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Leading manufactures adding electric vehicles to underground mining offerings
November 14, 2018

The future of underground mining equipment is cleaner and quieter than ever before as the leading manufactures turn to electric drives to power the equipment.

As underground mines continue to go deeper than ever before the challenges of ventilating the mines grows. Electric drive vehicles can help provide a solution.

The advantages of electric drive include lower fuel consumption and fewer emissions and lower noise leading to a healthier work environment. With the lower emissions mines can safely reduce the expense on ventilation systems that remove pollutants from the environment. These advantages have driven demand for the equipment and recently Epiroc and Caterpillar, two of the leading manufacturers of underground mining equipment, announced new offerings.

At a press event in Tucson, AZ, Caterpillar announced that its R1700 load haul dump truck, first shown to the public at MINExpo 2016, is now available. Susan Gaugush, commercial manager for underground machinery said the R1700 has a payload capacity of 13 t (15 st) is the first new underground mining truck the company has introduced in two years. It brings Caterpillar’s offering of underground mining vehicles to 10.
Epiroc also announced plans for electric vehicles and said at a customer event in Orebro, Sweden that it intends to electrify all its underground machines within five years.

The company launched a new range, including what it says is the largest battery-powered vehicle for mining below the Earth’s surface: a 38-t (42-st) capacity truck that can haul blasted rock through narrow tunnels. It’s part of the company’s latest series of mobile excavators, including drill rigs and loaders, designed to cut emissions and lower energy costs for miners.

The push for electrified mining got a further boost last month from an industry lobby, the International Council on Mining and Metals, which plans to minimize the impact of underground diesel exhaust by 2025, Bloomberg reported.

“Next year we will start production of an 16.3-t (18-st) loader and we will start offering medium-sized drill rigs with battery options,” said Sami Niiranen, who has been appointed to lead Epiroc’s underground equipment unit.

Epiroc, which is using power packs assembled by Northvolt AB, said the upfront cost of buying a battery-powered vehicle would be about twice that of a conventional one. While this is compensated by lower fuel and energy costs down the road, the initial pain could be prohibitive. In a bid to boost sales, Epiroc will lease batteries for its new range of vehicles separately, making the initial outlay only slightly higher than for an equivalent diesel machine.

The new electric vehicles are bigger and more powerful than Epiroc’s first models that hit the market in 2016 and are used by customers including Brazilian mining company Nexa Resources. So far, they make up only a small part of sales for Epiroc, which has worked on electrification since 2013. Their best hope are new or expanding mines that aren’t already equipped with expensive ventilation systems.

Cross-town Swedish rival Sandvik AB has delivered hundreds of vehicles powered by electric cables, and has plans to launch its own battery-powered machines. The Nordic companies dominate global sales of underground mining equipment, with a combined three quarters of the market. They compete with Caterpillar Inc. and Japan’s Komatsu Ltd.

The International Council on Mining and Metals also aims to achieve greenhouse gas-free vehicles for surface mining by 2040. Yet the transition to electric vehicles still has some way to go.

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