Kirkland Lake Gold (TSE:KGI) (LON:KGI) is moving away from the use of diesel with the introduction of lithium-ion battery scoops and trucks in its underground gold mines and will save capital investment as a result. The use of this technology both saves large capital investment and is a welcome environmentally-friendly alternative fuel source without diesel or any other emissions underground.

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Kirkland Lake Gold (TSE:KGI) (LON:KGI) is moving away from the use of diesel with the introduction of lithium-ion battery scoops and trucks in its underground gold mines and will save capital investment as a result. The use of this technology both saves large capital investment and is a welcome environmentally-friendly alternative fuel source without diesel or any other emissions underground.

Traditionally underground mobile equipment in the mining sector has relied on diesel engines which release emissions that have to be “ventilated” away through costly ventilation systems. There are electric scoops in underground mines but these units have to stay “plugged” into the equivalent of a socket underground and thus have limited range and other operating handicaps.

Battery powered equipment offers an alternative form of electrically powered equipment and Kirkland Lake Gold has invested more than $15 million in development of this technology. The Ontario-based company is deploying a fleet of 12 battery-operated scoops and three trucks as it converts to trackless haulage and significantly increases its gold production over the next 12 months. Currently, three scoops are working underground and the first truck is just being commissioned. The plans are to add a further four scoops and another battery-operated truck over the summer. All units are web-enabled, thus technicians from California are able to diagnose and solve problems.

The investment was clearly worth it: the switch to battery-operated scoops and trucks is to lead to significant capex savings for the company, as a $300 million ventilation raise that would have been necessary for the diesel-powered equipment is no longer required.

This initiative to create battery-operated equipment has been driven by new developments in lithium-ion technology which has made possible the powering of heavy underground mobile equipment by a battery pack, which can deliver upwards of four hours of performance after each charging.

The team of Kirkland Lake Gold, RDH Equipment in Sudbury and Artisan Vehicle Systems in Camarillo, California have worked together developing and testing prototypes for the last three years. Artisan technicians can monitor performance and assist in solving problems from their home base. Recently the team added Adria Inc., a well-known electrical manufacturer from Rouyn-Noranda in Quebec to make the battery chargers which are installed underground in charging bays.

The battery-operated trucks are website-enabled, meaning the California-based software company can keep tabs from a distance. A 90-minute to 2-hour charge at an underground charging station provides the new battery-operated scoops and trucks with four to five hours of operation. Kirkland Lake slung the first battery truck underground last week, where it will go through its trial/testing period this summer.

Kirkland Lake Gold president and chief executive, Brian Hinchcliffe, spoke proudly of the environment-saving potential for battery equipment in the future of underground mining.

“It has long been a dream to have practical and productive battery-operated mobile equipment underground. While nickel lead acid batteries are common in underground locomotive applications, the advances in technology in the lithium-ion world have finally made this dream possible thanks to the hard work of our vending team of RDH and Artisan.

“Battery equipment does not require the usual capital investment in underground ventilation that diesel equipment does. This capital investment savings provides a great return and allows us to introduce much better working environments underground. The company has dedicated a great deal of time and money to developing the technology for the lithium-ion powered machinery.”

The battery-operated scoops are more powerful than the company’s other production scoops, but have the advantage of being able to fit where almost all of the mine’s smallest scoops operate, the most common scoop size for production being 1.5 yards. The power of the battery-operated scoops is such that reportedly, every operator that uses one is impressed with its performance, even in comparison to larger units run elsewhere (The mine’s diesel scoops, which measure 3.5 yards, are not used in production. The biggest production scoops other than the battery scoops are 2.3 yard cable electric scoops.)

In addition, the battery-operated scoops are also quieter and cooler that the diesel alternative. Indeed the four scoops currently being utilized in production underground are the first units to run if the operators have a choice of unit.

Employees engaged in using the scoops have be unambiguous in their praise, with one worker commenting “It is ten times better than diesel. I wouldn’t give this up for anything.”

Kirkland Lake Gold employee Richard May, who has been using the battery scoops since the machinery’s introduction, spoke admiringly of the battery-operated equipment, saying it had more weight and more power than the diesel-operated equivalent.

“I was nervous at first about it,” May said, “but it has been amazing.” May credited the new equipment with cutting mucking time in half and spoke approvingly of the lack of diesel emissions.

May said he initially had his doubts about the length of time the battery could last, “but it has been amazing.”

“As this catches on, it will get even better,” May said. “This is definitely the way mining should go.”

The company has dedicated a great deal of time and money to developing the technology for the lithium-ion-powered machinery.

“We have invested $15 million in this battery-operated equipment,” says Hinchcliffe. “This has been a three and a half year journey.”

Hinchcliffe says the idea of battery-operated scoops and trucks has been a long time coming. “This concept has been talked about for a long time in mining circles. It is a project like this that will help change the face of mining.”

The project of devising the machinery was an international affair, with the cells being created by a Chinese manufacturer, while the software came from a Californian software firm. A Quebec-based company assisted with the electrical components and a Sudbury-headquartered company assisted with the equipment’s manufacturing.

The first six scoops are to go to the South Mine Complex (SMC), while the others will ultimately be distributed throughout the mine as demand is high. All trucks are to go to the ramp.

Kirkland Lake Gold is to undertake a major training program for the new units to acquaint staff with the new machinery, although the feedback regarding the battery scoops has already been universally approving.

“[The workers] love the machines,” says Hinchcliffe. “It is a quiet and very powerful product, and it is much cleaner [than the diesel alternative]”.

Indeed, Kirkland Lake Gold is moving full steam ahead on improving its operations, as it earlier this year increased its hoisting capacity and authorized full man loads in order to meet its targets. In February, the planned production ramp up began, with its

target of between 1,400 and 1,600 tons per day expected to be reached in its second quarter of fiscal 2014, or the three month period stretching from August to October of this year. Kirkland’s full-year 2014 production guidance is to sell between 150,000 and 180,000 gold ounces.

The company’s project consists of 13,000 acres of five contiguous formerly producing gold mines – Macassa, Lake Shore, Wright Hargreaves, Teck-Hughes, and Kirkland Minerals – which historically produced 21 million ounces of gold grading 15.1 grams per ton, and for the first time are being developed and explored under one owner.

Gold production re-started in 2005 from the most western portion of the camp, the Macassa mine, and the current focus is on expanding production to 2,200 tons per day from the historic Main/’04 Break, and a new discovery area, the South Mine Complex.