Study shows all-electric mine fleet already feasible

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West Australian nickel and lithium producer IGO said the white paper, produced in collaboration with Perth-based mining services group Perenti and Swiss-headquartered electronics engineering company ABB, highlights the feasibility of employing a full-electric fleet in the current Australian market.

The Cosmos Underground Electrification Study analysed the technical and economic aspects of converting the underground fleet at IGO’s Cosmos mine near Leinster in Western Australia’s northern Goldfields from diesel vehicles to battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The planned underground diesel-fuelled fleet includes heavy trucks and loaders, ancillary vehicles such as drills and charge rigs, and light vehicles, including four-wheel drive utes.

IGO said the study shows that BEVs already available in the Australian market could match the productivity of a planned diesel fleet and the estimated cost to electrify the underground fleet was not prohibitive.

It also found that despite the increased power required to directly run the BEV fleet, the annual underground power consumption for the electric fleet scenario was less than for the diesel alternative, primarily due to the significant reduction in cooling requirements.

“Consequently, the estimated overall power balance of the electrified Cosmos site was on average less than that of the existing diesel operation,” the report says.

The study acknowledges that “fully electric fleets are more complex to manage than diesel fleets” but found that an all-electric fleet at Cosmos could meet the productivity levels through a combination of strategically located battery swapping stations and charging points to minimise downtime, and BEV fleet solutions utilising currently available technology.

Specifically, the study concludes that two 65-tonne BEV trucks could replace and match the haulage capacity of Cosmos’ two planned 63-tonne diesel trucks, utilising battery swapping stations with swaps occurring every 3-5 haul cycles and taking 8-10 minutes each.

BEV loaders would also utilise battery swapping stations, typically requiring a fresh battery 2-3 times per shift. Due to conservative speed assumptions used in the current modelling, the report concludes that the planned loading fleet of three diesel loaders may need to be replaced with four BEV loaders.

The report asserts that ancillary diesel equipment such as drills, graders, and light vehicles could be replaced with BEV equivalents.

IGO is currently developing the underground operation at its Cosmos project site.

Image: IGO

The report has identified areas of further study to realise the full potential of battery electrification, which includes more detailed modelling and field trial data to verify the real-world capability of the planned BEV loading fleet.

Perenti Executive Sponsor for electrification and decarbonisation Raj Ratneser said the results show that in principle, mines stand to save operational costs and offset additional capital requirements by electrifying their fleets as soon as practicable.

“An all-electric mine is closer than ever, with the right equipment available and the mindset of the industry changing,” he said. “As BEV technology develops, and our understanding of how these vehicles can be best integrated into an operating mine improves, we expect electric mining solutions to only become more competitive against existing diesel-powered options.”

IGO Acting Chief Operating Officer Chris Carr said while all mines are different, the study has substantial value for the wider industry as it demonstrates that the electrification of underground mining fleet is technically feasible, in the right circumstances.

“The electrification of fleet at mining operations will be pivotal in the industry’s commitment to advancing towards net zero emissions,” he said. “In addition, the removal of diesel from underground operations will eliminate diesel particulate matter and other diesel exhaust gases, resulting in improved working conditions and better health outcomes for employees.”

Author: Ken Braganza

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