Exploring Load and Haul
There is a growing trend toward OEMs delivering smaller haul trucks, in either concept form or mass manufacture for the mining industry. There have also been multiple emerging technologies that power the emerging fleets of the future. In this short blog post we will explore what driving factors are changing the thought processes that “bigger is always best” and discuss the maturity of different power sources when it comes to haul trucks of the future.
At Unearthed we like to keep our finger on the pulse across the multiple emerging technological spaces that surface across the resources landscape. We are going to be “exploring” these areas in a once monthly examination of specific value driving domains.
There are multiple facets that drive machinery choice for mining operations; underground it is a balance between size of machine and size of excavation - if you’ve never experienced a truck stuck in a decline or underground drive then believe us, it isn't pretty and is time consuming to rectify! On the surface there are fewer constraints but multiple engineering factors that need to be taken into account, at the various stages of a mine's development.
Then there are also supply and availability factors to take into account when selecting machinery. Mining fleets globally are used, abused and run as frequently as possible by the operations they service. With standardised fleets allowing for improved workshop and maintenance performance and availability there are many positives to a standardised fleet.
As we drive our operations to net zero the traditional diesel fleets used for mining activities will come under increasing scrutiny.. Generally, load and haul activities can account for between 25-60% of overall emissions at an active operation (there are multiple components including mine type, style, design, processing capability etc. that can impact this figure).
There are already multiple areas being explored by both large OEMs and start-ups across the globe, that can assist in the reduction of carbon footprint attributed to load & haul:
- Alternative fuels: alternative fuels such as biodiesel or hydrogen fuel cells can be utilised to aid in reduction of emissions. Biodiesel is a renewable energy source that can be produced from vegetable oils or animal fats, delivering a circular approach to fuel usage. Hydrogen fuel cells emit only water vapor and heat as byproducts and are now being proven commercially.
- Electrification of mining trucks: Electric trucks produce zero emissions at the point of use and can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of mining operations. With advancements in battery technology, and “trolley” systems, electric trucks are being explored by the mining industry.
- Autonomous vehicles: Autonomous trucks are becoming more prevalent in the mining industry, particularly in large open pit operations. They offer a significant reduction in emissions by improving efficiency and reducing idle time at the dig face. With the ability to optimise speed, braking, and acceleration, with a whole of systems approach.
- Use of GPS and data analysis: By analysing information from GPS systems and other data sources within the mining cycles, operations can optimise truck routes, dig rates and fleet availability, which can all assist in reducing emissions.
For those assessing solutions and systems that are emerging for use at their operations there may be a sense of “overload” in potential avenues to explore. It is likely that at full maturity, a combination of technologies that can combine the above focus areas will deliver the best results for miners and their journey toward NetZero for their load and haul requirements.
Four innovative load and haul ideas to explore:
There are multiple businesses and start-ups working across this broad domain and below are four innovative ideas that may be worth exploring for your project. Some of which may make smaller incremental steps for existing operations, whilst others would require full fleet upgrades:
First Mode’s hydrogen fuelled engine being retrofitted to the existing haulage fleet.
First Mode has grown rapidly since launch in 2018, now headquartered in London, with offices in all corners of the world. This highlights the success of their innovative approach to heavy haulage power generation which utilises hydrogen as a zero emission fuel.
Notably they have achieved rapid commercial success following a partnership with mining giant, Anglo American. Who following the recent agreement have taken a majority shareholding in the business, whilst simultaneously placing an order to retro-fit four hundred current operating haul trucks across their global footprint!
A diagram showcasing the BluVein system at the edge of a mines haulage ramp
The team at BluVein have utilised technology often seen in our inner city rail systems and modified it for use within a mining environment. The solution delivers electricity via a slotted power rail system to the various mobile fleets at an operation in conjunction with a machine mounted pantograph for power exchange.
The electrified rail would be positioned in all major access ramps as the main power source when the machine is climbing. It would simultaneously charge the onboard batteries, for when the machine isn't attached to the rail to either be loaded or dispatch its load to a crusher or stockpile.
This style of hybrid direct power delivery and battery system, seen previously in the 1980s with the underground Kiruna truck, would reduce the requirements for complicated and time consuming battery swaps mid cycle. Something that will likely drive value for the globe’s deepening underground operations.
The Volvo TA15 offers a smaller fully autonomous and electric driven load and haul option
A name famous in the automotive world is Volvo and one of their latest releases turns the last 50 years of mining on its head. Not only does the TARA concept radically reduce the size of the truck, it also does away with the cabin, as the system is fully automated.
This electric driven load and haul option delivers a “micro fleet” compared to many modern open pit operations. However, there are some clear advantages in this smaller approach:
- Roadways and ramps can we significantly narrower and tighter, reducing strip ratios
- Loading tools can be reduced in size, allowing for precision mining
- Overall availability is improved, due to reduced payload, when one machine is out of service it doesnt severely impact the mines output
For most, the radical step to totally remove the cabin of these machines may be a generation too early, however we are already seeing huge scale unmanned autonomous systems in the iron ore operation of Western Australia.
SafeAI delivers a system that utilises both hardware and software components of the automation puzzle.
Autonomous haulage has been delivered en masse by the larger scale mining operations across the globe, with huge budgets and remote operation centres. There is growing interest from the efficiency and repeatability these solutions can drive from smaller mining houses.
SafeAI has an established global footprint with multiple offices across the world. Their solution allows existing, in-service haulage fleets to be adapted for autonomous use. With both the hardware and software expertise to deliver a turn key solution for those exploring automation.
The system is adaptable to multiple fleet styles and works across rigid and articulated truck variations. With the ZENO Autonomous Management System allowing for optimised and repeatable outcomes for the operational team.
Due to the heavy lifting that the load and haul fleet completes and its current reliance on diesel power delivery, there will likely be several novel ideas that surface in the coming year. Their applicability and adaption to the various different mining styles will need to be determined during vigorous research and development phases.
Currently there is no replacement industry standard to diesel drive but one would imagine within the next decade, two or three prominent technologies will emerge as NetZero requirements come to maturity.
One thing does appear clear though, that irrespective of the energy source for the material movement, there will likely be less human interface with the machines and their cycles. Rather mature automation systems that can deliver repeatable outcomes for mining operations.
Feedback on the “Explored” series:
Unearthed was launched in 2014 with the aim of empowering the resources sector to lead in a sustainable future. Our team identifies cutting-edge technologies, innovators, and companies to make this vision a reality. We are part of a worldwide effort to improve efficiency and increase resource production to meet the growing global demand for essential resources
As part of our commitment to helping deliver tangible change to the industry in 2023 Unearthed is kicking off the Explored and Unearthing series.
These are in addition to our flagship open innovation challenges and will enable us to explore different resource sector technology domains and unearth technologies, companies, and innovators that are working hard to solve them. We want to make these great opportunities for both sides of the equation. Expanding industry knowledge, whilst showcasing those who are working hard to add innovative value.
As with all new initiatives your support in providing feedback on the domains we are exploring and how we are enriching your knowledge is much appreciated.