarbonisation movement within the mining industry has seen a tremendous uptick in carbon reduction commitments from mine operators worldwide. Given that diesel-powered haul trucks account for an estimated 60% of Scope 1 carbon emissions within surface mining, alternative energy options are receiving the most acute focus for change. This impetus has subsequently driven tremendous efforts from truck original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), energy solutions providers, as well as a host of technology companies, all with a common goal of helping to forge acceptable solutions that will achieve the decarbonisation goals of those mine operators. Current energy-related developments are based on a plethora of options including trolley, battery electric, hydrogen, and other hybrid approaches.

ASI Mining is one of the technology providers that supplies OEM-agnostic autonomous haulage systems (AHS), an enabler of decarbonisation solutions for mine haulage. Most diesel alternatives will require more precise navigation, such as being able to position a truck pantograph system accurately, consistently and at a defined speed under a trolley electric cable. For electric vehicles, truck navigation will need to include dynamic path orchestration to facilitate efficient recharging by precise routing and docking to static power charging stations or other on-the-fly (flash-) charging methods. Virtually all contemplated diesel-alternative truck solutions will require some degree of precise navigation or strict adherence to instructions from dynamic energy management systems (EMS) to enable efficient operations. Flawless execution of those instructions with minimal variability becomes more and more critical in this environment.

A flexible solution

As an OEM-agnostic AHS, ASI Mining’s solution can be adapted to almost any make/model of haul truck. At the heart of the solution is Mobius, an autonomous traffic management system (TMS) that provides autonomous supervisory control for various mining applications. Traditionally, these systems execute routing assignments coming from a fleet management system (FMS) in accordance with a mine plan. In ASI Mining’s case, Mobius is interoperable with most leading FMS offerings. As an EMS becomes available, the TMS will receive assignments from the mine plan, via the FMS and EMS. Both will be needed to execute the mine plan, while also orchestrating energy-driven vehicle behaviours, in an optimal way. The TMS relays these assignments to the autonomous trucks’ on-board systems for accurate execution.

Common sense would conclude that some of these EMS algorithms will be embedded within next-generation FMS or TMS as a proprietary piece of code. Other providers will likely emerge with stand-alone EMS optimisation engines that are interoperable with FMS/TMS. OEM-agnostic solutions by nature support a much higher degree of interoperability and therefore it is anticipated that these EMS engines, in whatever form they may take, will be integrated into the overall AHS stack of an OEM-agnostic AHS.

Because most of the above-mentioned energy solutions are still in their infancy, limited to prototypes and trials, the benefit of OEM-agnostic AHS becomes even more pronounced. Most AHS programs offered by truck OEMs require a long-term commitment to a specific truck manufacturer. This means by choosing an OEM AHS solution, mine operators are essentially locked with one specific brand in perpetuity. The alternate energy race is just beginning and today it is not clear which technology will ultimately yield the best results, or exactly when these new zero emission vehicles will have the maturity to be deployed into mining operations in mass. Operators that commit long-term to a truck OEM based on the AHS technology are, in effect, betting on a horse race without knowing which horse is most likely to win. The OEM-agnostic approach allows operations the ability to hedge their bet, by converting their current fleets today, while preserving the ability to pivot to a new make or model that may emerge as the best fit for their decarbonisation goals.

It should also be understood that the decarbonisation movement is more like a journey than an event. Even after full commercialisation of new zero emission trucks to the market, the adoption and replacement of today’s fleet will take years, if not decades. This creates an even greater need for flexibility as mine operators must now deal with operating mixed fleets of traditional diesel and diesel electric trucks, alongside EV or hydrogen-powered fleets. Energy solutions that require a homogonous approach to operation will be difficult to implement.

The bigger picture

Not all decarbonisation initiatives will consider the rapid transition to alternate energy sources a priority. In fact, many mine operations are focusing on becoming more energy efficient through other means, at least at first. This highlights yet another segment of the market looking to reduce its carbon footprint via other means, such as idle reduction or optimised driving methods. These initiatives have proven very effective in achieving significant reductions in fuel consumption in excess of 10%, but these usually rely heavily on changing human driving behaviours to achieve these results. Here again, AHS can facilitate energy conservation methods by incorporating idle reduction and fuel burn optimisation strategies, which can be much more easily hard coded into AHS algorithms to achieve consistent results, rather than achieving these by changing behaviours in large groups of haul truck operators.

With most things, there will likely not be a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to decarbonisation. OEM-agnostic AHS, which can adapt to varying decarbonisation strategies, handle mixed vehicle makes, models, and powerplant types will provide a great path to success. Further to this, OEM-agnostic AHS appears to provide the greatest flexibility to support broad combinations of energy strategies and accommodate the slow evolution and rollout of this next wave of vehicle technologies.

Drew Larsen is with ASI Robots.

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