Electric, battery-powered equipment and machinery has been increasingly adopted by major mining operations worldwide, but there is a considerable way to go to achieve the industry’s objective of total electrification.
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One of the biggest challenges right now is using batteries to power heavy-duty vehicles operating under demanding circumstances, with heavy-duty loading and hauling on inclined roads being a particular challenge. This power-intensive operation currently requires larger-than-standard batteries, more frequent battery swapping, or some type of additional infrastructure.
BluVein’s Two-in-One Electric Power and Charging Solution
BluVein is one start-up company looking to meet this challenge with its two-in-one electric power and charging solution. Using an approach that it calls “dynamic charging”, the company's rail-based solution allows for the total electrification of heavy-duty trucks operating on inclined roads.
With worker safety and standardization of operations in mind, the BluVein system uses a proprietary rail design (BluVein Rail) and hammer-shaped mechanical connector (BluVein Hammer) to both charge a vehicle’s batteries and simultaneously power its electric motors. This approach requires minimal installation of new infrastructure and eliminates the need for battery swapping and downtime.
The rail system is intended for areas where heavy-duty operations are occurring, such as over pit ramps and sloping mineshafts.
The rail system can be terminated at areas of flat ground. After a vehicle disconnects, it can automatically switch to its onboard batteries for power. This targeted use of the system minimizes complexity and costs.
Electrified rail systems are not a new technology. However, the electrical systems available cannot be used in some areas because of safety concerns and mining regulations. The use of conventional electrified rail is particularly challenging in underground mining operations, where clearance and space are limited.
In the BluVein system, high-voltage conductors are located safely within a slotted rail structure designed to mitigate risks of accidental contact with equipment or mining personnel.
The initial focus of the BluVein system electrifies underground mining operations, but the system could also be used in open pit mining and quarry environments. In these other environments, the system still offers the same advantages that it does for underground operations.
BluVein has said its system is designed for OEMs and mining operations looking to develop and use heavy-duty electric battery solutions without having to frequently swap in fully charged batteries or use large batteries specifically for the heaviest mining operations.
Seven large mining businesses are financially backing the technology, and a lot of the interest appears to be driven by the industry's overall desire to eliminate carbon emissions from underground operations. This would not only make mining operations less hazardous but would also improve the industry's sustainability.
BluVein is a new company formed by two existing companies: the Sweden-based EVIAS and the Australia-based Olitek. The start-up’s system is based on technology developed by EVIAS that was originally intended to enable electrified highways for electric vehicles.
Why Electrification of the Mining Industry is Important
Because of its unsustainability, connections to fossil fuel, and hazardous working conditions, the mining industry does not have one of the best reputations.
However, mining is an essential modern industry, as it has been for centuries. Moving forward, mining is expected to be even more important as the mineral resources we need to build digital devices must be extracted from deep underground. Even as society embraces the adoption of electric vehicles, mining will still be necessary to produce everything from microchips to electric batteries.
Mining is essential to the modern and future society, and therefore the electrification of mining is becoming an increasing necessity. Regulations, worker safety, difficult accessibility, environmental impacts, and costs are just a few of the reasons why the industry is pushing toward greater electrification. Ideally, mining will become a zero-emissions industry, with operations being powered by solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources.
Electrification also makes sense from a business standpoint. The business benefits of mine electrification are often understated. Although fossil fuels are cheaper to use than electric power, there are significant indirect costs associated with their use. The environmental costs associated with fossil fuels are significant, and an electric drivetrain is much more efficient than a drivetrain powered by a combustion engine. Electric drivetrains also tend to require less maintenance than conventional drivetrains, resulting in less downtime.
Many large international mining corporations have already taken steps to electrify their operations. One small step that some companies have taken is to use electric vehicles to transport workers to mining sites. Some companies have gone further and electrified their fleet of hauling trucks.
While workers enjoy the immediate benefits of electrification, such as less pollution in quieter operations, future generations will see even greater benefits. To that end, major investors have been driving the mining industry's push toward more ethical choices such as electrification.
References and Further Reading
Gleeson, D. BluVein charges into mine electrification space. IM- International Mining. [Online] Available at: https://im-mining.com/2021/04/01/bluvein-charges-into-mine-electrification-space/
Parker, T. Major miners back BluVein trolley-charging technology. Australian Mining. [Online] Available at: https://www.australianmining.com.au/
ABB. Decarbonization of mining: a realistic way forward. [Online] Available at: https://new.abb.com/mining/mineoptimize/systems-solutions/mining-electrification/decarbonization-of-mining-a-realistic-way-forward
BluVein. Dynamic Charging Technology for Heavy Duty Battery Electric Mining Vehicles. [Online] Available at: https://bluvein.com/