Electrification is the key enabler of the digital transition from emission-heavy mines to decarbonised, sustainable operations, as Mehrzad Ashnagaran explains
Electrification, automation, digitalisation: three defining technology trends that are set to transform asset and resource-heavy mining operations globally over the coming decades. Mine operators now have at their disposal a range of electrification solutions combined with digital tools – the industrial internet of things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics, among them – that offer complete visualisation of the entire production chain, improving productivity, reducing costly downtime and facilitating predictive rather than reactive maintenance.
Meanwhile, the 2022 UN Climate Change conference, COP27, saw world leaders renew their vows to limit global temperature rise and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from heavy industry and wider society, in line with global treaties such as the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact.
ABB believes that integrated electrification with automation and digital is the key enabler of the transition from mines powered by fossil fuels to clean, energy-efficient operations powered by renewables. Mine design will integrate electrification and digital – from hoists to grinding and from conveyors to vehicles – to optimise all processes and equipment, paving the way for the all-electric mines of the future that incorporate optimal design and operations for more efficient, sustainable energy and resource consumption.
The progress to electrification is slow but inevitable. Mining will continue to play a key role in the transition to a more sustainable world by providing commodities required for electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines. However, the sector is responsible for around 4-7% of GHG emissions, much of it from diesel trucks. Hybrid vehicles that run on trolley lines and automated ventilation on demand systems are just two examples of innovations that limit energy use and keep workers safe.
Hoping to be a cornerstone of this transition, ABB’s pilot eMine FastCharge aims to become the world’s fastest and only fully automated charging system for mining haul trucks, providing up to 600kW of power.
Offering ultra-fast charging to maximise productivity and digitally enabled to optimise energy usage, FastCharge – part of the ABB Ability eMine portfolio – can be swiftly integrated into a mine’s work schedule for lower CAPEX/OPEX, and monitored and controlled for optimised charging in real-time.
Importantly, FastCharge uses open automotive industry standards and is interoperable, meaning it can connect with all trucks in response to demands for more standardised, vendor-agnostic solutions built around alliances of technical suppliers and OEMs. The company believes this will be the working model of choice for electrification projects, particularly when it comes to mobile fleet integration.
Copper Mountain Case Study
Advancements in battery technology, such as FastCharge, promise to accelerate the uptake of electric haul trucks in surface mines to supplement and ultimately replace heavily polluting diesel vehicles.
Trolley assist lines are being used to reduce emissions from diesel trucks in open pit operations, replacing them with hybrid-electric vehicles that use considerably less diesel fuel and thus produce fewer GHGs. Hybrid trucks also travel faster on the ramp, boosting throughput.
Diesel consumption from haul trucks was responsible for around 70% of the GHG emissions at the Copper Mountain mine in British Columbia, Canada, prompting operator Copper Mountain Mining to partner with ABB to deliver an open-pit haul truck trolley assist solution for the flagship site, which produces approximately 100 million pounds (45,000 metric tons) of copper equivalent a year.
Each truck is fitted with a pantograph to receive external electric power. In addition to delivering both the off-truck trolley assist and overhead catenary system infrastructure, ABB is providing a rectifier substation that provides in excess of 12MW of DC power to the new trolley assist system. The control system also connects with the existing distributed control system automation platform, allowing for easy integration and monitoring of trolley operations and energy usage at the mine.
The initial phase of the trolley assist system was installed in late 2021; this project is aimed at cutting carbon emissions at the Copper Mountain Mine by at least 30%, paving a solid foundation to achieve the company’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2035. Trucks run with 80% speed increase ensuring higher performance. Copper Mountain Mining has advised that overall, the mine will reduce carbon intensity by more than 50% in 5-7 years through electrification and capacity increase, part of the company’s journey towards net-zero carbon emissions by 2035.
The Future Is Integrated And Electric
The Copper Mountain trolley assist project is a compelling example of how electrification technology can be successfully integrated with existing equipment and processes – as well as digital applications and services – to monitor and optimise energy usage. Increasingly, digital platforms such as MineOptimize are encompassing the entire value chain, from hardware and software to visualisation and analytics tools as well as the various mine operations including electrification and sustainability.
Companies that commit to CAPEX in charging infrastructure, battery swapping, trolley systems or a combination of these – combined with harnessing the power of digital, data and automation – can look forward to a competitive advantage in the market and, just as importantly, demonstrate that the industry is serious about decarbonisation and securing a safer, more sustainable future
Mehrzad Ashnagaran is with ABB