Reduced ventilation costs, cleaner air
Mike Kasaba foresees the day when diesel no longer fuels underground mining.
The chief executive officer of Artisan Vehicle Systems, a company that supplies battery-powered, electric powertrains for mining equipment, Kasaba predicts that within five years all new equipment purchases for underground mines will be zero emission and diesel equipment will be progressively phased out.
He delivered his forecast during a recent Toronto conference of the Mining Diesel Emissions Council. To prepare for diesel’s demise, his company recently opened a 60,000-square-foot battery development centre and production facility designed to boost production levels by 10 times, in Camarillo, California.
“The driving force behind the expansion is this opportunity and urgency in underground mining,” said Mark Dunseith, general manager of Artisan’s Canadian operations.
Artisan’s electric powertrains drive 14 underground machines, including 3.5-yard scoops and 20-ton haul trucks, at Kirkland Lake Gold’s Macassa Mine. In 2012, Kirkland Lake Gold adopted the technology as a way to increase production while avoiding the high cost of new mine ventilation.
“It’s worked well,” said Dunseith. “It’s allowed them to continue development of new orebodies without the massive expenditures of capital for new ventilation.” The mine was able to use existing ventilation, change its equipment and develop an orebody that it would not have been able to get to otherwise, he said.
The battery-powered machines, supplied by RDH Mining Equipment of Alban, are more powerful, quieter, cleaner and cooler than diesel equipment. The switch to battery power is part of a trend in the mining industry to identify renewable energy solutions. Energy consumption is one of the highest operational concerns in underground mining, said Dunseith. In most mines, 40 per cent of energy costs are spent on underground ventilation and cooling, he estimates.
“The deeper the mine is, the higher the cost. In some cases, you can get up to 90 per cent of the energy cost directed to ventilation and cooling – that’s in the ultra-deep mines,” Dunseith notes. Some mines have as many as 150 machines underground, all running on diesel.
Aside from dust and the natural heat of underground rock, diesel emissions are the main contributing factor to the need for ventilation.
Artisan’s powertrain includes lithium iron phosphate batteries, electric motors, vehicle controls, power electronics and high-powered battery chargers. “All we’re doing is taking away the diesel engine that’s creating that power and replacing it with an electric motor that is powered by batteries,” said Dunseith.
The company can combine its powertrain with mining machines – scoops, trucks, scissor lifts, drills or utility vehicles – produced by any established original equipment manufacturer. “We can integrate into all of those platforms,” Dunseith said. “We have design configurations for almost all of the utility vehicles.” The primary candidates for conversion, however, are load-haul-dump (LHD) machines and haul trucks with larger engines that run more often, making them the biggest contributors to diesel emissions.
With an ability to deliver far greater torque than diesel engines, battery-powered machines work as well or better than their diesel counterparts while resulting in cleaner air and reduced energy costs.
Artisan can repurpose an existing fleet of equipment by removing diesel engines and replacing them with battery drive technology. “We have an affiliation with a contractor in Northern Ontario that can complete all the conversions that we take on,” Dunseith said. The company integrates its drive train with newly built mining equipment by relying on the expertise of the original equipment manufacturer to select powertrain components such as axles, brakes and drive shafts.
In the tough environment of underground mining, Artisan’s involvement at Kirkland Lake Gold has been a learning experience. “We’ve had to take more conventional solutions and make them mine duty or mine-rated to meet those harsh conditions of mining,” Dunseith said.
Every underground mining company has shown an interest in evaluating Artisan’s technology, he said. The equipment has been tested in gold mines in Red Lake and northwestern Quebec. Artisan is supplying more powertrains for new equipment at the Macassa gold mine and will convert some of the mine’s existing diesel fleet.